Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

How to be a Rap Genius

I have one rule in my car: the radio must be tuned to Hot 93.7.

Connecticut’s No. 1 station for hip-hop and R&B is by definition my guilty pleasure.  The pleasure stems from my unabashed overconsumption of highly accessible popular music. Pop radio consumers such as me are suckers for repetition. In the 1960s a format for radio play called the “Drake format” after programmer Bill Drake, (don’t worry, “Degrassi” star turned hip-hop hero Drake will be discussed later) was. In this format, Top 40 radio hits are narrowed down to the eight catchiest songs. Those eight songs are then broadcast over and over and over again. Like a good joke that ceases to be funny after the punchline is revealed and is then repeated postmortem until funny again, I surrender and embrace popular hip-hop in spite of myself.

Catchy hooks and shameless airplay aside, hip-hop is addictive. Fifty years after the inception of rock and roll, hip-hop, rap and rhythm & blues found its way into pop radio. In the 1980s hip-hop was protested by Congress members like William Bennett, the once-secretary of education in President Ronald Reagan’s administration. Bennett fought against the first wave of popular hip-hop that came in the form of gangsta rap, which notably featured sexually explicit lyrics. To support hip-hop, despite its rise to popularity, was to be rebellious.

Still, with beats extracted from 1970s rock riffs, the transition from what was then pop rock to hip-hop, rap, and R&B was painless, but showed a marked maturity in its consumers. Working within the lines of popular media, the shift from rock to hip-hop was a radical one for music listeners.

Today, stations are often dedicated solely to hip-hop and R&B, as well as lists of hit songs for the popular Billboard 100, but hip-hop and pop rock exist simultaneously. Hip-hop and R&B are no longer sub-genres of pop, but seamlessly woven into radio playlists with pop rock songs. If hip-hop is a part of popular culture which I willingly consume and is mixed by top-line producers to sound impeccable, why is my pleasure mixed with guilt?

In the mid to late ‘80s, hip-hop and rap had more integrity than popular music of the same genre today. Queen Latifah put out her single, “Ladies First,” on her 1989 album, “All Hail the Queen” with lyrics that spoke positively about being female: ”Believe me when I say being a woman is great/you see I know all the fellas out there will agree with me/Not for being one but for being with one.”  Around the same time, Public Enemy was sampling Malcolm X on their tracks and taking a stand through their raps against racial injustice.

Often I do not relate to themes that come up in popular music today. The guilt surrounding my pop radio binge begins with a discrepancy between my morals and that of modern R&B and hip-hop artists, at least the ideals put forth in their music.

According to Vernon Reid of Living Colour, hip-hop and rap began as an “outlet for black male aggression.” Today’s artists like Lil’ Wayne and Drake who dominate the media are not necessarily aggressive. Lil’ Wayne has probably consumed too much “lean” to express any anger. He samples a sound clip of himself lighting a joint in the first seconds of many tracks. Wayne makes it clear to listeners that he is relaxed, wealthy, and above all, he gets laid a lot.

My guilty pleasure grew to a full-blown shift in musical preference – an outright obsession. I began to buy records of artists like Drake, Lil’ Wayne and Beyonce. When I begin to sing along with a favorite song, like “She Will” by Lil’ Wayne featuring Drake, I start off enthused and slowly become disgusted.

“I like my girl face south and her ass north,” says Wayne, after referring to women as “bitches” in the line: “haters can’t see me but them bitches still lookin’ for me.” This song is often aired on Connecticut’s Hot 93.7, but most of the words are censored. I buy Wayne’s records so that I can actually hear the lyrics. I’d rather not be left to guess who is looking for Lil’ Wayne, exactly, or, what part of his girl does he like where. If I’m singing along to an anthem of misogyny, I want the words to be crystal clear. Herein lies the guilt. I listen to, sing along with, and purchase records with lyrics like Kanye’s, “Come and meet me at the bathroom stall/show me why you deserve to have it all,” or even Beyonce (making a confusing transition from “Single Ladies”) telling women “Grind up on him girl/show him how you ride it.” I am the ultimate consumer of words that make women sound hyper sexual or designate women as sexual objects, and I hardly saw it coming.

Missy Elliot once said that sex is not a topic that should be swept under the rug. I believe wholeheartedly that artists should be able to speak openly about anything. Lil’ Wayne should go forth and make promises of outrageous sex acts with as many women as he can count, while smoking a giant blunt, drunk off his ass. I have the choice to listen or not. Perhaps this person making claims is not Lil’ Wayne at all. Perhaps “Drizzy” Drake cannot really make a girl whistle the Andy Griffith theme song out of her genitals. Whatever their true thoughts may be, it is no secret to producers or artists what consumers like to listen to. We have deviated far from the political and feminist-minded hip-hop.

Bennett was supported in his aversion to gangsta rap by Civil Rights participant Dr. C Delores Tucker, who thought that rap hurt the struggle of the Black Power Movement. Yet gangsta rap was liberated and uncensored unlike most pop music of its time. Themes were explicit, but they had a point. Drake and Lil’ Wayne, talented though they may be, are making money, not liberating themselves.

I cannot help but blast certain pop songs, but I would like to acknowledge what ideals I’m endorsing when I do. So long as we continue to respond enthusiastically to modern hip-hop’s shallow messages of sex and parties, the media will continue to put them forth, and our guilty pleasures will remain just that.

Rachael Roth is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected].


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