The Following is an excerpt from Black Dot's book Urban Culture Decoded
RAP IS MY SAVIOR
This may be the most sensitive topic that I will cover in this book, but it needs to be addressed because it has this generation of artists and inspiring artist on creative lockdown. Seven out of ten people that I know on a personal level in this day and time are rappers, aspiring to be rappers, claim to be rappers, are soon to be rappers, are old school rappers making a comeback, or are coming out of prison with a dream to become a rapper. Everybody, and I mean everybody is a rapper now. How is this even possible? What has taken place over the last twenty years that would give the average person the urge and desire to want to get involved with rap, and get involved on a level that borders on the fence of obsession? The operative word here is “average”. As you will soon come to find out, it doesn’t require much more than an average skill set to succeed in the rap industry. Young people are willing to abandon their pursuit of education, learning a trade, or even learning the basics of music in the traditional sense to pursue rap. Their dreams begin and end with the pursuit of a rap career in some capacity, whether it’s rapping itself, producing, modeling, dancing, a radio personality, or making rap videos. For them, the ends outweigh the means, and the rewards far outweigh the risk. Even sports have taken a back seat to rap because sports still require practice, dedication, and superior skills to advance. Their actions and ways of thinking are justified every time a new talentless artist emerges with a hit song fueled by a hot beat and some rudimentary rhymes that goes on to sell a million copies and makes them a household name. Meanwhile, parents, educators and elders keep stressing the importance of going to school to get a good education so that you can one day land a job that will pay you about $60,000 a year if you are lucky. Meditate on that for a moment. If you were a young urbanite who grew up very poor with a limited education, resources, opportunities, yet you had an opportunity to rise above these conditions without the need for a specialized skill or degree, and could make millions of dollars traveling the world as a famous artist, what would you do? After being looked at from this perspective, I believe that the answer becomes very clear on what we are facing with this generation of youth and those who live in urban America.
Rap is their savior. However, when everybody can rap, nobody can rap. I will say that again, “when everybody can rap, nobody can rap”. When an art form of any sort has been overexposed, oversaturated, or exploited it loses its power. It becomes mundane. The mere fact that everyone feels like they can do something suggest that is doesn’t really require much skill at all. Therefore, I always differentiate between emceeing and rapping. Emceeing requires a tremendous amount of skill, knowledge, breath control, insight, vocabulary, stamina, stage presence, etc. These attributes are not necessarily required to rap. An emcee can rap, but rarely can a rapper emcee. Now don’t get me wrong. Rap has its place. I will be the first one to tell you that I enjoy a great rap record from time to time. Yet in the grand scheme of things, the rap industry does not enhance or add anything of value to our culture except money and fame. And for those who have been deprived of necessities in life, that’s more than enough! Now there will be many people who are quick to ask, well, what’s wrong with that? And my answer would be, nothing at all. Just don’t complain when you see rappers on television with their pants hanging off their ass if they are male, or half naked with a thong up their ass if they are female. Just don’t complain if most of their lyrics are disrespecting women, or selling drugs, or killing other people. Just don’t complain when they make Black people look like savages overall. Know and understand that it is just for the money and fame. It all boils down to economics. The path of least resistance to making it out of the hood is through the rap industry. It is very easy to do and the profits can be astronomical
Let’s be clear, the rap industry feeds a lot of people. So, the resistance that one will get when attempting to uncover what may be wrong with it will be strong and fierce. Any venture that provides food, clothing, and shelter, whether legally or illegally that is being criticized, will be met with skepticism, ridicule, and contempt. I am in no way trying to shut down the rap industry or deny anyone an opportunity to feed his or her families. I am only appealing to the higher consciousness of those who have the capacity to reason beyond the financial benefits of the industry and examine the totality of the industry and its effects on this generation and future generations to come. The financial progress of a few can lead to the spiritual and cultural decline of the whole. Herein lies the heart of the dilemma. And that selected few is not limited to just the artist themselves, there are those who have worked hard to earn a degree in business, or are certified to engineer a session, or have graduated with a degree in videography who also must accept responsibility. These are the behind-the-scenes people but their role in the progress or demise of rap is just as significant. Every time that a DJ plays a record that he or she knows is garbage, every time a videographer shoots a video that they know doesn’t show us in a good light, or every time an interview is conducted that we know should never see the light of day, we are complicit in the destruction of the culture of Hip Hop for the sake of making money in the culture of rap, it’s just that simple. Yet it’s the only way to survive in the industry. If a DJ works for a radio station, then the program director basically tells him what to play. After hearing the same terrible song on the radio a hundred times, you somehow begin to like it, or tolerate it at best. Now that same DJ who wouldn’t dare play such records on his own time is forced to give the people what they have been programmed to believe is hot. The same thing goes for the video director who is instructed to direct the same video for just about every artist that the label pays him or her to shoot. You know the video, girls barely dressed, guys pouring champagne, fly cars, nice jewelry, wads of cash, and cut! Ninety five percent of all rap videos will have all or at least a variation of these elements in them. Even though the video director may be talented and has a vision that would broaden the scope of most rap videos, they will simply do what they are paid to do in the long run. Rap allows most artists to mask their illiteracy or inability to function beyond a hood mentality, and it allows them to do so without apologizing since in most cases they make more money than the average college graduate.
No one is going to stand up for what’s morally right in terms of how we are portrayed or the effects that rap has had on the minds of young men and women because making money at any cost has become the new standard of what’s morally correct and what isn’t. The rap industry has provided a better way of life for a lot of people, so who am I to even suggest that it is not good for us? For those of you who have the vision to see beyond the fame and fortune you know exactly what I am talking about. Through the eyes of rap, police officers respond to us differently, judges sentence us differently, teachers reprimand us differently, the media portrays us differently, and even the elders of our culture treat us differently. Because of our association with rap, in most cases by default, it makes us guilty of the ways and actions portrayed by a small few in the name of making money, but under the guise of creative expression. Most of that is wrong with rap culture is cloaked in these terms “creative expression”, and “freedom of speech”. This enables those who are at fault to escape liability for their actions. Every time that there is an uproar from the general public regarding the foul language, negative portrayal of women, or violence rapped about or displayed in rap videos, a rap industry front man will appear to quell the disturbance by hiding behind freedom of speech verbiage. One of the biggest statements made by artist themselves is “you should monitor what your children listen to because we are not responsible”. This is what I call straight bulls***! Most of them know that if parents could truly monitor what their children watched and listened to that most of these subpar artists would not even exist, and that is a fact. They are banking on our inability to monitor what our children are watching and listening to. Their careers literally depend on it.
The Black Dot is the author or the underground classic Hip-Hop Decoded, and his new book, Urban Culture Decoded.