I was asked to speak on a panel for UCLA’s Hip-Hop Appreciation Month, hosted by the university’s Hip-Hop Congress organization and the Cultural Affairs Commission. The topic of the panel was glorification of drugs and alcohol in hip-hop, its effects on youth and the community, and the mainstream media’s demonization of rap music. I was fortunate enough to sit on the panel with Tunji Balogun, an A&R for Interscope who worked on Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.D. City album, Professor Denise Herd of UC Berkeley who’s done extensive research on the panel topic, and we were all honored to be joined by rap vet Rakaa of Dilated Peoples.
In a nutshell, one of my key points on the panel was that while hip-hop is criticized for glorification of drugs and alcohol, art imitates life and hip-hop is a subculture that exists within a culture that’s become all about self-medication. We have come to a point as Americans where there is a remedy for any ailment or bad feeling a person can have. Whether you’re filling your child’s Adderall prescription or downing an energy drink to make it through the day, you’re buying into a drug culture. It’s just a matter of what the government considers to be legal and what it doesn’t. Rap music just tends to be more vocal about the illegal side of it, but you can’t judge all of hip-hop based only on the negative and careless images found in any one lane, just like you can’t lump Molly in with marijuana when you bring up illegal drugs. There’s big business involved with the media sensationalizing any and everything they think people will pay attention to, including alerting parents to the “dangers” of rap music.
If there was any call to action, it would simply be to pass on better taste to the younger generations. Inspire the youth to expect more from their hip-hop and expect more from rappers than negative content, including drug and alcohol references. Rap shouldn’t be raising our youth, but it’s important we understand that this is a culture they have inherited and closing the generation gap might encourage them to look back at where hip-hop began and take it back to the diversity we used to have in mainstream rap. With the business of rap being what it is, you’re not going to change the supply until the demand changes and right now, the demand calls for some really shallow music. Once lyricism and true art comes back around to the forefront, rappers bringing nothing but weak and overwhelmingly negative content will be forced to change their tune or say goodbye to their ill-gotten popularity and record sales.
I want to extend a big thanks to the Hip-Hop Congress and more specifically, shout out to Kaussar Mohammed for reaching out to me about the opportunity. First class treatment all the way. I got to meet a lot of great students with a passion for hip-hop culture and its progress that’s very encouraging to see from people younger than me these days. Though I was nervous at first, being an introverted writer more than a public speaker, the discussion was extremely engaging and the dialogue was very healthy. I look forward to hopefully joining more speaking engagements like this one, since I think young people could benefit from putting more thought into the hip-hop culture and the music itself and getting dialogues like these going.
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