What does rap mean to you? An incoherent mix of swearing, violence and criminals? A part of someone else’s culture? A noisy thing that young people do – and you’d rather they didn’t?
When I am back home after school, I DJ for hours, and at night I write rap lyrics. If you ask me what rap is, I could elaborate for hours.
Most common assumptions about rap are very wrong.
Did you know that it is now the most important of the five original parts of the hip-hop culture, the others being DJ-ing, breakdancing, graffiti and knowledge?
The first stage to understanding anything is to look at its history. Hip-hop was created in The Bronx, New York, and developed as a unique type of music that peacefully brought African-American and Latino communities together.
In an area plagued by violence and crime, kids grew up either rapping about the streets or actually on the streets.
The reason there has been so much violence and crime included in rap lyrics is that from a young age, that is what the rappers have been exposed to.
For those of us who have not grown up in that culture, it’s easy for us to see many words and phrases used in rap as foreign. Unfortunately, this causes many people to hate rap.
One the best rappers right now, Kendrick Lamar, released an album in 2015 called To Pimp A Butterfly. To those outside of hip-hop this album title seems unpleasant. However, to those on the inside, it is rather deep and meaningful. To “pimp” means to change dramatically, and the butterfly is the beautiful creature that is subject to this change.
Unknowing to most, with this title Kendrick is describing how a baby, when born (like a butterfly released from its cocoon) is pure and free. However, as it grows in a controlling society it is “pimped” – institutionalised – and it becomes a confined and tortured individual.
These hidden meanings are extremely popular in rap lyrics. Kendrick went on to earn 11 Grammy nominations for To Pimp A Butterfly.
Only the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, has gathered more nominations in one night.
Rap has always been about opinion, whether it be political or not.
It is still one of the only genres of music that forgets money and focuses on the art of self-expression. This is very rare.
The rawness of rap is why I gravitate towards it. Rappers are not afraid to express themselves, they are not afraid to give the people a voice, and most importantly they are not afraid to say things how they really are.
It might sound foreign to a lot of us, but rap is an art form, and it deserves to be regarded as one.
-- Harvey Jordan is a student at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds