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Is TikTok Good or Bad for Rap?

photograph of TikTok icon on ipod sitting on empty counter

TikTok has taken over the world by storm. In 2018, it became the most downloaded app on the IOS networks app store with 45.8 million downloads, passing up YouTube’s 35.8 million and Instagram’s 31 million. With around 800 million active users worldwide, the app has been the hub for the latest viral challenges, skits, and dances.

In the wake of TikTok’s popularity comes a very noticeable shift in the music industry, specifically for rap. Lately, rappers look for the success in the virality of their music through TikTok and have continued to engineer their music for the platform. This new wave of rap music coming up through TikTok begs the question if it’s a good thing for the genre or causing a regress.

The power of TikTok and what it could do for the modern day music artist first came apparent with Lil Nas X and his smash hit “Old Town Road.” The song saw a variety of remixes, was the source of endless memes, and maybe most importantly, it sat atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a record breaking 17 consecutive weeks.

Lil Nas’s success wouldn’t have been possible without TikTok though. Before, his song sat in the void with millions of others hoping for even the slightest exposure. But once it popped up on TikTok and people grew curious about the rap-country mashup playing in the background of other user’s videos, the song exploded from there. Since then, along with Lil Nas’s affirmation, TikTok emphasizes what the app can do for music creators.

With Lil Nas’s success in mind, how is TikTok regressing rap? After all, along with the accolades the app helped his song achieve, TikTok and Lil Nas X demonstrated how versatile rap can be when blended with other genres. It even shed some light on the LGBTQ community’s relationship with rap music when Lil Nas came out as queer.

Maybe the issue isn’t so much with “Old Town Road” than it is with the surge of music artists coming after Lil Nas, looking for their chance at virality and Billboard standing. Since then, countless rap artists and groups have strategized putting their music on TikTok for their chance at pushing their brand, so much so that there are tutorials on how to make music on TikTok go viral.

But in the midst of this scramble for virality, up-and-coming rappers who are already established, as well as seasoned rap veterans, have made their mark with their music on the app. For instance, the rapper/singer Doja Cat’s song “Say So” entered Billboard’s Hot 100 at number 96 after trending on TikTok. Even the living rap legend Drake has gotten in on the app when his 2018 hit “Nonstop” gave rise to the “Flip the Switch Challenge,” where people stand in front of a mirror and change clothes after turning off a light. The challenge received more than half a billion views.

Now, in the midst of the world in quarantine due to COVID-19, Drake released his latest single “Toosie Slide,” a track with lyrics turned instructions for a simple dance that Drizzy seemingly made up on the fly. Like the dance, the song itself isn’t groundbreaking. Yet it reached number 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Why? Besides the fact that he’s simply Drake, the Toronto rapper has been doing for years what rap artists looking for virality on TikTok have just started to do—using social media creatively to push music. The majority of people listening to “Toosie Slide” don’t have it on their playlist to study or travel. Whenever the song is playing, the person who turned it on is filming themselves or someone else to post online to go along with the latest trend.

So, yes, tapping in to social media to push music isn’t anything new. But while Drake has always bided his time and made calculated moves with marketing his music, it’s as if rappers looking for TikTok to make their music viral are throwing what they have at the wall and seeing what sticks.

Maybe this is the core of the issue with TikTok and a negative impact on rap. The genre is over saturated to begin with. But now, with the advent of TikTok and its formulaic nature, anyone who’s read a Dr. Seuss book and knows how to use Garage Band has a shot at becoming the next big thing. It seems as if rap artists looking to TikTok for fame are looking for just that. The music itself and the quality of it becomes second to virality.

However, even compelling and unique works can come from the combination of rap music and TikTok, arguing that music quality and virality go hand in hand. Take Tierra Whack, a Philly rapper who made waves in the rap industry with her debut project Whack World. But there’s a catch. There’s a total of 15 tracks on Whack World, and they’re all 1 minute long. For the music listeners who want an immersive music experience, Whack released a 15 minute visual consisting of a series of vignettes that catered to each track.

But the short songs themselves are engineered towards potential listeners on TikTok. It’s easier for users to pick out what they want to use for their 15-second video from a 1-minute song than a 3-minute and longer song. Even a producer that worked on Whack World said that TikTok’s 15-second window is pushing producers  to be more concise with their songs. No more long intros or inside jokes on outros.

