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Rap and hip-hop have survived

Where is Rap’s influence on social advocacy?

Okay. I will admit it. When we first heard rap music in the mid- to late-1980s, few baby boomers thought it could last. We can see it, that the beat and fun-filled lyrics of the Sugarhill Gang and other pioneers were entertaining, and made for good dance music, but no one took it seriously.

You couldn’t blame the logic. Most questioned whether this was even music. The fact that you could become a recording star without carrying a tune was offensive to those more in tune with Rhythm and Blues, pop, jazz, soul, blues, rock and even gospel. Rap was entertaining, but it just wasn’t music.

Now more than 50 years later, critics of the genre are being forced to eat their words. That means music lovers, who were teenagers or younger when rap and hip-hop was born and are now old enough to be parents and grandparents. Even great-grandparents. And their love for rap and hip-hop has not waned.

They didn’t grow out of it like infants naturally getting over colic. It turns out that rap and hip-hop was much more than a passing fad. It has only grown in popularity over five decades and produced billionaires like Sean P. Diddy Combs and Jay-Z—along with scores of multimillionaires. Rap and hip-hop have influenced entertainment, culture and society internationally.

That rave didn’t come without a price. The rap and hip-hop culture has undeniably been replete with wanton violence, gratuitous sexuality, misogyny, drug use and abuse, glorification of materialism, and establishment of dehumanizing standards of beauty, prestige and status—negatively impacting youth.

Lives have been lost and ruined within the industry and among the legions of fans who follow rap and hip-hop religiously. Negative images birth deflated self-esteem. Some who are unable to live up to unrealistic standards suffer depression while others opt to give up altogether. The human cost is considerable.

Even more disappointing is the way in which artists in the rap and hip-hop industry fail to use their reach and influence to perpetuate causes that uplift social change.

Historically, there have been many outstanding rebellious rappers. But over the tumultuous past 15 or 20 years, consistent voices of resistance raised in rap and hip-hop have been far too few.

We need more performers like the legendary KRS-1, Public Enemy, the Fugees and Common to focus on police brutality, hunger, parental responsibility, criminal justice, mental and economic wellness, homelessness, voting rights, the environment and gun violence. If there is one thing that we have learned over the past five decades, it is that performing artists have tremendous influence over fans.

It would be incredible, perhaps revolutionary, for those with that kind of power and influence in rap and hip-hop to produce recordings that convey more positive messaging, lifting more positive voices for change.

It might be a struggle, because those who control the record industry want the most ignorant and self-defeating messages, and imaging to reflect the mentality of rappers and hip-hop artists. What if these young, talented and intellectual recording artists saw the potential for change if they would only speak up and speak out? It could precipitate generational change for the better.

The question is, are those with the highest levels of visibility and influence willing to risk their status and dollars on what is the morally correct thing to do. Only time will tell.

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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