There are a lot of valid reasons for black people to be angry: Police brutality. Disproportionate unemployment. The school to prison pipeline. That being said, I’ve seen a lot of outrage over trivial issues. Sure, human beings are both frivolous and profound. But there is so much anguish wasted on the WRONG DAMN THINGS! For example: the current vitriol leveled at rap artist Iggy Azalea.
I like her music. It’s catchy and has that southern twang I’m used to from my favorite rapper T.I. However, I can be objective and acknowledge that Iggy’s no great MC. She’s not in the same class as Lil Kim, Outkast, or Biggie. But neither is Migos, Future or 2 Chainz, and I don’t hear anyone hollering for them to pay homage to the socio-political history of hip-hop.* I’m a history major, so I understand that it feels like white people only ever take from black culture without giving back- because that’s largely true. It happened with jazz and it happened with rock n roll; this is not new. The difference is that nobody who hasn’t been living under a rock would think that white people invented hip-hop. It took 30 years for the world to even receive a white rapper that would be taken seriously, and Eminem was judged by a much higher standard than any black rapper at the time. The man raps in iambic pentameter and it wasn’t until his third album that he really became mainstream and fully accepted into the hip-hop community. Black people may be a minority in this country, but we are the leading exporters of cool. The side effect of that is swagger jacking- imitation is the highest form of flattery, right? We should really be impressed that hip-hop is so powerful that it made a 16 year old white girl leave her country to chase a dream.
I say all this to say that if we’re going to start drawing lines about what real hip-hop is and isn’t, we need to start at home first. Example: Nicki Minaj. The girl can spit. She’s a lyrical beast. But she relies heavily on her sexuality to sell records (like Iggy) and often eschews hard core rap for poppier records that reach a Top 40 demographic (also like Iggy). I like her music, but Nicki is basically the Lady Gaga of rap: a massively talented woman who doesn’t exercise her full potential for fear that it won’t be marketable. I can’t entirely blame her though. The marketplace is flooded with subpar rap music. The fall of CDs, record labels, and traditional artist development means that music is fully democratized, for better and for worse. Soulja Boy got rich and famous off of a song he made in his bedroom, that never would have gotten past a label A&R rep. Future sounds like he’s singing into a water bottle. Juicy J’s flow sounds like ratchet nursery rhymes. I can’t understand what the hell Young Thug or The Migos are saying. 2 Chainz seems to exclusively make songs best heard in a strip club. Yet, the latter three can be heard all over the radio. But nobody is pointing at them and saying it’s a rap apocalypse, or that they don’t know enough about hip-hop history. If rap is “our thing”, then shouldn’t black artists be held to the highest standard? Shouldn’t we be boycotting all the artists who glorify sex, drugs, and female debasement before we start assuming that the lone white, female rap artist is single-handedly destroying the genre?
Personally, I don’t think rap has to be all one thing. Much like there are different subcategories of jazz, the same thing goes for rap. Some of it is political. Some of it is inspirational. Some of it is just good to dance to at the club, or blast in your car. There are lowbrow and highbrow elements to every artistic medium, and that’s okay. You wanna be mad at something? Don’t get mad because white people are saying “on fleek”. Be mad because the black girl who invented it didn’t think to trademark it, and now some white people are making money off it. Don’t be mad at Iggy, be mad that her sworn nemesis Azealia Banks twitter beefed herself right out of a record deal. Don’t be mad that Macklemore won the Grammy instead of Kendrick. Be mad the BET Awards are a joke, the Soul Train Awards haven’t cracked the mainstream, and black America still thinks the height of artistic merit should be determined by the whims of a panel of old white men who probably didn’t listen to the album.
There’s plenty to get mad at. Get mad where it counts.
*Speaking of which, when was the last time hip-hop was really relevant for being a political movement? Aside from the handful of rappers like Kendrick, Macklemore, Lupe Fiasco, Common and The Roots who are known for socially conscious tracks- and a few others like Wale who participated in the Ferguson protests- hip-hop is mostly prized for its cool factor and being a party starter.