But why should TikTok dictate how rap music is made? For likes and to be featured on the app’s main page? This way of thinking is reminiscent of that of those in the PR/advertising industry—modern day Mad Men.

But should music really be made the same way that Super Bowl commercials are? A person with a glass half full way of thinking might say that we should welcome this shift in hip-hop and encourage how the genre is reaching so many people through the app. But then, the most cynical critic could take one look at artists engineering their music to be featured for 15 seconds on an app and say that they’re catering to a generation of listeners with decreasing attention spans.

With TikTok growing ever present in rap, it seems like we’re one generational shift away from the music from the early 10’s and prior being considered archaic. And the amazing thing about rap music is that the genre is always evolving. Though that shouldn’t mean that the past is completely forgotten, and the future is always one that we should be headed for.

Lil Nas X vs. Billboard: The Charting Conundrum of “Old Town Road”

Photograph of a type writer with the words "Lil Nas X" having just been typed

In December of 2018, Montero Hill, AKA Lil Nas X dropped his song “Old Town Road” on TikTok, a video-sharing app from China. The song was originally used as a meme on TikTok, but it blew up after videos sampling the song amassed over 67 million views. “Old Town Road” has since reached the top of Spotify United States Top 50 as well as global Apple Music charts. It also sits at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In addition to the Hot 100 chart, “Old Town Road” has made it to the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart as well as the Hot Country Songs chart. But something odd happened a bit after the song caught fire–Billboard removed Lil Nas X’s single from the Hot Country Songs chart. Social media exploded after the discovery, with users confused and disappointed at Billboard’s decision. But what prompted Billboard to remove Lil Nas X’s song? Is the song country music at all? Could it be that the song truly didn’t fit some criteria that Billboard has for music genres, or could it be that the whole ordeal is based off of racial undertones?

Though “Old Town Road” blew up as an internet meme, there’s more to the song than meets the eye. Lil Nas X weds rap/hip-hop and country music genres by using rap beats and country influenced lyrics. In a deep, country music style voice over a bass boosted instrumental, Lil Nas X sings:

I got the horses in the back

Horse tack is attached

Hat is matte black

Got the boots that black to match

Ridin’ on a horse

You can whip your Porsche

I been in the valley

You ain’t been up off that porch now,

When Billboard removed “Old Town Road” from the Hot Country Songs chart, they explained that it was because the song did not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to be charted as a country song. Perhaps it is the rap/hip-hop elements of the song that prevent it from being classified in the country genre of music–a combination of the instrumental and the song’s lyrics. For instance, in the song’s second verse, Lil Nas X says:

Ridin’ on a tractor

Lean all in my bladder

Cheated on my baby

You can go and ask her

My life is a movie

Bull ridin’ and boobies

Cowboy hat from Gucci

Wrangler on my booty  

Unlike the first verse of the song, the second appears reminiscent of standard rap/hip-hop elements. Lean, a combination of prescription cough medicine and soft drink beverages, has been a staple in contemporary rap. When combined with opioids, lean can seriously impair one’s motor functioning, which the user hopes to achieve. The mention of adultery and “boobies” in the verse aligns with the disregarding of women in rap music as well. These motifs of rap, which are proportionately negative, could be a hint as to why Billboard removed “Old Town Road” from the Hot Country Songs Chart. But even then, it raises the question: what makes country music? The answer to such a question might involve race matters. Billboard has denied considerations of race influencing their decision to take “Old Town Road” off the country songs charts. However, race seems like an unavoidable factor in such a situation where a black artist is being excluded from a predominantly white music genre.

In addition, Billboard’s argument of “Old Town Road” not incorporating enough country elements appears weakened when acknowledging the fact that white country music artists such as Florida Georgia Line and Sam Hunt incorporate hip hop elements in their songs. Some country music oversexualizes women like rap and hip-hop does. For example, in Sam Hunt’s song “Body Like a Back Road,” he sings “The way she fit in them blue jeans, she don’t need to belt, but I can turn them inside out, I don’t need no help.” Even with hip-hop elements and misogynistic lyrics, these artists’ music is still considered country. Why is Lil Nas X’s music in question?

Perhaps it is this double standard between rap/hip-hop and country that suggest a racial component. Shane Morris, a former record label executive for Nashville records, a country music label, said that Billboard removed Lil Nas X’s song from the charts as a compositional problem because they didn’t know how to justify the matter without sounding racist. Whether Morris’s words are true or not has yet to be determined, but the situation with Lil Nas X–where a black artist is working with a predominantly white genre– is not the first. Per The New York Times, Charles Hughes, the director of the Lynne & Henry Turley Memphis Center at Rhodes College, explained that black music artists have been influencing country music for a long time. Despite their contribution, black artists haven’t enjoyed the benefits  their white counterparts have.

