The Truth Behind Rap

Stephanie Gratzel, Staff Writer

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People all over the world have a large misconception about rap music: That it is just a way to talk about sex, money, and drugs, and call it music. However, many rappers, such as Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, J.Cole, Logic, and XXXTentacion have other intentions. Throughout history, rap has been used as a form of rebellion against racism, and more recently, police brutality, and has also been known to address suicide, depression, and mental health. Everyone has different tastes in music, so someone not liking rap isn’t a problem, but presumptions shouldn’t stop someone from seeing that rap music has more to it than sex, money, and drugs.
Rap music is the result of rebellion. Men who are are peacefully protesting through their music. In recent years, rappers have felt more obligated to speak out about racism, especially police brutality considering that, according to mapping police violence.org, more than 964 cases of police brutality against African Americans have taken place just in 2017 alone. Racism was always an issue and still is, and as time has gone on, it is still addressed and emphasized by rap artists.
How to Pimp a Butterfly, a rap album created by artist Kendrick Lamar, is one of the most powerful and forward takes on racism. The title of the album is even based off of How to Kill a Mockingbird, a strong political based piece shedding light on oppression and racism. Lamar’s track “The Blacker the Berry” is not only a strong political statement, but a tale of his internal struggle. “I’m not on the outside looking in, I’m not on the inside looking out,” he speaks and then says that he feels like he is in the “dead center.”
Kendrick wrote the song after his friend Trayvon Martin dies. Trayvon is known to be the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. The last two lines of Kendrick’s masterpiece talk about this issue, asking himself why he didn’t kill the man who killed Trayvon for being, in Kendrick’s words, “blacker than me”. When he was questioned about why he wrote the song, he said that instead of using violence, he poured everything into that song, into that album, “When I say these lines, it’s for myself, this is therapeutic for myself because I still feel that urge and I still feel that anger and that hatred for that man next door because I gotta get a call knowing that somebody around the corner done did this to my partner.”
Sophomore, Vidar Hageman, spoke out on this topic, specifically life in the ghetto and the way rap music is an outlet for people that could be going down the wrong path, “With the way the world is today, there are definitely rappers who use their platform in the wrong way, for the wrong thing. But a lot of the songs that mean something, and say something important go unnoticed. Also, for men who live in the ghetto, it’s very easy to go down the wrong path. Rap music is an escape for them, and a way to feel and be successful.”
Today, popular artists like Kanye West use their popularity to show issues with racism, and how they feel about it. In his hit “Never Let Me Down,” he addresses the issue, rapping, “I get down for my grandfather who told my mama to sit in that seat where white folks ain’t want us to eat. At the tender age of 6 she was arrested for the sit ins and with that in my blood I was born to be different.” Kanye created an empire and changed the music industry. Sadly, many don’t have appreciation or knowledge of the issues that he addresses. When asking freshman Megan Wright about Kanye West she said, “I never listen to his music, and I haven’t heard good things about him.” After listening to his song, and his lyrics, her initial view was changed. “I am so against racism, and never really thought an artist like him would talk about it… but it’s really good that he is talking about it, and speaking out about it.” Another popular artist who uses his music as protest is J.Cole.
According to The New York Times, after the death of Michael Brown, a victim of police brutality, Cole released his heartfelt song, “Be Free,” on SoundCloud, and showed many the issues that as a society, we are failing to face. He speaks about how he feels on Michael’s death, reiterating, “I’m letting you know that there ain’t no gun they make that can kill my soul”, “All we want to do is take the chains off,” “All we want to do is be free.” This was one of the first and only reactions to the Michael Brown case. Although, because it was “rap music” people avoided listening to it.
Rap artists, both old and new, use their music to rebel against racism and speak about how they feel on the topic.
“I just want to thank you all for giving me a platform to talk about something that mainstream media doesn’t want to talk about: Mental health, anxiety, suicide, depression, and so much more.” Logic, an American rapper spoke these meaningful words during his AMA performance of his hit song 1-800-273-8255 featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid. People in shirts with the suicide prevention number and the words “you are not alone” cried as emotional lyrics such as “I don’t want to be alive” and “I just want to die today” hummed in the background. Rap is not just a platform for rappers to talk about racism and equality, but a way for them to talk about, just like Logic said, issues like suicide, and mental health, that mainstream media sources often fail to talk about.
The rapper also used the music video to show an issue that isn’t talked about a lot. It follows a teen who is gay. When his father finds out, his life goes slowly downhill. Facing bullies, and personal struggles, he almost commits suicide. However, there is a happy ending for this man, as the video closes with his wedding scene, and his father there supporting him. Other rappers, such as XXXTentacion, use their platform to talk about suicide, and mental health issues. XXXTentacion is a SoundCloud rapper who found fame through his songs about his internal struggles with mental health and issues that he faces wit people in his life. One song in particular that has gained tremendous popularity is ‘Jocelyn Flores’ which is dedicated to his fan and friend who committed suicide while in Florida meeting him. Another song from that same album, one not as popular, called ‘Revenge’ was also written in dedication to Jocelyn. He talks about how he knows Jocelyn is “somewhere out there”, and the emotional song sheds light on the fact that this is a real life issue.
Kendrick Lamar, as well as speaking out about racism and societal problems, speaks about depression and mental illness in his song “U” from the album How to Pimp a Butterfly. “U” is a dark song contrasted to his song “I” on the album, which is an upbeat song about peace. When speaking with Rolling Stone magazine, Kendrick says this about his song: “That was one of the hardest songs I had to write. There’s some very dark moments in there. All my insecurities and selfishness and let-downs…But it helps, though. It helps.” He raps lyrics referring to himself as a “failure” with depression “resting’ on your (his) heart”. This dark song shows Lamar’s emotions, and shows a side of him that many don’t expect, as most people don’t with depression. “It’s important to normalize mental health, and show people that it’s something kids and adults deal with and keep hidden all the time,” stated sophomore Ruby Glynn on why it’s important for these artists to be talking about this.
All genres of music use topics such as sex, drugs, and money to appeal to their audiences, but rap music is usually regarded as the genre that most exploits these topics. However, if you look beyond the surface of popular rap artists, you see a different side of the genre, one that shows truth, and struggle, and rebellion. Something for people to relate to, and feel. Racism and mental health are two big areas where rap music shows its positive sides.

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