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Editor’s Note: Some of the songs mentioned in this article contain profanity.
By Aadam Samee
Rap music has taken the throne as the most dominant music genre in America, and the age-old debate of Old School vs. New School is in the spotlight of many hip-hop conversations. Rap originated in the South Bronx in New York City during the 1970s. Young people used this style of music as an outlet to express their feelings and tell their stories. The point of talking in rhythm, or rapping, was to display meaningful lyrics that rhyme well and flow with the beat. Hip-hop and rap culture grew in influence in 1980s and 90s.
Since then, the genre has expanded even more. However, some popular modern rappers, such as Travis Scott, are negatively affecting what rap is about. It was originally about relating to the community where the artists came from and telling a story, but Scott boasts about his millions and flashy jewelry, which most listeners cannot relate to, and which he himself did not have until he became a famous rapper. A 24-year-old business man from Texas and hip hop fan, Adam Nadeem, says, “the old stuff had a lot of substance, there were important issues that were discussed in music, like police brutality, race, etc. Yes, there were still artists that had music with very little substance, but there was a story in each album, a message.”
There are still conscious modern rappers, though, such as Lupe Fiasco. These rappers are the ones who are evolving hip hop. They still have their own styles, and instead of auto-tuning everything, they rap. Fiasco challenged the stereotypes of traditional hip hop in his 2006 song “Kick Push,” from his first studio album Food and Liquor, by talking about skateboarding, which was not always associated with hip hop. Lupe also appreciates the origins of rap and why it started in his 2017 song “Coulda’ Been“—“If I wasn’t rappin’ I’d probably be…flipping a burger, Attempting a murder… Jerking your jewels, homeless working for food.” Rappers like Fiasco use music as an alternative to criminal activity, as he mentions in the song. He diversifies hip hop with his lyrics and style.
Older rap is a major part of the foundation of hip hop, and rappers who relate to the black community have changed lives and gotten people through tough times. Kevin Coffey, a varsity basketball coach and history teacher at Collegiate, is an avid hip hop listener: “When a rock group or singer gets old, everybody calls them classic. But when a rapper gets old, they call them old. I don’t think hip hop will ever get old.” He continues, “It had a major impact on me because the topics that rappers talked about, I lived. They talked about living in a rough neighborhood (check), the struggles of living in them (check), things you did to survive (check) and messages that got their point across, because we looked up to and admired these people for using their platform to say the things that we couldn’t.” Coffey has had the experiences that make hip hop relevant.
One of the newest subgenres of rap music, trap music, has blown up in recent years, with artists like Lil Uzi Vert, Migos, and 21 Savage. Newer artists who are not a part of this subgenre, like Kendrick Lamar, are the ones who are taking rap music in a positive direction. Lamar is known for his lyricism and awareness about police brutality and other issues within the black community. “Alright,” from his 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly, is a song which people from his city of Compton can relate to. 21 Savage recently posted his feelings about “OG Rappers” on his instagram: “what about the fact that rap is the number one genre of music right now?” Trap has propelled rap to become the number one genre in the country because rap is becoming less like it once was and more like pop.
“Honestly, I am not a big fan of the new stuff because it is not hip hop. I like the beats to some songs, but the lyrics to the vast majority of the songs have no substance,” says Coffey. Lyricism used to be a major element of rap music, as artists such as Rakim, Tupac Shakur, and Eminem were successful due to their creativity and impact with words. Josh George, a junior at Maggie Walker Governor’s School, says, “Many these modern songs are just vehicles for beat delivery with lyrics added as a topping.” Some new rappers seem to ignore the importance of the words in rap music, and songs are ghostwritten. Clover Hill High School senior Aradh Faruqi says, “The different talents and rivalries allowed for memorable tracks and amazing songs that are still amazing today.”
With so many different artists becoming popularized in new hip hop, less talented and average artists and songs sometimes become overwhelmingly popular, such as Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang,” which peaked at number three on Billboards Hot 100.
Some newer rap is repetitive and lacks innovation. Collegiate graduate Destana Herring (’17) says, “new mainstream rap has similar sounds, and the lyrics tend to fall under the categories of money, sex, and drugs.” The same message becomes overdone and has a negative influence. Listeners don’t have the same connection with rappers like they used to, because the rappers who make it are separating themselves from the communities they came from rather than relating to them.
Coffey says, “If you looked at all of the rappers from the 90s and 80s, the majority of them had high school diplomas and a quite a few from college: Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Chuck D (Public Enemy). My point is that they have the knowledge and ability to arrange words to not only make sense, but also have meaning behind it.” Coffey emphasizes that these rappers also encouraged getting an education, which helped them craft their words better. Drake, in his 2016 single “Pop Style,” famously says, “dropped out of school now we dumb rich.” Drake is implying that education is unnecessary because he achieved success without it.
NBA rookie and rapper Lonzo Ball is an example of a lack of respect for the music’s past. He wore a hoodie with the cover of Nas’s legendary 1994 album Ilmatic printed on it when in New York City for a game, but Nas’s face was replaced with Ball’s; this was seen as disrespectful by fans of the renowned New York rapper. Ball has been been quoted as saying, “real hip-hop is Migos and Future, don’t nobody listen to Nas no more.” Hip hop culture and rap music are constantly evolving, but the genre’s artists and fans should respect the rappers who came before them.