Hughes went on to compare Billboard removing Lil Nas X from the Hot Country Songs chart to country radio stations ignoring Ray Charles’ 1962 album “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.” “Old Town Road” and Ray Charles’ music are almost sixty years apart, but seem to possess some interesting similarities. Just like Ray Charles, Lil Nas X’s music is a modern take on country music as he combines the genre with a contemporary sound. In addition, just as radio stations ignored Ray Charles’ music, country radio stations have not been supporting “Old Town Road.” This past week, the song was only played 5 times on country radio stations.

The lack of radio stations playing “Old Town Road” could provide some insight as to why Billboard removed the song from the country songs chart. In a statement released to the Washington Post, a Billboard spokeswoman explained that when categorizing genres for chart inclusion, Billboard incorporates audience impression and airplay in addition to musical composition. The statement went on to explain that “Old Town Road” charted on the Hot Country Songs chart because its rights owners tagged the song as country and it hadn’t been vetted for Billboard’s criteria. The song had 63 plays on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop airplay chart and zero plays on the Country airplay chart. Therefore, it was removed from the Hot Country Songs chart. The data provided makes Billboard’s decision understandable, as it appears as if listeners are deciding what is charted and what is removed. However, doesn’t the artist get some say in how their music is categorized? Lil Nas X himself said that the song was country rap, suggesting that it should be on both the R&B/Hip-Hop and Country charts. If an artist intends for a song to fit in with a certain genre, who is to say otherwise?

Recently, as if to challenge Billboard’s decision to remove “Old Town Road” from the Hot Country Songs chart, Lil Nas X released an “Old Town Road” remix, featuring country legend Billy Ray Cyrus. The “Achy Breaky Heart” singer hopped on the song for a verse and it has been received well by social media. The question now is, if the song gains enough popularity, how will Billboard chart it? Is the song still not to be considered country despite a famous country singer being featured on it? It has yet to be seen. The question of the impact of race to the song’s characterization has yet to be seen as well, but it can’t be ignored due to the long history of racial tension in black music. And as for “Old Town Road” being considered country music, its plays seem to determine that. But perhaps the vision of the artist who creates the song should be considered as well. Regardless, Lil Nas X has shifted contemporary music and how it has been classified. Boundaries are hard to distinguish because artists like Lil Nas X are destroying them by combining genres. The whole ordeal is a just a testament to the fact that music is evolving and those who monitor, document, and evaluate it should evolve with it.

Is J. Cole the Savior of Hip-Hop?

J. Cole sitting at a signing table shaking the hand of a fan

Editor’s note: this article contains quotations that use vulgar and/or offensive language.

The rap game has always been divisive. Since the birth of hip hop, the music genre has been divided into two schools of thought: the old school vs the new school. For decades, the founders of rap, the pioneers who provided the foundation for hip-hop, have remained locked in an seemingly everlasting battle with the up-and-coming rappers who are shifting the sound of the genre. Those who advocate for old school rap, otherwise known as “old heads,” claim that old school rap is vastly better than the new rap that is coming out and that present day rappers are ruining the craft. In turn, up-and-coming rappers have responded by saying that the old heads are outdated and simply can’t accept change. Despite the controversy, rapper J. Cole has seemed to find a middle ground and begun to end the debate without picking a side. The Dreamville rapper’s influence has impacted the rap game for the past decade, and seems to be making a complete shift in hip-hop.  Both Cole’s music and how he impacts others begs the question: is he the savior that hip-hop needs?

The state of hip-hop today is one that can’t be described with a single adjective. Even now, in real time, rap music continues to morph into something different as new artists apply their own spin to the genre. Regardless of whether new rap is good or bad, it is making hip-hop lovers and scholars, artists and fans alike, pick a side. It could be argued that the division in rap can take away from the genre itself. Perhaps J. Cole is the emcee who can regulate the issue. But why J. Cole? After all, there are many other impactful rappers such as Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino who could also be considered saviors of hip-hop. Similar to Cole, the messages in Kendrick songs such as “i”, and Gambino’s hit “This is America” indicate that they are leaders of the genre and individuals who can bring stability to the rap game.  What makes J. Cole stand out?

