What Rocked The World Into Rap?
A guest blog by Milo Chapman
This is such a brilliant piece of writing about Rap and so much more; communication, social conditions, community, the fashion industry, gender, race, drugs, mental health and politics - written by Milo who is just 14 years old. It shows such insight and depth of thinking. Enjoy
"Rap is a popular music of US black origin in which words are recited rapidly and rhythmically over an instrumental backing” (def. Online Oxford Dictionary).
The spoken word in rap often rhymes, and is set to music to make it much easier listening than just hearing a person talking. But the other meaning of ‘rap’ in the dictionary explains that it also means to ‘strike’ a surface with a series of rapid audible blows, especially in order to attract attention’. It is the message of bringing to ‘accountability’. This is also the word used by the House of Commons Speaker with their staff, bringing the session to order so that the members can begin discussing the daily issues.
Rap within the context of this blog though is about the spoken musical form being used for communication, to seek attention, to be listened to. It is a very creative way of asking for help in a way, more entertaining and more likely to be listened to than bad behaviour. Positive action to get a reaction.
Rap as a type of talking music entered the scene initially very much as an outpouring from black older teenagers souls as a response to their stricken lives. That was what rap was all about in one sense. This is the first few lines from z famous rap song about poverty by Grandmaster Flash from 1982
… It's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder
How I keep from going under
It's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder
How I keep from going under
… Broken glass everywhere
. It refers to multiple themes - poor conditions, being unhealthy, unemployment, drugs, knife crime, children being brought up in these conditions, and the strong links to the impact of horrible environment on young people’s minds - making many go crazy, lose the plot, and causing suicide even but lots of mental health problems.
One of the most famous modern rappers is Kanye West. He made rap less about poor conditions and talked about education and religion and his mum, so it opened up Rap to being more acceptable to more people. More mainstream. A few words from him:
“You know the kids gon' act a fool
When you stop the programs for after school
And they DCFS, some of 'em dyslexic
They favorite 50 Cent song "12 Questions"
We scream, "Rocks, blow, weed, park," see, now we smart
We ain't retards the way teachers thought
Hold up, hold fast, we make more cash
Now, tell my mama I belong in that slow class
It's bad enough we on welfare
They tryna put me on the school bus with the space for the wheelchair
I'm tryna get the car with the chrome-y wheels here
They tryna cut our lights out like we don't live here
Look what was handed us, fathers abandoned us
When we get them hammers, go on, call the ambulance
Sometimes, I feel no one in this world understands us"
Rap does not always focus on what is socially important though and sometimes can be quite offensive, especially to parents as there is often a lot of swearing and inappropriate talk about drugs and sex. Kanye West came from a family where his mum was a professor in a university so although he can be pretty arrogant, he also made rap posher.
WHAT INFLUENCES ROCKED THE WORLD INTO RAP?
Poetry, literature and Musical Influences on Rap
Rap is a mix between poetry and storytelling, but to music and is like something called the old ‘griot’ tradition from Africa whereby rich families had a storyteller who was also a musician and through these individuals much would be communicated. In older fashioned times it would have been more like a ‘bard’ as in Shakespeare used, or a court jester - a wise fool who seemed to be just entertaining but was actually often giving a message. Chaucer was a well known writer who wrote in rhyme, telling stories about people and life through their everyday lives such as The Millers Tale, The Reeves Tale and The Knights Tale, although these are more about people than rap usually is.
Other story telling poets from history included people called Baudelaire, Apollinaire and a famous but weird French man called Serge Gainsbourg who used different ways to tell what he wanted to say - including film and musical storytelling that was quite like rap to tell the world about his controversial ideas and frustrations. Rappers probably didn’t know about those historical things though, and it probably just emerged by chance, from frustration, and suffering, and because when bad things happen and you are pushed to places where sometimes you start to write poetry or rap to stop yourself losing it.
So rap is like a short form of writing. It is also a very successful way because now pretty much the whole world’s youth listen to rap everyday and it helps many to keep strong emotionally, and channel their anger and frustrations. Recently I went with my brothers and mum to see ‘Hamilton’ (by Lin-Manuel Miranda). It tells the story of a musical in London about an American Founding Father called Alexander Hamilton. I loved it. Them not so much.
