Rap is complicated, sophisticated, oration. Weaving story, metaphor, and a host of linguistic tools and angles to craft a piece of musical art, that demands as much from its listener as it does it’s creator.
The need to decipher rap music is no different than “acquiring a taste” for European Classical music. Here’s why. It’s music that you have to work for. You have to actively listen, challenging your brainpower to understand, de-code, and unpack layer upon layer of meaning, all by the next lyric.
In order to be a “maker” in this field, an artist, you must provoke all these happenings in the listener, and mind/mine rhythm, cadence, tonality, intensity, and voice texture, using metaphor and all kinds of Un-codified forms of word play for the sake of satire, irony, linear and non-linear narrative- impact. Things that make you hmmm..
This requires true musical talent, honed linguistic skill, and perhaps most of all- intuition, nuance, and sensitivity. Critical thinking, social – political inquiry, consciousness, are pluses and make for truly great artists- in my opinion, of course. But are pluses, not foundational.
Revisiting the listener’s experience, I remembered that there is often so much missed in the first round of listening, causing one to listen- no, to study the music, repeatedly- each time gaining more ground and a deeper understanding of not only the piece, but the artist/s (there are frequently more than one artist in a musical piece. Hip Hop/Rap music breeds collaboration, relying largely on many voices, to manifest new ideas, sounds, community representation and/or stated alliances for cooperative economics- Wu Tang, Goodie Mob, A Tribe Called Quest, Digital Underground.)
Why is this form not taught as an actual American art form with African root and influence? How is this not a truth honored by music programs and education/art institutions across the world?
Considering the demographic of Hip Hop music as predominantly African American and Latino people, the all too frequent assumption that these children, boys, and men are somehow flooding a “lesser” form is ludicrous. Why would they? Every child wants to be “right”, successful, and affirmed, and creative!
What if they were masters of a form that not only had the ample space for individuality and opportunities for excellence (more than anything else they’re shown, except athletics), but also affirmed they’re reality- home, culture, community/neighborhood.
You might say, perhaps the form is lesser because access to “education” for children and men of color is lesser? …. Education is cultural. Even when learning the “facts” learning them from a certain perspective, shades it’s meaning, and environment determines how this information, tools, “facts” apply to you. What is important about Advance Placement European History or Trigonometry when so few of your community benefit from knowing it?
Considering, community/neighborhood, being excellent at a form is a result of being immersed in it. Brothas are surrounded by the sounds and layers of hip hop. It’s rhythm, reflected in their place of worship, radio, mamas nag and daddy’s swag. So of course there is excellence in this form, there has been a lifetime of learning and practice.
So in reconsidering the definitions of education, where its gained, and used, what must also be reconsidered is what education is for white people, how it defines white “successes”, and informs legislation by white people, upholding and fortifying white privilege. This “education” is all specious, totally subjective, and absolutely cultural- completely affirmed by every institution they’ve constructed.
Whiteness, has not however constructed hip hop, or the nuclear environments, the homes, ancestral root, and spiritual threads that breed the form. So whiteness will never truly understand hip hop, and can never truly manufacture it. And because of the political nature of whiteness (privilege without critical inquiry) it will never value Hip Hop, and can therefore, never truly have it.
Hip Hop is ours.