The Cultural Relevance of Today’s Hip Hop Music

The Cultural Relevance of Today’s Hip Hop Music

Yamilka Moreno, Assistant Editor-in-Chief

As the genre of Hip-Hop in music continues to transpire and evolve, the influence of modern Hip-Hop is almost inevitable, especially for young people. Current artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj, or Megan Thee Stallion are oftentimes the representatives of a variety of cultures, whether they be challenging the status quo for social change or simply representing the underrepresented.

The genre of Hip-Hop has surpassed being just a music category, as it can now be considered a way of living due to its wider cultural impact. Originating from the Bronx borough of New York City during the 1970s, lower-income areas within the United States were able to formulate new sounds using imagination and inspiration from other musically gifted individuals while still incorporating their styles. Because Hip-Hop became so popular in these impoverished areas, the genre itself emphasizes one’s creativity and how efficiently one can create a new sound utilizing the little resources available to them. Its versatility especially facilitated its spread, considering how Hip-Hop allowed people with diverse interests to participate in it, such as poets, philosophers, producers, photographers, and visual artists. Most importantly, though, it has continuously allowed for growing artists to advocate for the issues occurring in their neighborhoods; especially in those that had a minority population (where a lot of said issues were overlooked). The activism and representation that derives from today’s Hip-Hop furthermore highlight its cultural relevance, even years after its creation.

Hip-Hop has had an undeniable impact on Black communities throughout the United States, especially when considering that the genre itself is dominated by Black artists. Moreover, it has served as an outlet for them to speak upon unjust inconsistencies in society, the government, or the treatment that Black people receive in this country. An example of this was in 2020 when Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion’s performance on Saturday Night Live sent a powerful message about the death of Breonna Taylor, a medical worker shot in her home by police officers. When her death occurred, many took note of how cases of police brutality towards Black women specifically are often overlooked and disregarded. This realization did not just solely surround police brutality, but the effects of systemic racism on Black women as a whole. While performing her hit song “Savage,” it became apparent that the performance was meant to be more than just a live show, but rather a call to political action on an issue that has been ignored for far too long. The words “Protect Black Women” was the backdrop to her performance, alongside the recording of Malcolm X’s 1962 speech. “The most disrespected…unprotected…neglected person in America is the Black woman.”

Taking this into account, modern Hip-Hop has continued to hold relevance in activism and social change for the culture of music as well as outside of it. Although it is said that Hip-Hop has illustrated a false representation of reality onto young adults due to its provocative language and glorification of materialism, such language does not negate the fact that the genre has allowed space for artists to reflect on the realities of life’s difficulties. Rapper from Atlanta, Georgia, Lil Yachty, has oftentimes used his music to speak on his experiences in poverty. An example of this is his song titled “Life Goes On,” released in 2016, where he describes life as a poor college student with a 9 to 5 due to his mother being unemployed. These conditions hit close to home for many of his listeners, and may even act as inspiration for a future in which they will not be financially unstable (as Lil Yatchy is now worth 11 million). Overall, Hip-Hop music continues to be closely connected and simultaneously relevant to activism and the representation of real experiences of a variety of listeners. These contributions both play essential roles as to why Hip-Hop has been able to stay afloat today.

When discussing the repercussions of Hip-Hop lyrics on young adults, many believe that they are a source of encouragement for young people to act in the ways described within popular songs. Although a common assumption, provocative lyrics do not speak for the Hip-Hop genre as a whole, and several artists have utilized their lyrics as a source of entertainment, and especially empowerment. Despite not being a new artist and working in genres outside of Hip-Hop, Beyonce is an example of an artist who has used her lyrics as a source of pride with a spot solidified in the Hip-Hop world. “Brown Skin Girl” released in 2019, celebrates women and girls of dark skin. She compares dark skin to pearls, an important message considering the prevalent issue of colorism existing today. Another notable artist is rapper Kendrick Lamar, who released “Alright” in 2015 as a protest against police violence and hope for a future with justice for Black lives. Outside of empowerment, many artists have made it clear that their music is to act as a source of entertainment and enjoyment, such as Doja Cat, who received criticism for gaining an audience from her song “Mooo!” After the song was released, Doja has said that it came about while she was having fun with fans on Instagram live. Doja Cat has now received nominations for 11 Grammy nominations, a Billboard Music Award, 5 American Music Awards, and 3 MTV Video Music Awards. This can be used to support the idea that many of the lyrics artists put out with their songs are not truly to always make a statement, but rather to utilize their music as a way of having fun and expressing their character. Thus, it can be said that the type of source that the lyrics of artists act as do not truly matter, as it is almost impossible to box the reasoning behind the vast lyrics of a variety of different artists with diverse backgrounds, interests, styles, and motivations.