RAP AS A CALL TO ACTION
Rap was first and foremost initially a ‘call to action’, covering multiple themes, in a deeper - say it how it is - honest sort of way - more so than ever before. The ‘rappers’ i.e. the singing, chanting artists, are often the frustrated ‘youth of today’ trying to bring to the world’s attention issues within their communities including poverty, gangs, drugs, deaths, and shifting cultures. The thing with rap is that is is a very clever initiative, being entertaining and far more fun but also being a different form of ‘voice’ through music; it is an alternative to politics which a rapper would have little chance of ever getting into, especially in America with campaigns requiring great wealth, education and class. In the UK its is the same as most politicians are rich and right wing. We have never had a black prime minister, but America have had a black president which is sort of the same, called Obama. But it is much harder for black people still and also women.
Rap grew into being a white thing as well as is shown in the film ‘8 Mile’, about the life of, and also starring Eminem, the first well known white rapper. He also depicted the equivalent of bringing together different opinions and ideas together in a relatively safer space in a truce. Rap meetings are considered a truce - with opposing gangs who had previously only communicated through violence coming together in one space to ‘rap’ their thoughts, fears, frustrations and future ideas out to communicate to each other.
This demonstrates the very easygoing, honest communication style of rap, which is basically just talking about life, it’s an outpouring of thoughts, frustrations, gives people a voice, to be heard in a more modern way. It can however be much more crude, reflecting the difficult upbringing and cultural differences in expectations about manners and relationships. What is often less appealing for many to digest about what is rapped out is often the very things it aims to highlight - being exposing of sexism within certain cultures, references to drugs, the gang world, bling, and other stuff like that. Rap was initially something listened to in Black parties and clubs. Rap didn’t start getting recognition until a year or two after ‘Rappers Delight’ had been released, and artists like Grand Master Flash and the Sugar Hill Gang where being listened to more generally in the young party and club scene all across America.
RAP & RACISM
Anyway, In the 1980s rap changed a lot, artists like Run DMC were playing rock guitar in their songs making the genre ‘Rap rock’, and the vocals started to become increasingly controversial and even led to riots - like ‘’Fu..k Tha Police’’, being very related to racism which was a song fighting against police brutality and racism because there where dozens of black people who were a victim of racism and they decided to protest through rap. This was when the Klu Klux Klan were still very active as ‘white supremasists’ very much a thing and back then when it was a very racist time (see the film .’Black Klansman’). It was unlikely if you were black you would become a police officer and if you did you were treated very badly, and could not do nothing about it because it was dangerous so it began protests all across the world. There was even a postcard in America of a black man tarred and feathered and burnt - a postcard. That’s hard to process.
Throughout the 80s and 90s there was a rap war between the East side and the West side of America and the record companies rejected East Coast artists in favour of West Coast ones. Tim Dog a rapper decided to voice his anger in the infamous song "Fuck Compton”. This song caused westside to be angry and disrespected causing the ‘Hip Hop War’. Suge Knight brought “gangsta” rap into the mainstream music industry, he launched the careers of many legendary music artists like Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg, he founded the company death row records along side the D.O.C, Dr. Dre and Dick Griffey. Death row records went bankrupt and was sold to a company called entertainment one for $280 million. So now it is more than a genre to protest, it is a multi-billion dollar/pound/ euro industry.
RAP & SOCIAL AWARENESS
Rap has spurred social awareness in communities around the world, rap has been used as a tool to speak out against negative aspects of the world like violence and guns, many artists use their music to spread awareness and bring peace to the world. Rap has also changed thousands of peoples lives, giving them a purpose and if rap was not listened to they would be nobody’s. Rap has certainly highlighted drugs and gangs and murder.
There is a big difference between UK rap music and US rap music, like grime and drill are usually associated with the UK and is seen as the more aggressive side of rap and a lot of people associate drill to Londons knife crime problem. In 2021 there where 30 young men who where a victim of knife crime and the numbers are rising and just getting worse and worse. The UK has different slang to the USA, however slang evolves each year. There will always be new words you hear like the word Peng which means good looking became a thing teenagers would say and then a year or too later it evolved into leng which means very good looking. So rap also gave the world a whole new language, although not everyone would agree that is a good thing.
