Just a few weeks ago, hip-hop celebrated its 50th anniversary. Over the five decades since its inception, the genre has become one of, if not the most popular in America. At least six of the top 25 most-listened-to artists in the streaming era can be categorized as rappers, with some others drawing heavy inspiration from the style as well.
Despite hip-hop’s popularity, it’s still in a tricky position. The genre is one of a few born out of the Black experience in America, but most of its white fanbase — myself included — can never fully understand its value.
Due to the direct relationship between hip-hop and Black culture in the United States, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the genre still faces disrespect on a far more frequent basis than its reach would suggest. And no, that’s not to say disliking a style of music is inherently racist. Hip-hop is ostracized on multiple fronts, which oftentimes stems from ignorance rather than valid criticism.
No other genre of hip-hop’s high status is so regularly denied a seat at the table. On the ground-level, conversations on TikTok and X, formerly known as Twitter, are centered around themes like “finally outgrowing rap music” or “How I feel when a guy actually has good music taste and doesn’t only listen to rap.” Rarely do you hear these sentiments about any other style of music, nor are any as isolated in discussion.
These types of statements can stem from a lack of due diligence in exploring hip-hop, which happens to have a plethora of subgenres from jazz-rap to experimental to trap. The work of so many versatile artists can’t be encompassed by the styles of the most mainstream rappers, just like any other genre. Do any digging below the surface-level radio hits and you’ll find hip-hop incorporates all sorts of sounds and subject matter.
There’s also more questionable justification from the anti-hip-hop camp, like the argument that the only subject matter in songs are “sex, drugs, and money.” Sure, those topics are heard throughout the genre, but all three are among the six most common themes of top-40 tracks since 1960 in spaces beyond just hip-hop. This oversimplification is not only a lazy talking point, but pushes negative stereotypes surrounding Black America. And from a non-statistical standpoint, there are so many hip-hop artists – from Kendrick Lamar to Earl Sweatshirt and Little Simz – that cover completely different subjects.
Beyond the disrespect in smaller circles, the genre has also been dismissed at the industry’s highest levels as well, mainly the Grammy Awards. The show’s mishandling of hip-hop has been well-documented since rap was introduced as a category in 1989: no one from the genre has won the best song or best record, and the only two “rap” albums that have taken home Album of the Year — Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and OutKast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” — were both heavily infused with R&B. In fact, the former actually is categorized as an R&B LP.
In total, only 1.2 percent of the winners of the Grammys’ big-three awards — Song, Record, and Album of the Year — have come from rap since the genre was integrated into the show. Even the Oscars have awarded hip-hop artists more (three times) in the past 15 years than the Grammys have in the past 30. Let that sink in.
The Grammys doubled down on their disrespect when they put together an, albeit epic, concert for hip-hop’s 50th birthday this year. The performance being coordinated by the show felt like a microcosm of America’s collective attitude towards rap. For some reason, it seems as if we’re able to easily celebrate the genre’s cultural impact while still barring it from discussions of artistic merit.
Reinforcing anti-hip-hop notions, whether malicious in intent or not, discounts the ingenuity and storytelling of so many unbelievably talented artists. Hip-hop isn’t just a trend, it’s a heartbeat of American culture. Not being a fan of rap is OK – just treat it with the same respect you’d want people to give your playlist.
Jonah Weintraub is a junior broadcast and digital journalism major. His column appears biweekly. He can be reached at [email protected].
Published on August 27, 2023 at 9:50 pm