Similarly, there has been much controversy surrounding the impact the lyrics of Hip-Hop artists have on young adults. It is easy to take note of the constant mention of material items, provocative behavior, and overall explicit language used by many hip-hop artists. This can cause young adults to develop an interest inexpensive clothing and other items, due to the connection that is made between a song’s popularity and the trends that they set (oftentimes associated with clothing). Despite this, it is important to recall how many artists have made it clear that they do not mean for their lyrics to be acted upon, specifically because their music is meant to be a representative of them and what they believe to be true. Megan Thee Stallion applies to this, as her lyrics have been said to provide a poor example for young women. Megan, on the other hand, has said that her music is to act as empowerment for the sexuality of women, as they are not always allowed the room to release the same type of explicit music male rappers do without being shamed. She has also said that she must put on for those who do not realize the importance of confidence and self-love, being that she was raised by a woman who was “true and authentic” to herself. A lot of times, Black women are deprived of showcasing their sexuality due to masculinization and the assumed role that they must act as motherly role models, an issue that is deeply rooted in slavery. Megan has also made it clear that she is not a character, and that she has a life outside of her music, especially with balancing life as a college student and as a growing artist. Correspondingly, Hip-Hop lyrics are also capable of reminding young people of reality away from social media, a phenomenon that can sometimes alter the outlook young people have on what it means to be a successful or worthy person. In Kendrick Lamar’s track titled, “HUMBLE,” Kendrick acknowledges the extreme editing that is applied to photos of women today and how they create false expectations of women’s bodies. In the song, he asks to see something natural like stretch marks because he’s “sick and tired of the photoshop.” This is crucial for young people to hear, specifically young women because their image of what they are supposed to look like has been easily tainted by photos posted on social media. This assures those young women will not feel forced to undergo procedures or other behaviors to adhere to society’s expectations of them.

In conversations having to do with the impact of Hip-Hop, those arguing on behalf of its negatives support their perspective with conclusions drawn from criminal court cases involving popular artists, an example being the case of Tekashi 69, who was charged with a series of violent crimes. Although it is important to take note of the actions of the people we listen to, it is even more significant to recognize the racist roots in the association of Hip-Hop with aggressiveness and rebellion, and how the weaponizing of such cases fuels these prejudice assumptions. This association derives from the fact that Hip-Hop is a genre created by Black people, and continues to be dominated by remarkable Black artists. While minimizing Hip-Hop to the promotion of violence and crime, the tool that Hip-Hop is to the Black community is also being undermined. This minimization completely looks over the fact that Black artists have transformed their discontent towards injustices to musical protests, or have simply used their music as self-expression.  The same can be said when the criminal pasts of rappers are used to justify anti-rap attitudes. The deeper association between Black people and violence has its roots in racist American history, specifically slavery, where American Black men were depicted as inherently violent to justify racism and create alertness around Black rebellion for justice. All in all, it is imperative to not treat these criminal court cases as spokespeople for the Hip-Hop genre. 

In summation. Hip-Hop has become more than just music. It is full of the diverse culture that has allowed for Black youth to produce art that reflects their complex beliefs and experiences. Furthermore, it has enabled artists the space to mold their music into representations of what they believe to be issues in our society, themselves, or their interests. More importantly, it has connected young people with fundamental ideas of social awareness, and identity, as well as purpose. Given the need for outspokenness, justice, and engagement today, the necessity for Hip-Hop remains prominent.