For starters, 2018 was a huge year for J. Cole. The North Carolina rapper kicked off the year by dropping KOD, his fifth studio album in April. The project came in as No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. It was the year’s biggest week for an album, bringing in 397,000 album equivalents in a little under a week after the album’s release. KOD consisted of introspective songs regarding Cole’s legacy, but it also comments on the state of the rap game and the newer artists that have inherited it. On the track “1985,” Cole touches on the divide between the old and new school of hip hop. He raps:

“All these niggas popping now is young,

Everybody say the music that they make is dumb,

I remember I was 18,

Money, pussy, parties, I was on the same thing,

You gotta give a boy a chance to grow some”

Cole also discusses the persona that many rappers in the past several years have adopted. They’re tattooed from head to toe, do a range of different drugs, and use mumble rap as their go-to flow. As if he is talking directly to one of the new generation of rappers, Cole goes on to say:

I got some good advice, never quit tourin’,  

‘Cause that’s the way we eat here in this rap game,

I’m fuckin’ with your funky lil’ rap name,

I hear your music and I know that rap’s changed,

A bunch of folks would say that that’s a bad thing,  

‘Cause everything’s commercial and it’s pop now.”

After KOD released, “1985” turned heads. It made some members of the hip-hop community rejoice and it rubbed others the wrong way, specifically rapper Lil Pump. Considered one of the new generation of rappers who uses mumble rap, the Florida rapper had dissed J. Cole on a track called “Fuck J. Cole” that was teased on social media, but never released. “1985” was believed by many to be J. Cole’s response, including Pump himself. He responded to “1985” over social media and surprisingly, rather than Cole giving a rebuttal, a video emerged with Lil Pump and J. Cole interviewing each other. The two emcees sat down in Cole’s recording studio, The Sheltuh, and talked about how they came up in the rap game, their similarities, their differences, and ultimately reconciled over the rap beef from before. The exchange demonstrated how although Cole was commenting on the new generation of hip-hop, he wasn’t demonizing it. In fact, his connection with Pump shows how he can bridge the gap between the old school and the new school. At 34 years old, J. Cole technically should be considered an “old head.” After all, he signed with Jay Z’s Roc Nation label back in 2009 after founding his own Dreamville Records label in 2007. But Cole’s music continues to evolve, so it’s difficult to categorize him with the old head emcees who haven’t been making music since the early to late 2000’s. Cole talks about the disparity between hip-hop generations and where he fits on “Middle Child,” a single he dropped in January of 2019. The song confirmed that Cole is a hybrid, possessing the ability to connect to both younger and older generations of hip-hop. The song is Cole reflecting on his current position. He raps:

“I’m dead in the middle of two generations,

I’m little bro and big bro at once,

Just left the lab with young 21 Savage,

I’m bout to go and meet Jigga for lunch”

This line exemplifies Cole’s position of being in the middle of hip-hop generations, as he is collaborating with artists like 21 Savage, but also working with artists like Jay-Z, who’s been in the rap game for over twenty years.  

Regardless of age, Cole continued to bridge the gap between the old school and new school through the songs that he featured on throughout the rest of 2018. Cole ended up hopping on the tracks of various veteran emcees, including Wale and Royce da 5’9. But he also featured on recent Dreamville signee JID’s song “Off Deez,” as well as R&B/hip-hop artist 6lack’s song Pretty Little Fears. Cole then capped off his features for the year when he hopped on rapper 21 Savage’s hit song “A Lot” in December. JID, 6lack, and 21 are all younger artists who are on the rise in hip-hop and have a very different sound than Cole himself. Collaborating with them demonstrates how the old school and and new schools of hip-hop can coexist.

But the overarching question is: does Cole’s ability to connect the hip-hop generations make him rap’s savior? It could be argued that he’s not the only veteran rapper working with younger artists. On his most recent album, Dedication 5, Lil Wayne featured the late XXXTENTACION. Drake has rapped on songs with 21 Savage and other young artists such as BlocBoy JB. Kanye West, no matter how controversial, has also bridged the gap between the new hip-hop generation by working with artists such as Lil Pump and YNW Melly. A counter argument could be that J. Cole simply impacts listeners in a different way than other rappers do in terms of the messages that his raps convey. Cole talks about politics like in tracks like “High for Hours,” where he reflects on a conversation with former President Obama about police brutality. Or he’ll talk about beauty standards like he did on his single “Crooked Smile.” The positivity in Cole’s music can be inspiring for listeners, and that inspiration isn’t something that all rappers can achieve. Still, it could be argued that Kendrick Lamar also has a positive impact with his music and therefore could also be rap music’s savior. For instance, Kendrick’s song “Complexion” talks about self love and embracing blackness. Therefore, is it safe to say, with full confidence that Cole is hip-hop’s savior? It’s possible, but the music from other impactful artists cannot be ignored. Most likely, it’ll be left to time to decide who will have the most impact on the music genre.

