Hip Hop Culture for Grown-Ups
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