Racism has always been a problem, but rappers like N.W.A and Gil Scott-Heron where using their platform as a way of protesting against police brutality and white power, in the song “Whitey On The Moon” Gil Scott-Heron says “a rat done bit my sister, Nell. I can’t pay no doctor bills but whitey’s on the moon”, he is basically saying whilst they are struggling to even make enough money to go to the doctors while “whiteys on the moon”. People have been fighting against racism for decades and it is slowly making a difference and is making the world more equal. But it has a long way to go.
RAP & GENDER INEQUALITY
Rap is traditionally made by men, there are very-few female rappers who have been able to make mainstream success, top known female rappers are female rappers like Lauren Hill, Missy Elliot, and Nicki Minaj. Before people can embrace female rappers we must start to respect them as much as we do male ones. In male rappers songs they use words that can offend people because they are sometimes sexist and vulgar towards woman.
Gender equality is much less of a theme in Rap and that is a big problem for many people, especially women. But there is too much division still and it would be better if white and black women joined and protested together and if men and women were just fairer, but too many people - especially men are not fair and black rappers are often very ‘male’. I want to change that as it’s not fair and the world should be fairer.
The Roots made a song called the return to innocence lost and it's about domestic violence and gender equality. Approximately 1 in 3 woman suffer from domestic abuse and this song helped bring attention to the thousands of people in the world suffering from domestic abuse and people are finally starting to speak up about their experiences with domestic abuse. It must have got worse during the Covid pandemic.
Rap is interesting in having highlighted how in different cultures including black rappers men are still very dominant over women. There are some female rappers but they are just trying to emulate the males by being crude and trying to shock. It is not about war - but about trying to bring change - and sometimes I think rap lost it’s way, but I still love to listen to it.
RAP & DRUGS
72% of popular rap songs contain references to one or more substances, with 947 references, which resulted in 63 references to drugs or alcohol after just one hour of listening. Drug glorification can have effects on all ages especially teenagers, it has increased the amount of teenage drug usage all around the world, predominantly in the US and the UK. Many rappers have got entangled in the life of drugs and guns and they normally don’t end up well. But alcohol is a drug and makes you idiotic when you drink too much. There is non-high version of cannabis. It’s called ‘medicinal cannabis’ and this can be good for some people with illnesses and in pain. Rappers need to realise maybe that the world does not see drugs as they do and they need to be careful as it gives many older white and black people a bad impression of Rap. There is a lot of misunderstanding in the world though and maybe it’s better to talk about all this stuff as the world is pretty old fashioned and is not working in so many ways. Its just going round and round rather than forward. So it’s up to rapers partly to start a discussion.
Eminem has played a large part in what rap is today, with his experimentations with his own voice, shifting tones, flows and personas. There were not many rappers who were white and it was normally seen as “black music” and when Eminem showed up it completely blew the world away as he could rap better than most could dream of. His film has been good for both white and black rappers. But why shouldn’t white people rap? It should not be a black thing as that is also racist. It should be about everyone being heard and everyone being valued - black - white - men - women - young - old - the whole thing about ‘diversity and inclusion’. That should be about how we think to, because we have different brains and personalities. But it’s just like black rapers are often feared - they are black and marginalised and so they are often ignored - thought of as troublemakers. But they are just not understood. Often the best ideas are ignored at first, by idiots , but when someone who is clever gets to listen they get it, then change can start to happen.
RAP & THE FASHION INDUSTRY
Rap has majorly changed the fashion industry by setting trends with regards to what is considered fashionable or outdated in clothing. Rappers make their own clothing brands and this makes people who wear their clothes feel more like they are a part of their culture and that they are a supporter. People want to dress up like their favourite artists because they admire them, but I am not sure they actually listen to the words. Artist such as Notorious B.I.G and JayZ influenced many people to dress in designer clothes, particularly Versace. Major fashion brands like Nike, Gucci and Adidas they all have acknowledged the power of Rap in setting trends in fashion. That is why most Rap artists are paid a significant amount, making millions of dollars, to countersign a certain brand. I think that Rap is about more than that though. The world is quite shallow and people don’t understand change is important. Our family has had a lot of difficult times and so I have had to learn to deal with change. It should be called growth.
