The question constantly comes up: Can you consider rap music as “real music”?
The silliness of this question borders on straight absurdity. Of course it’s real music. Not only by straight definition (which, according to Dictionary.com’s unabridged dictionary is “an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color.”1), but also by its very being; its essence. How could you deny that it’s music? That’s akin to seeing a person’s eye but saying it’s a nose. Absurd.
Why Some People Do Not Think Rap Music Is Music
I do understand and can appreciate most of the concerns that people have about rap music. It’s true that some of it is very violent and some of it, at least in my opinion, is just a bit juvenile and meaningless. But what genre doesn’t have songs that amount to fluff? What genre of music doesn’t have violent songs, and supercilious songs, and songs that exist to no purpose?
I’m not going to back the old standby about how the artist lived this type of life or that type of life, and so that’s what their music is about. Even though I know firsthand that oft-repeated line is absolutely true in many cases. But think about this: when a group of once nerdy teenagers get together and form a death metal band that grows into enormous success, no one seems to cry about how “that’s not real music,” or “It’s too violent and sends the wrong message.”
Nothing against death metal (I even like some), and I’m not trying to pull the race card (although that’s an important aspect). I’m trying to illustrate an example. Those nerdy white boys most likely did not live the lives they portray through their harsh metal guitar riffs and dark bloody lyrics. They are trying to convey a message. They are trying to either show you what they see when they look around, or show you what they see when they close their eyes.
And you know what? There are a group of like-minded individuals that want to see what they see; that understands, or thinks they understand, what these guys (or girls) are trying to convey. But at the same time there are others that don’t want to see it and can’t understand it. That’s fine. You know what those people do? They don’t listen. They find music that suits their tastes and their vision.
If You Don’t Like Rap Music
What I’m trying to suggest here is this: If you don’t like the music, then you shouldn’t listen to it. There is no reason to attack a specific genre of music or a specific style of music (unless you listen to that style or genre and don’t like what’s becoming of it). If you don’t like it, don’t try to discredit it by saying that it isn’t what it is, when you know full well that it IS what it IS. This is music. More importantly, this is rap music.
Do you know what that means? This is poetry, recorded and listened to. And like Orson Scott Card says,
“…people do hunger for rhythmic language. Anyone who doubts me on that has only to look at Rap. Once verse was almost completely dead in public life, it reinvented itself; and if most of Rap is awful, it’s worth remembering that most serious poetry is awful, too. Gems are rare in any art.”2
It’s true that unlike other genres of music, most of rap does not use live instrumentation, but that fact does not make the genre invalid as music. The beats that we hear are predominately made by machinery which are, in and of themselves, instruments. An instrument is defined as “1. A means by which something is done,” and more specifically in this case “5. A device for playing or producing music.”3
Rap Music IS Music, and It Has Its Own Genres
With that being said, rap music is indeed…music. You can slice it and dice it if you want. There are now as many sub-genres of rap music as there is for rock and other styles. What most people hear on the radio is mostly the pop aspect of rap music; right along with the pop rock, the pop country, and the pop everything else. This genre is just as susceptible to pop/monetary influence as any other is. I see nothing wrong with that. People like pop music, that’s why it’s called pop. It’s short for “popular,” if you didn’t already know.
If you don’t want to hear any of that, you can easily find rap music that talks about other things. Uplifting rap music, political rap music, Christian rap music, rap/rock music, hip-hop music (yes there is a nicely subtle difference between the two, rap is only an element of hip hop).
- Listen to Dead Prez and Jedi Mind Tricks
- Listen to some old Nas for a message
- Or some Kool G Rap and Slick Rick for style
You can get your overly lyrical scientifical metaphysical Canibus fix. You can get your witty/serious thought-provoking philosophy/history lessons from “The Waterproof MC” Ras Kass. And these are all “old” artists. There’s a ton of young people doing it with just as many differences in styles and approaches.
Almost all rappers can give you a nice autobiography if you want to hear about where they come from, how they were raised, how they lived, etc. You already know where to look if you want to shake your ass; that’s all you really hear on the radio, and ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Understand Where Rap Music Comes From
Always remember that rap music roots sink into the fertile soil of Jamaican reggae. The fundamental idea came from there. And from there it came from West Africa among other places. What Kool Herc and the other early pioneers of this genre did is now famous. Rap is fairly new; its creators are still living. If you really want to know why it can’t be considered anything but music, if you really want to know why it is what it is, if you would care to understand what it can do and is doing, then I would suggest you study its history. See what it is that made/makes this genre what it is. I’m talking about rap music, hip hop culture, scratching, break dancing, emceeing, graffiti (arguably), lyrics, black people, poverty, pure poetry all of it.
“She told pretty Marie Laveau that the words did not matter, only the tunes and the beats, and there, singing and tapping in the blacksnakes, in the swamp, she has an odd vision. She sees the beats of the songs, the Calinda beat, the Bamboula beat, all the rhythms of equatorial Africa spreading slowly across this midnight land until the whole country shivers and swings to the beats of the old gods whose realms she had left. And even that, she understands somehow, in the swamp, even that will not be enough.” – from American Gods by Neil Gaiman
1. music. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/music (accessed: December 31, 2007).
2 . http://www.hatrack.com/osc/reviews/everything/2007-01-07.shtml
3 . instrument. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/instrument (accessed: December 31, 2007).