Rap genre raises the question of quality in message and sound

I have pretended for the past several years to ignore anything and everything to do with the genre of rap music.  Characterized by misogynistic put downs, materialism, drugs and drinking, rap existed as a world far from my personal interests.  Recently, however, I have found myself delving into rap music happily.

Lately, rap has developed a conscience and grown from being a punk kid to a mature adult.   A prime example of this transformation is Ben Haggerty, better known by his stage name Macklemore.  The rapper, hailing from Seattle, battled addiction in the past, putting a halt to his music.  Macklemore got back into the scene and with the help of producer Ryan Lewis, released his album “The Heist” in October.  The album has since been on repeat in my music library.  While best known for his smash hit and successful YouTube video “Thrift Shop,” a silly, irresistible number about second hand stores, most of the album bleeds social awareness.

His second single “Same Love” explores the heated issue of gay marriage.  He openly criticizes rap’s portrayal of sexuality, saying, “If I were gay/ I would think hip hop hates me/ Have you read the YouTube comments lately?/ ‘Man, that’s gay’ gets dropped on the daily/ We’ve become so numb to what we’re saying.”  The rapper’s support for equality stems from issues at home where two of his uncles aren’t considered legally wed until gay marriage becomes legal in their state.  The song embodies the message of tolerance and gives one of best pieces of advice I have heard: “Live on, and be yourself.”

The rest of the album plays out in much the same way.  “Ten Thousand Hours” suggests taking time away from work to enjoy how beautiful life is.  It stakes a claim in explaining how money really is not very valuable at the sacrifice of happiness and time for loved ones.

“Starting Over” reflects on the period in Macklemore’s life during which he struggled with addiction to prescription medication.  He uses his struggle as a source of inspiration for others in a humble way, saying, “If I can be an example of getting sober, I can be an example of starting over.”  The song references a single put out before “The Heist,” entitled “Otherside,” which speaks about the power rap artists have and how they often make doing drugs seem acceptable to youth.

Placed over beats that include piano and throwback rap sounds, “The Heist” delivers messages to empower and teach others.  It is, without question, one of the best albums of the year.

On the other side of artists like Macklemore are artists who place a huge emphasis on beats.  One such up and comer calls himself A$AP Rocky.  A$AP released his first full-length album, “Long Live A$AP,” earlier this month.  The first single, “F*** Problems,” honestly gives me an issue in terms of lyrics.  It completely describes females as objects of pleasure and really only focuses on sex and money.  In terms of “good” lyrics, this song does not deliver.  In fact, the lyrics aren’t even clever, just offensive.  Still, the beat found a way to get stuck in my head, and I found myself listening to the song on repeat.  Something irresistible exists in A$AP’s music, and I cannot help but put it on and jam out.

The other songs from the album follow the same pattern.  “Long Live A$AP” has a dark, gritty slow jam beat.  The lyrics actually have the potential to be inspiring and clever.  The rapper starts out reflecting on his seedy neighborhood full of violence and broken dreams: “I wonder if they miss me/ As long as I make history/ Now my soul is feeling empty/ Tell the reaper come and get me.”  The song quickly dissolves, however, into a brag fest about how A$AP will live forever now that he’s acquired money and women. It looks at violence as a source of power, one A$AP would wield if anyone crossed him.

In essence, the album’s beats make me want to play it over and over.  The songs get stuck in my head.  The lyrics, however, are simply offensive.  The clever rhymes of artists like Lil’ Wayne and Tyler the Creator are sorely missing.

The question with rap boils down to this: Why can’t rap be both catchy and lyrically pleasing?  The answer is that it can.  Macklemore achieves this feat far better than A$AP, and I’d really enjoy seeing more music from him and other similar artists.  I really feel rap is headed in that direction.

The public has spoken: “The Heist” is one of the most successful albums of the year, and Macklemore has remained unsigned to date by choice.  I don’t think he is leaving the scene anytime soon, and I expect other rappers to follow his example in the coming year.  Until I find new artists, I’ll continue listening to A$AP and trying to ignore the words.  I’ll continue hailing Macklemore as the best thing to happen to the rap scene in a long time.

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