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Hip Hop Culture for Grown-Ups

Positive Rappers: Hip Hop’s Endangered Species

Words by Tony Grands

Why is it that people hate Lupe Fiasco so much? It seems that no matter what he raps about, it ends with people comin’ for his head, so to speak.

I’ve had conversations with folks about it, but I never seem to get a logical answer. One friend said he was too preachy. Another said he likes him more when he’s telling a story rather than trying to teach. Some seem to dislike him just because he tries to enlighten the listener, rather than tear them down. Whatever the case, Lu isn’t the first rapper who can’t seem to catch a break. The thing to understand, though, is that it has nothing to do with Wasalu Muhammad Waco & everything to do with his subject matter.

In 2012, the average rap fan isn’t even trying to hear music about anything positive. Such an act is widely viewed as an assault on Hip Hop’s collective intelligence (or lack there of). Wisdom, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder in this cattywompus culture, & songs about good things are like happiness & safety are as useful as an infrared beam scope on Ray Charles’ favorite handgun.

For what it’s worth, “positive” rap music isn’t only dispensed by backpackers or conscious MC’s, per se. Just about any rapper can drop science in regard to greener pastures. Take Tupac, for example. If he needed to be categorized, he’d easily be enveloped by the “Gangsta Rapper” umbrella, even though he’s brought us literal classics such as “Dear Mama,” “Brenda’s Gotta Baby,” “Keep Your Head Up,” & more. Was Pac a positive rapper? Not at all. In fact, some would say he’s the total opposite of anything “positive.” But he was one of the few rap artists who could stitch joy & pain together without it feeling sappy or contrived. Plus, there’s an unwritten rule in rap music that if you degrade enough women on one album, you’ll automatically be forgiven for picking at least one of them back up. If you look at the sequencing for any of Tupac’s albums, you’ll notice that his entire career was apparently based on this willy-nilly philosophy (but that’s for another post, on another day).

At the apex of Lupe & Chief Keef’s storied misunderstanding, Mr. Kick Push “announced” that it may be time to retire his microphone in search of a rekindled loved for the literary arts. Personally, I thought it was a good idea. I’m sure writing books is a lot harder than writing raps, but I’m willing to bet that the harder work is worth it when the respect & appreciation set in. & that’s not to say that lovers of books & rap music can’t be the same entity, but let’s be realistic. People who download the latest mixtapes & retail albums are most likely the same people who stopped buying books after high school graduation & only see new movies online, before they hit theaters.

Lupe Fiasco believes he’s on a mission from his God to educate, uplift, & praise his people through music. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem begins with realizing that this might be closer to fitting a square peg into a round slot than delivering messages to the proverbial masses. Rap music is – in many instances – a guilty pleasure, & there are folks who wouldn’t otherwise listen to it if it weren’t for it’s IQ (ignorant quotient). With that in mind, almost nobody wants to hear Deacon Music, or it’s less preachy, more rhetorical cousin, Revolutionary Rap, on purpose.

After all, this isn’t the late 1980s, when knowledge of self was a necessary component of being a Hip Hop head. In those days, (some) rap dudes were almost like superheroes, traversing muck, mire, & bullshit to gladly distrubute urbanized wisdom over funky samples & broken beats. Now, not so much. My philosophy is that when the daddies disappeared, the robots started raising the babies, & emotions got suppressed in the process. Somewhere along the (blood)line(s), positivity became a sign of weakness, even though it should be celebrated.

Rappers like Lupe, who genuinely have something to share, will never eclipse their shinier contemporaries, & that’s just a drab reality. In fact, the only times in life when positivity is considered a bad thing are when it’s the results for an AIDS test & in rap music. Think about that for a moment.

As long as there are rappers whose occupational hazard job it is to point out the societal ills that plague mankind, there will always be people there to call them a “bitch” for doing so.

Is there any room for a positive rapper nowadays? I think that ship has sailed. But then again, Jay-Z hasn’t dropped that Hip Hop lullabies album for his daughter yet. Stay tuned…

Words by Tony Grands
@TheTonyGrands

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8 comments on “Positive Rappers: Hip Hop’s Endangered Species

  1. realnagan
    October 9, 2012

    can ninja books online just saying,ALL info is free. Lupe is one of the few younger cats still kicking knowledge. that track over the T.R.O.Y. beat is tight.

    Lupe’s beats are sorta weak for the most part, label choice from hear say. dunno i’m a stan to say the least. i listen more to non US hip hop though , knowledge aint dead. despite the perversion of of the ol skool the US has become. not a hater but the US has earned it’s drunken older brother status in a world sense, cultural and otherwise

    Like

  2. markdub7
    October 9, 2012

    I love Lupe’s music. I think he’s one of the best wordsmiths in the game, and I love that his message is positive and enlightening. The only thing that i don’t rock with him with is his politics. It’s great that he can eloquently voice his opinion regarding the president; I just think the timing sucks. He has to know that for his view, he will be brow-beaten, and will lose a lot of fans as a result. He should expect no less. I also think he has a real problem manning up when he messes up. Dude never says, “yo…I messed up”. Instead, it’s always some rebellious, eloquently OVER-stated excuse justifying why he’s said what he’s said (a la’ the Tribe tribute that he ucked fup) when it would just be easier, and honestly, more endearing to his audience to just say, yo….I messed up.

    Like

  3. Curtis75Black
    October 9, 2012

    “After all, this isn’t the late 1980s, when knowledge of self was a necessary component of being a Hip Hop head.”

    Real Talk Grands !! Gangsta Rap & The more worse Criminal Rap came thru and shut that shit down quickly !! All they needed was a funky beat. Majority of my peeps were in last year of High School when Nas was hanging around cocaine spots or at the candy factory, picking the locks. When Snoop was 187 those Undercover cops, smoking Indo, sippin’ on Gin & Juice. When Biggie was robbin’ fools on the train. As dope as their music was, it set the precendent to all that’s hot today. Being nice to the ladies is a no go when they are calling themselves Bitches & hoes. Being a positive emcee since the mid 90’s and trying to sustain a career has been going against the grain.

    Like

  4. Loki
    October 9, 2012

    It all comes full circle

    Like

    • Tony Grands
      October 9, 2012

      I agree. Lot more storm to weather first, though, culturally.

      Like

  5. mtume
    October 9, 2012

    There is still losts of positive rap being made and listened too, but rappers have to dumb themselves down to get on the radio…but this has always been the case. When native tongues n krs-one were putting out their shit they didn’t really get any shine on commercial radio…hip hop didn’t break out into the radio mainstream until biggie n jigga n dmx n em. i mean the only shit that lupe got on the radio was that trash from lasers.

    BUT thats not to say that positive hip hop isn’t still being made, and now its closer than ever to the mainstream. kendrick lamar it seems to me is waaay more popular than organized konfusion or black star were in the 90s. (maybe i’m wrong on that tho).

    Like

    • Tony Grands
      October 9, 2012

      Lamar’s machine is Dr Dre. OK’s machine was Hollywood Basic Records, whose only other rap group at the time was the “Lifer’s Group.”

      Like

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