Do White People Appreciate Hip-Hop Or Do They Appropriate It?

Photograph of an out-of-focus stage and the silhouettes of audience members

Hip-hop’s influence has reached international proportions. Audiences all over the world crowd underneath stages as rappers spit their rhymes. It’s interesting how such a global phenomenon came from the slums of New York City and from the voices of the black community. But with hip-hop’s international reach, it means that the genre caters to all different colors of people. And just how hip-hop influences black lives, it impacts the lives of people who come from different backgrounds. It influences so many facets of society, to the point that its listeners imitate the rappers that they admire. However, race can make imitation and influence from rap artists problematic, especially for its white listeners. It almost seems as if there is a line drawn in rap music and hip-hop distinguishing what is appreciation and what is appropriation in the music genre. However, that line can be blurred.

Per Blativity, white pop stars often go through a “coming of age” phase. In this stage, white music artists collaborate with black artists and producers, incorporating hip-hop and R&B sounds into their music. This stage is also the artist’s “rebellious phase,” where they push the boundaries of their music, creating edgier sounds and messages that stray from their previous clean cut persona. To these white artists, black music represents maturity in their music. But once this phase is over, white artists suddenly reject the black music that they so readily accepted and revert back to their previous clean cut sound.

Miley Cyrus is a perfect example of this phenomenon. The pop artist was known for her clean cut persona and music to match. She was the star of a popular Disney Channel television program Hannah Montana, a show about a teenager who lived a double life as a rockstar. A lot of the music that Cyrus made as Hannah Montana transitioned into mainstream music. As Miley Cyrus matured though, so did her music, and this maturation manifested into her 2013 hit single “23,” a track made by hip hop producer Mike Will Made It and featured rappers Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J. In her verse, Cyrus raps “Drinking out the bottle, I got no respect, Looking like a model, who just got a check, I back it up, cause I don’t give a fuck.” In the same year, Cyrus dropped an album, Bangerz, that featured more rappers such as Nelly, French Montana, and Big Sean.

Was Cyrus’s change cultural appropriation, though? One could simply say that she was making a change in her music. Perhaps an interview that Cyrus had with Billboard a few years after Bangerz came out can navigate the appreciation versus appropriation of Cyrus’s music. During the interview, Cyrus said that she stepped out of the hip-hop scene because of its vulgarity. She began to dislike the materialistic nature of hip-hop and its graphic sexual descriptions. Maybe it’s this line that deems Cyrus guilty of appropriating hip-hop. After the music genre brought her so much success, she condemns it and started making light hearted music again. On one hand, Cyrus’s stance on hip-hop is understandable. It can be vulgar and violent, and derogatory towards women. But at the same time, why does Cyrus feel negatively about that part of hip-hop when she was facilitating its negative messages before?

Miley Cyrus isn’t the only one who could be guilty of cultural appropriation, though. Her fans and fans of hip-hop in general blur the line between appropriation and appreciation as well. Hip-hop’s reach has extended to various facets of life, from usage of slang to fashion.

In terms of fashion, many hip-hop artists wear durags. Commonly worn by black men, durags are pieces of cloth used to hold one’s hair style in place and achieve waves, a style pattern that appears in one’s head after wearing a durag for a lengthy amount of time. Durags are not only used for their function though. They became a fashion statement once rappers started wearing them out in public. The long use of durags by black people has made it become a symbol of a part of the black community.  If white people wear durags, is it cultural appropriation? It might just depend on their reasoning and/or the circumstances. Perhaps, if a white person is intentionally trying to make a fashion statement by wearing a durag because they were inspired by their famous rapper, that situation might be considered cultural appropriation. But what if a white person actually wants waves in their hair? Or they want to dress up as their famous rapper without the blackface? Maybe durags are associated with the black community so much that the image of a white person with one on just seems odd. But then again, famous white rapper Eminem was known to wear a durag during the zenith of his career. So if Eminem wears a durag, does that mean that other white people can too? At the same time though, Eminem was the protege of Dr. Dre, a member of the famous rap group N.W.A and a huge shaper in the state of hip-hop today. Conceivably, getting Dr. Dre’s seal of approval gave Eminem a kind of agency that other white people don’t possess.  