RAPS VIRAL INFLUENCE
‘Going viral’ is like hitting a gold mine, it means that people all over the world are sending on what they have been sent so it spreads the word. Everyone who is a hip hop fan will listen to you because you are funny or interesting. People like Lil pump and Bhad Bhabie went viral not because they where exactly good at making music but because they where funny to watch and they where so ridiculous people loved them and they made millions from it. Social media play massive parts in going viral, someone will react to a rappers music video or post a clip of you that will be reposted over and over again, and people will share them round and round making the rapper millions off the views they are getting from people around the world.
RAP & MENTAL HEALTH
Many popular rap artists are incorporating their experiences with anxiety, depression, and PTSD into their lyrics and many people who suffer with depression use music as a way of dealing with their emotions. Mental health disorders are the leading cause of disability now in the world and affects at least half of the population. But there are a lot of black and poor people who are affected. As well as people who have learning difficulties. Artists like Kid Cudi, Lil Peep and Kendrick Lamar all use their own experiences with mental health in their songs as a way of reminding the people who suffer from mental health issues that they are not alone and that there is always a way though depression. These are the numbers in Table 2 of people killing themselves though still.
RAP, POLITICS & CHARITY
Kanye West ran for president in 2020 and he got 60,000 votes, which is not much out of over 100 million votes, but we are talking about a rapper running for president! Kanye West believes in crazy things like humans living on Mars one day, just as Elon Musk does, and he also believes one day the world will not use money and that is obvious. Kanye is a very controversial man, who is always talked about because of the weird things he says and does. He is also very generous at times and made a $2 million donation to support the families of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and he also donated more than 4000 kids toys to kids in Chicago during lockdown. But this is also because he felt rubbish about himself at school and likes to get praise as it makes him feel good.
Kanye West is not the only person helping the world, Drake has donated $100,000 to National Bail Out, a collective that helped bail out black mothers and caregivers during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is estimated that Snoop Dogg has donated over $110 million to charity, Akon has supplied 600 million people in Africa with electricity in their homes and it is estimated that JayZ has donated $480 million to charity. This is a lot but nothing to what they still keep.
Make a wish is a company that gives kids who are very sick a chance to meet someone or do something before they pass away, Mac Miller donated $50k to the make a wish foundation in 2011. Make a wish had to apologise to a family after they booked the child to see Drake Bell instead of Drake. Apart from that they have Made millions of children dreams come true, artists like Eminem have teamed up with make a wish dozens of times to meet young people who suffer from illnesses.
RAP CREATES COMMUNITY
Rap makes the world more of a community for example concerts are full of thousands of people, Eminem once had 46,474 fans at one of his concerts, you could hear the fans singing from a mile away. Travis Scott held a virtual concert with Fortnite, the computer game and 12 million people saw it live, including me.
RAP GETS RAPPED
But in 2021 Travis Scotts Astroworld concert went wrong as it was too popular and 10 people died and they could have been saved but there was not enough medical support on site and Travis despite knowing of people being injured continued to preform instead of getting those people help. These are things that make the newspapers and get blown up to make them sound bad. The same is true for knife crimes and sexism and swearing and gold bling, and talk about loads of money. You can understand though why some rappers who have been really poor before get carried away with their money and fame, its just hard to handle such a difference probably. That is why they show off and go over the top. But overall, rap is a good thing I think.
RAPPING UP & CONCLUSIONS
In conclusion rap has effected the world in many different ways, giving people opportunities that have changed peoples lives, the world would not be what it is today if rap was not a thing, we would never of heard of people like Kanye West and Snoop Dogg. Rap has helped fight against racism and sexism, making the world more equal, it has changed communities forever, people making new friends and making people happier overall. Rap is used as a way of spreading awareness to things like drug glorification, gang violence and many other problems in the world.
By Milo Chapman.