Okay, so the title is a little tongue-in-cheek. And hip hop is not everyone’s cup of tea. But whether we like it or not, rap is relevant. You’ve got to admit, today’s rap royalty have got a certain charisma and street cred that few other musicians enjoy. Most times, the verses drip with narcissistic rhymes about flashy cars, obscene amounts of bling, drugs and breaking out of life in the ghetto. But that’s fairly stereotypical. If you listen carefully, you might find some interesting perspectives in there. Rappers reject elitism and the The Man, but their cult appeal lies in their ability to connect with those who feel alienated by society. They often contain passionate social commentaries, if you know where to look.
Take the above for example. I’d glazed over the song on The Great Gatsby soundtrack until i actually started paying attention to the lyrics. There’s a fascinating philosophical puzzle there. Where does power really lie? It asks a very fundamental question – does being godless make you invincible? And then, the climactic paradox – even the non-believer is slave to the mob because no one can survive alone. Before you know it, we’ve come full circle. It’s really quite poetic. Kanye even raps about Socrates and Plato. Perhaps I’d been too quick to write off the likes of Drake, Dr Dre and Tupac.
Hip hop is informed by the great Jazz age of the swinging ’20s. Its themes often revolve around survival, being marginalised by society, and overcoming the odds to become a self-made success. All of which most of us can relate to. Despite being snubbed by corporate America just two decades ago, rappers are laughing their way to the banks. It is now a $10 billion industry. Its rise is unparalleled, overtaking traditional agriculture and manufacturing industries in record time. People make jokes about Kanye, Tyga and how ridiculous the Kardashians are. I agree that our obsession with reality TV is a symptom of a much bigger decay in society. But these musicians are something else.
They’ve turned their art into musical empires built on the narrative of rags to riches, selling hope and celluloid dreams through Yeezy sneakers, lip kits and overpriced jeans. They tell people you can make it big like me. Rap is the new religion. These gold-clad titans languish on the volatile thrones of pop culture, straddling the often warring realms of art and business. Ka-ching.
Sure, there is much to be said about the licentious lifestyle, guns, drugs and and dysfunctional relationships. But behind their success lie a certain brilliance, keen business acumen and a dauntless determination to succeed. But of course, this comes at a price. It gets lonely at the top. We all know there is but a fine line between genius and insanity. It probably won’t be the last time Kanye checks himself into rehab.