Appropriation versus appreciation in terms of fashion and hip-hop is a more difficult topic to decipher. A more obvious example is usage of the n-word by white audiences. It is a word that is so commonly used in hip-hop, that people listening to it, regardless of race, tend to sing along to the rap lyrics and include the n-word. On one hand, white people rapping the n-word could be seen as appreciation because they are just singing the lyrics to the song and they are not directing the word towards anyone. On the other hand, the n-word has such a long, hateful, and offensive history that still persists today. And regardless of it being in a song, it should not be used by a white person in any context because it was used and is still used as a derogatory term towards black people. It also wouldn’t be hard to a white person to pause or catch themselves while rapping the lyrics to a song that they like. In addition, some white people do take advantage of rapping the n-word, making their black counterparts uncomfortable. For example, a student at Harvard University recounted a time when he was at a party and during Kanye West’s song, “Gold Digger,” two white students looked him in the eye and rapped along with West, yelling “She ain’t messin’ with no broke niggas.” The white students put emphasis on the last word. It almost seemed as if the white students were provoking their black counterpart. If so, the issue transcends the discussion of appropriation versus appreciation and becomes an issue of racism.

Appropriation is when someone else takes something for their own use. Maybe the whole issue with appropriation in terms of hip-hop is that hip-hop came from black culture. When white people imitate it, to many, it seems as if they are simply taking a part of black culture and using it when it’s convenient and benefits them. At the same time, there are white people who enjoy hip-hop and understand where it came from and respect that there are parts of the culture that they can’t engage in like their black counterparts do. Perhaps there would be no issue of appropriation or appreciation of hip-hop though, if everyone could agree that it came from a certain place, and if everyone acknowledges and credits the place that it came from.


Combating Bias? Nicki Minaj and the Merit of “Twitter Beef”

Photograph of Nicki Minaj on stage holding a microphone

Four years since her last album, Nicki Minaj released her fourth album Queen on August 10th, 2018. According to The Observer, the album was scheduled for its release on June 25, and its delayed and surprising release has had fans reeling. The release of the album and the rapper’s personal life have been imbued in controversy, and considering the standards female celebrities are held to, it is not surprising. However, the Queens native has taken to Twitter and other platforms to declare that this time around, she will not be silenced. While there has been substantial noise and personal opinion regarding Nicki’s actions and Twitter posts, whether you agree or disagree with her approach, the rapper has raised several points that require further ethical examination. Among these points are the contradictory and inconsistent standards that female artists are held to by music critics, and the unequal treatment of female artists by streaming platforms.

Nicki has been greatly criticized for collaborating on “FEFE” with rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine (Daniel Hernandez). Hernandez was found guilty of using a child in a sexual performance, pled guilty in 2015, and has been arrested on multiple counts of assault since then. With this in mind, is it ethical to promote the fame and monetary advancement of  someone who has been known for abusing women? In an article for Pitchfork, Shanita Hubbard writes: “The choice to use her platform to further legitimize a sexual predator is in direct contrast with the nationwide, black women-led movement to silence music’s most infamous abuser [R. Kelly].” According to CNN, Spotify enacted the Hate Content and Hateful Conduct Policy, which included taking R. Kelly off all Spotify Playlists. This has been in part inspired by the #MeToo movement and the voracity with which sexual violence has been amplified and condemned on social media. Furthermore, the principle of non-maleficence would say that actions that cause harm should be completely avoided, and promoting the music of convicted sexual offenders causes an immeasurable amount of pain to people who have been affected by sexual violence: they might be forced to relive their pain when they listen to a sexual offender’s music. Not to mention that the tacit or explicit support of sexual offenders contributes to rape culture.

