Does rap enhance or degrade society?


Yesterday the Internet giant Google engaged in a cross Atlantic debate about the language of rap. Here our very own Jane Odera discusses the pros and cons.

Hip hop is now one of the biggest music genres in the world. It tells of the ‘rags to riches’ tales of millionaires and celebrates the culture of Black people around the globe. As Jay-Z put it, Hip Hop took him from ‘grams to Grammys’. The music is bursting with thumping beats and clever rhymes. For many, including myself, it is hard to imagine the world without it.

How can such a successful phenomena be harmful to society? Well, listen to one song by French Montana or Lil Wayne and the answer soon becomes clear. The words ‘bitch’ and ‘n…’ are ever present in their verses, degrading Black women and even themselves. These words do not add to the quality of rap verses, so why are they there?

Of course, these rappers are quick to deny the harm that their lyrics do. Jay-Z has said that the N-word has ‘become part of the way we communicate’ and that ‘we disarmed the word’. He went on to say, ‘My generation hasn't had the same experience with that word … we weren't so close to the pain. I believe that a speaker's intention is what gives a word its power. If we eliminate the N-word, other words would just take its place’.

He has a point. However, what would one say to the white girl at the 50 Cent concert who cannot rap along to a song because she fears the reaction of the black members of the audience? Is it not unfair that she would be branded a racist for using the N-word, when she is simply reciting the lyrics that a black man wrote himself? Or, imagine if your white boss called you ‘n….’, and then said I meant in an endearing way just like Jay-Z

Eminem and Asher Roth are examples of successful, white rappers who do not use the N-word, yet deliver first class verses that have gained them much credibility in the world of Hip Hop. There is no reason why black rappers cannot follow suit.

However, one thing that the majority of rappers do – Eminem included – is continuously degrade women. It is unacceptable.

In lyrics and music videos, women are constantly portrayed as sexual objects and are expected to tolerate it. Quite a few do. Even Nicki Minaj, the most popular female rapper of this era, freely refers to herself as a ‘bad bitch’ and calls other women ‘hoes’. Her physique, widely rumoured to be surgically enhanced, unmistakably resembles that of a so-called ‘Video Vixen’. Young girls look up to Minaj as a role model and believe that the message she promotes is fine. It isn’t.

The odd thing is that Minaj markets herself as a supporter of female empowerment, even wanting to set up her own charity for the cause. I find this awfully contradictory. Talented female rappers like Estelle have not experienced the same level of popularity as women like Minaj. Could it be because she chooses not to conform to the misogynistic ideals of Hip Hop?

It is now normal for teenage girls to aspire to be ‘Video Vixens’, rather than top entrepreneurs or lawyers, as well as going to great lengths to look like one. This means that young girls are now paying extortionate amounts of money for surgery and injections to make themselves more appealing to casting directors.

There have even been cases where women have died due to unsafe cosmetic procedures. Claudia Seye Aderotimi, 20, died of a pulmonary embolism after silicone injected into her thighs and buttocks entered her lungs. Not only is the objectification of women disrespectful, it has now become dangerous.

Hip Hop has to be shaken up. Rappers need to realise that the offensive content within their lyrics does nothing but detract from what could be the greatest black invention of all time.

Jane Odera

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Rap: Quick response

Rap - Does it enhance or degrade society? Depends on the rapper and on the lyrics. Rap can be a force for good or evil, like most things in society.

There are plenty of excellent female rap artists who challenge the stereotypes about women frequently purveyed in rap.