Today’s rap music feels more like undercover advertisement than actual music.
There are more references to different brands of liquor, car models, and other rappers than there are allusions to real, actual aspects of the common man’s life. Granted, it makes sense—rap was born of the desire to seem greater than one actually was. Historically, it began with African-Americans, an oppressed people, who wanted to create some semblance of superiority in their lives. Emphasizing the things they have, the lives they lived, the people they have surpassed, is a norm in the rap world. And what is the first step to believing your own lie? Telling it to not only yourself, but also to the people around you.
But, what is the purpose behind the top rap music of today? Take the song “Panda” for example. It has held a spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart for sixteen weeks now. Enter a club, a basketball game, or your friend’s housewarming party, and you’re sure to hear the familiar beat drop and hype man rolling in the background to Desiigner mumbling. The two verses that stand out amongst the otherwise incoherent lyrics are when the rapper repeats “panda, panda, panda,” and his second most infamous line, which also had a guest appearance in Kanye West’s “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 2:” “I got broads in Atlanta.” He raps about an endangered species which happens to look like a BMW X6, and the women he knows in Atlanta. These lyrics do, in some loose form, address real life. Sure, people see white BMWs with black tinted windows cruising down the street; that’s not a totally unrelatable aspect of the song. But, as stated before, it feels like BMW is getting more out of the song than the actual listener with the constant references to their luxury car.
Rap has become more distant than ever in the past twenty years. The N.W.A.’s “Express Yourself,” 2Pac’s “Changes,” and Nas’ “The World is Yours” are all examples of rap music that addressed the times. They were artists who constantly pushed for change from the people, true revolutionaries who spoke of things more concrete than popular name brands. There was meaning behind their words. Somewhere along the way, however, rap music, for the most part, has lost that key characteristic. It is random, nonsensical, and lacking in awareness of social inequalities and changes. But, none of that seems to matter, so long as the beat stays slick.
It would be easier to wholly denounce the music if it were not so contagiously entertaining. But, it would seem modern rap’s redeeming quality is its ability to bring out the liveliness in an individual, regardless of its lack of sense. So, the next time Desiigner’s “Panda,” or Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen,” or really anything by Future starts playing, watch as your head bobs to the beat while your mind tries unsuccessfully to make sense of the words funneling into your ears.
– Caira Wynn Blackwell