While the production of “FEFE” is arguably an ethical breach on Nicki’s part, Nicki points to a certain amount of hypocrisy within the criticism she has received. On Twitter, Nicki questioned the praise that Lady Gaga received on her collaboration with R. Kelly by Pitchfork. This leads one to wonder whether Black women are held to a higher standard when it comes to eradicating rape culture, especially considering how the #MeToo movement was started by Black women. Is an unequivocal repudiation of all art created by sexual offenders needed in order for criticisms, such as the ones Nicki is facing, to be just? Additionally, this speaks to what bodies can be “aggressors” and be granted “forgive and forget” privileges. Nicki points to the forgiveness with which Lady Gaga was treated; however, one could argue that at the time of Lady Gaga’s collaboration with R. Kelly, there weren’t as many efforts to boycott artists who engaged in unethical and illegal practices. On the other hand, one could also argue that R. Kelly’s problematic sexual conduct has been public record for decades, and collaborating with him is unethical regardless of the contemporary awareness the #MeToo Movement has created. Furthermore, when dealing with unethical actions, how can unequal responsibility be mediated? Nicki also claimed that she knew of people getting paid to slander her on different news outlets, and Tweeted, “I’m supposed to keep letting these ppl get money to bully me behind the scenes & not say anything. Yikes.” Through her Tweet, Nicki emphasizes how she is expected to keep quiet, even when she sees herself targeted unequally. This speaks to the ways in which women are commodified, especially in the music industry. Audiences want to consume their music and celebrity presence without humanizing them.

Nicki Minaj has also spoken out about potential foul play by the streaming company, Spotify. Nicki took to Twitter with this issue and stated that Spotify purposefully did not advertise her album sufficiently, since her album premiered slightly earlier on iTunes. She also pointed out that when Drake dropped his latest album, Scorpion, he was overwhelmingly featured on Spotify Playlists and promoted on the streaming platform. Some might suggest that Nicki is stirring controversy on Twitter to increase her album’s visibility (Queen was No. 2 on the Billboard 200, behind Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD). People who claim that Nicki is simply pulling a publicity stunt might be ignoring the historic silencing of women of color: protesting “peacefully” and “properly” is coded as something only white bodies can do. Furthermore, Nicki does call attention to the inequities that exist between men and women in the music industry, especially within rap.  Whether Spotify recognizes that they treated the release of Drake’s album differently than Nicki’s, an unconscious gender bias could have been at play.

Through her new album, Nicki  Minaj is making a statement: her contributions to rap will not be belittled because she is a woman. Nicki took to Twitter to protest in the quintessential 21st century fashion, and her Tweets and interviews have sparked debate and judgment with many arguing that she is uninformed, ignorant, and dramatic. However, this reflects the silencing that women of color experience when they share their perceptions and life experiences and are told to be quiet. Women of color also experience policing when it comes to their tone and choice of words, which is congruent with the criticism Nicki’s Tweets have received. Whether one agrees with “Twitter beef” and the increasing use of Twitter to settle disputes, it is important that audiences read between the lines. When a woman Tweets “injustice,” the immediate response should not be “exaggeration.”

Chance the Rapper came out in support for Nicki and Tweeted, “I cant [sic] imagine what it’d be like to literally not be able to show yo frustrations with actual inequities and subjugation. Without being called bitter or angry or a liar or crazy. Mfs a literally tell a BW ‘I feel u but u not goin about it the right way’… what?” Chance the Rapper’s Tweet is important, because it highlights the harassment women of color face when they call out oppression; however, it is important to consider the Chicago rapper’s positionality when examining his Tweet. As a man, Chance has the ability to influence a public audience with more credibility. On the other hand, Chance is using his position to uplift the voices of women of color. While justice demands that all voices are heard equally, on and off the “Twittersphere,” this is still not the case. Nevertheless, these are all factors one must consider when assessing the political potential of Twitter.

The Complex, Yet Remarkably Straightforward, Ethics of the N-Word

A photo of Ta-Nehisi Coates speaking at a lecture

The United States is rife with cultural taboos. Some common taboos native to the United States include topics such as religion, abortion, and polygamy. But perhaps the most infamous of taboos in the United States is race, specifically pertaining to African Americans. Since individuals of African descent were seen as profitable due to their forced labor, the “n-word” has become part of the English vernacular. The n-word has persisted through history, not only as a racial slur but as a reminder of the history of black people. The n-word has even morphed into a more modern form, changing from the hard -er to a more common -a. Although the historical implications of the n-word and its variants are widely known, it still seems as if there is confusion as to why the n-word shouldn’t be used by those who are not of African descent, raising the question of why some non-black people think that use of the n-word is acceptable.

