Contrary to what many people believe, the lyrical component of Hip-Hop music covers a lot of topics. As opposed to a musical genre like R&B, in which singers mostly sing about love, sex and relationships, or Death Metal, which is mainly about death, doom and gloom, rap leaves room for life, death, love, hate and everything in between. But if we ignore the come up of glossy emo rap and rock star-style posturing in recent years – and that’s what I personally prefer doing anyway: ignoring it – Hip-Hop that makes it to mainstream ears still mainly consists of songs about thuggery and incredible financial success, in the sense that this is still the pervasive imagery that non-Hip-Hop fans associate with the music.
And it’s this overemphasis on mostly fantastical gangsta-isms exploited by the music industry that has made it not-cool for young artists coming in from the outside to rap about anything else. Consider the 2015 internet phenomenon of the particularly cartoony looking Slim Jesus, who’s toy gun waving, Chicago drill music emulating music video Drill Time has now reached over 20 million views, in a partly memetic and partly fan growth driven viral development. During his quick rise to popularity, Slim Jesus himself was quick to state in a Vlad TV interview that he’s not about that life and that he raps (poorly) about guns and street life because “that shit is dope” and that nobody would listen to him rapping about “driving in a car and listening to country music”.
While it is to some degree admirable that the kid doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not outside of his music video – which makes him an exception to the rule in that he separates real life from rap music, similar to what Too $hort did before him – at this point this type of approach does not carry any weight. As we’ve established before, there is the matter of authenticity. Brand Nubian’s Lord Jamar rightfully stated in a follow-up interview that, from its origin, Hip-Hop respects the truth and that there might indeed be people relating to rhymes about driving around in a car and listening to country music.
What’s more, there is such a thing as real drill music, born out of the exorbitant gang youth violence going on in Chicago. Dudes like Chief Keef, Lil Herb and Lil Mouse rap about their real life experiences, and to tell you the truth: there is nothing dope about that. It’s all very tragic, really.
You know who also rap about their real life experiences? Regular, blue collar type guy (or girl) rappers like Blu, Phonte, Supastition, Rapsody, Torae, Skyzoo and Diamond District. And they do so with great skill, character and warm, soulful beats backing them up. If you’re not already listening to these artists or others of their mold, let me sell them to you…
A large amount of Hip-Hop listeners don’t constantly wave guns around or have the luxury to make it rain cash in the club every night. And while the escapist or entertainment value of ‘gangsta rap’ is perfectly valid, there is something oddly comforting and therapeutic about listening to well crafted rhymes about making ends meet and struggling with love and family relationships, if you’re grown up like the rest of us at Triv Magazine. Hip-Hop of this type might not possess the ‘coolest’ subject matter, but when the beats bump and knock in the car, they might just make your more mundane day-to-day activities (or even setbacks) sound a lot cooler that they actually are.
In the end, I’m not saying all Hip-Hop should fit this format, but artists like the above deserve a lot more love and should definitely be cherished as flag bearers of authenticity. If we somehow could get over the notion that only rap about guns is cool, then who knows… Maybe one day Slim Jesus, when he has done some growing up, will take Lord Jamar’s suggestion and make an actual dope song about his true passion for driving around and listening to country music.