“Yes I do it big/ Call me little astronomical/ Weezy F baby and the ‘F’ is for phenomenal”.
Just let that sink in. Phenomenal doesn’t even start with the letter ‘F’. However, that did not stop Lil Wayne from putting that into his song “Yes”(verse 4 lines 1-3). For the average listener, hearing these types of lyrics creates a false perception of what rap is. Hearing only this, people create an idea that rappers don’t have any talent and/or skill. These rappers create the now common stereotype for hip-hop as a genre.
Most of today’s older generation assumes that rap is all about sex, objectifying women, drugs, violence, etc. It is true that there is a ton of rappers that only talk about those things, like Lil Wayne for example, but it is crazy to generalize a whole genre of music based on a handful of bad rappers.
With this said, there is a large amount of rappers that carry an actual message throughout their rhymes. Rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and Derek Minor do this on a regular basis. These rappers very creatively use different literary devices within their music, and they use these devices to convey a positive message. There are plenty of examples of this, you just have to know where to look.
A Deeper Meaning
To begin, it is often said that all rap is poorly written. I disagree with this because the use of imagery is very common within rap. Kendrick Lamar demonstrates this beautifully in his song “Swimming Pools (Drank)”. Essentially, the song is about alcohol. The song starts off with:
“Pour up (Drank), head shot (Drank)/ Sit down (Drank), stand up (Drank)…”.
At first glance, this song seems to be about the glorification of alcohol consumption. However, when Kendrick gets into the first verse, the real message of the song can be heard.
“Now I done grew up ’round some people livin’ their life in bottles/ Granddaddy had the golden flask, backstroke every day in Chicago/ Some people like the way it feels, some people wanna kill their sorrows/ Some people wanna fit in with the popular, that was my problem” (Kendrick Lamar verse 1).
Here, Kendrick raps about the over-consumption of alcohol, with a swimming pool as the imagery. He is saying that people indulge themselves so much with the consumption of alcohol, they practically are swimming in a pool of it. He illustrates this by bringing up his grandfather who “backstroke everyday in Chicago”; his grandfather was not literally swimming in a pool of water, but figuratively swimming within his dependency on alcohol. Here, Kendrick creates a very vivid picture. Not only does Kendrick portray a beneficial message about the use of alcohol, he also does it incredibly with the use of imagery. This clearly shows that rap can have a good message, along with a sophisticated use of the English language and word choice.
Too Simple? Or Clever Consonanace
Furthermore, the majority of the older generation seems to think that rap is too simple. This isn’t the case because rap songs can contain a very complex multi-syllable rhyme scheme. This adds on to its complexity. When rap first originated, it was made up of mostly simple end rhyming patterns. This can be seen in a song called “The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow, one of the first successful rap songs created. The first verse starts with,
“Breaks on a bus, brakes on a car/ Breaks to make you a superstar/ Breaks to win and breaks to lose/ But these here breaks will rock your shoes” (Kurtis Blow verse 1).
Notice how the only rhyming words are the last words in each line. This is a simple AABB rhyming pattern. These lyrics are similar to what a young child might write as a short silly poem, and some people seem to think that this is how all rap is written in present time.
A New Generation: Assonance
However as rap has evolved, the rhyming schemes within the songs have evolved as well, and rap has become enormously complex.
Eminem’s hit song “Lose Yourself” demonstrates this very clearly. Eminem kicks off the first verse with:
“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy/ There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti” (Eminem verse 1).
Instead of using a simple scheme, Eminem makes his rhyming very complex and unpredictable. Within these two bars, nearly every word that is used shares the same vowel sounds with the other words. “Palms are sweaty… arms are heavy… already, mom’s spaghetti”. Not only do the ending syllables rhyme, the syllables within one line rhyme with each other. This type of rhyming is immensely intricate, and requires a lot of skill to create.
It is often said that all rap contains negative meanings and that it fills the listener’s head with garbage.
While this may be true for a large amount of rap today, there still is a mass of rap songs that carry a positive message. For example, when I feel particularly stressed, I immediately turn on a song called “Oceans” by Derek Minor. This song puts me back to my peaceful mindstate. The chorus goes,
“Just stop, breathe in/ Worry’s just a deadly sin” (Derek Minor chorus).
Contrary to a copious of rap today, this song demonstrates a positive message. This song tells you that in moments of stress, it’s best to rest for a moment. It is beneficial to let the worry fade, because when you’re worried, your judgment is off. I remember a time when it was very late, and I was writing an essay that was due the next day. This stressed me out immensely. Due to this stress, my mind went totally blank, and I couldn’t think of anything to write. But after turning on this song, I was back at ease, and my mind started flowing with ideas again. This example shows that positive rap does exist, and it utterly debunks the common thought myth that all rap has terrible meanings. Positive rap is quite common, but you just have to search for it sometimes.
In summary, despite the commonly held belief that all rap is negative, and contains no actual thought, skill, or talent, this is not the case for all rap. I am aware that rappers like Lil’ Wayne exist, and that they paint a bad picture for the entire genre. In the past, this actually caused me to assume that all rap is bad. However through years of listening, I have found that it is foolish to assume that all rap music resembles his. Rap music in a lot of ways has helped me. It has helped me focus, and it has kept my emotions under control. But above all else, it has helped me see who I am as an individual. Through rap I found myself, and that truly is “fenomenal”.
Featured image photo of Kendrick Lamar by kmeron