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The Duality of Hip-Hop: An Examination of Mumble Rap

A photo of mumble rapper Lil Yachty at a concert

The definition of hip-hop has changed since its birth in 1973 at a birthday party on the West side of the Bronx, New York City. The music genre has morphed since merging with mainstream society, as a myriad of different artists have adopted hip-hop and made it their own sound. Now, over 40 years have passed since hip-hop’s beginning, and it seems as if hip-hop has been split down the middle between its listeners. Older listeners of hip-hop criticize the current state of the music genre and blame new hip-hop artists.

Recently, the lyrical style “mumble rap” has gained popularity among listeners, blurring the lines of what the standard for quality is in modern day hip-hop. The divisive nature of the current state of hip-hop raises the question of whether the criticism it has been receiving is warranted. If so, does it mean that rap and hip-hop are declining?

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Dress Fresh to Impress: Hip-Hop’s Impact Through Fashion

Image of a hat, eye patch, tennis shoes, gold necklace, and top hat displayed in glass case

Hip-hop is often criticized for its content. Listeners hear vulgar lyrics and songs dedicated to violence and condemn the music genre. Even worse, a lot of today’s hip-hop has an overall theme about drug use. However, the negative motifs presented in hip-hop are often overrepresented in the music genre, diminishing its more positive aspects. What’s more, the positive attributes of hip-hop are not just rooted in the music itself. Hip-hop is an influential genre that has formed a complete sub-culture around fashion. Continue reading “Dress Fresh to Impress: Hip-Hop’s Impact Through Fashion”

Are Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa What Chicago Needs?

The city of Chicago is one of the most beautiful cities in the country. With its iconic skyline and bustling downtown area, Chicago’s allure is only rivaled by a small number of other cities. Even though the city boasts magnificent landscapes and atmosphere, the city is plagued by violence. According to the Chicago Tribune, in 2016, Chicago had 745 homicides and over 4,000 shooting victims. Per The New York Times, the majority of the shootings were gang-related. In 2017, the homicide number dropped to 644 homicides. Although that is somewhat of an improvement, the number of homicides is too high.

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Hip-Hop Misogyny’s Effects on Women of Color

A photo from a Kanye West concert.

Hip-hop has become one of the most popular and influential music genres to date, with clout that has reached far beyond the United States and its inner-city New York roots. Rappers and poets alike craft clever verses and lay them over powerful beats, while smooth crooners sing over catchy instrumentals. Hip-hop has even crossed over music genres, with influences in styles of music such as rock, gospel, and even country. With hip-hop being integrated into so many different classifications, the music genre has brought people together, allowing individuals of different races, religions, and creeds to come together to enjoy something that they all have in common.

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In Chance the Rapper’s Music, Do Rap and Religion Mix?

"chance the rapper" by Adrian Mustredo liscenced under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr)

Chance the Rapper has taken the music industry by storm. From his first popular mixtape, 10 Day, to his most recent EP, Coloring Book, which won him critical acclaim and three Grammy awards, Chano has become a powerhouse in the entertainment industry. His quirky charisma, spunky beats, and clever wordplay have resonated with all kinds of listeners. But with Chance’s skyrocketing fame, there comes a price.

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Frank Ocean: Challenging Hip-Hop’s Hyper-Masculinity

A snapshot of Frank Ocean in a crowd.

Christopher Breaux, better known by his stage name, Frank Ocean, is coming off a month of success after releasing his fourth single of the year, “Provider,” on August 24. The track opens with the line, “Memo finna start acting out if I don’t see him soon,” potentially referring to Ocean’s rumored boyfriend, Memo Guzman. While the interpretation of this lyric is based off mere speculation, openly referencing his sexuality in his music is nothing new to Ocean.

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The Gentrification of Hip-Hop

Hip-hop music began in the 1980s, and was primarily a means for African American communities to express commentary and frustration related to politics, discrimination, and common struggles often related to race relations. Crucially, music was being used to give voice to a people that has traditionally been suppressed or discounted because of the effects of systemic racism in the American political institution. One of the most significant groups to pioneer this genre was Public Enemy, whose music focused largely on sociopolitical commentary.

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Open Mike Eagle, Race and Getting the Joke

Not many understand Open Mike Eagle’s humor on its face. The rapper says as much on the opener to his 2014 album, Dark Comedyrapping that he needs to “Add a lol cause nobody seems to know when I’m joking.” Indeed, Eagle’s deadpan style, as well as the density of cultural references and wordplay in his work, can make parsing out a verse’s punchline an exercise in literary interpretation upon first listen.

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