Life isn’t fair, society isn’t fair, but most of all, some parts of the music industry are wack. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Slowly, but surely, a tide is coming into shore that brings change. As I see it, there are three major stigmas in the music industry. Bias against women, the maintenance of being “thug”, and homophobia. Let’s dig in.
The bias against women in the music industry has always been the one that’s interested me the most. How many times have you ever been chilling with your dude, a fella named ‘Chad’, let’s say, and when a song by a girl came on shuffle, he said “Softtttttt…”…and changed it? Let me tell you. When I hang out with Chad, it happens all the time. There’s something engrained in Western cultures that for some reason, it’s less cool for guys to listen to female singers. I straight up don’t get this at all. How on earth does the sex of the singer have any impact on how good the song is? Does it affect the chord structure, how well the instruments are played, how good the composition is? The answer: no, no it does not. Of course, this is a part of a much larger issue. It’s all a part of the problem starts with the prevalence of the word ‘bitch’ – a term that is essentially linked with females, yet so broadly used – and ends with slut shaming. A woman simply can’t do what is acceptable for a man without consequences. To this effect, here’s a song and a video. Lupe Fiasco‘s latest single, ‘Bitch Bad’ addresses the word. A pretty clever track – rapping with a lazy flow over a lazier trap beat, the exact style of which so much of what he mocks comes from. Check it:
This past week has been pretty awesome for this one. First, the coming out of the silver fox, Anderson Cooper – breaking girls hearts, ruling the Twitterverse (that’s a word, right?) and bringing journalism forwards all in one go. Then, Frank Ocean coming out. Frank Ocean, for those who don’t know, is a rapidly rising R&B singer, and part of the hip-hop collective OFWGKTA. Now, while ol’ Frank may not be as big as the fox (yet,) I truly believe his coming out will have just as big an impact. Odd Future has been strongly associated with a lot of homphobic messages (even if they might just be for shock value,) so for Frank Ocean to come out amidst that is pretty huge – with Odd Future front man Tyler, The Creator tweeting “My big brother finally f—— did that. Proud of that n—- cause I know shit is difficult or whatever. Anyway. Im a toilet.” Probably the most sentimental the kid’s ever been. While homosexuality isn’t new to OFWGKTA – Syd tha Kyd is lesbian – this still marks a huge step, with the double standards placed on men (which fits right into men not being able to bump Kelly Clarkson, and having to be hard – oh wait, that’s above and below!) Homophobia in hip-hop isn’t as prevalent as it used to be ten years ago. And hopefully, in ten years, we’ll finally reach the point where someone’s sexual orientation simply won’t matter, and ‘coming out’ will simply be accepted, and not create massive amounts of buzz. Good on Franky. Here’s the latest song from Channel Orange that he’s dropped. He even made it a free download for all y’all. Man’s got a big future ahead.
Gotta Be Gangster…
This last one is even more focussed on the hip-hop community than the first two – and less generalized to the music industry at large. In hip-hop there is this massive sentiment that to be a rapper, you gotta be thug. Hard. Gangster. Let’s take Akon as an example. Branding himself as the ‘Konvict’, naming his label ‘Konvict Music’, calling his second album Konvicted, and having his trademark sound being the sound of a cell door closing, Akon has really played up the whole jail guy theme. Except he’s been accused of embellishing his rap sheet embellishing his rap sheet.
Oops. And it’s little surprise really. Half of today’s rap is still dominated by a subgenre dedicated to the streets, gangsta rap. So how does this fit in with sexism and homophobia, both subjects with people being marginalized? In two ways. First, in the pressure it puts on artists to emulate the themes of gangsta rap. Kids that aren’t even born from the streets try to make a rap career by talking all about b-tches, guns, and drugs. But that’s where the good news comes in. Alternative hip hop is growing larger and larger. As Lupe says, people don’t have to “dumb it down” no more. While half of rap becomes more mainstream, there’s a growing movement from artists such as Das Racist to even Hopsin, showing that non-thug hip hop is on the rise.
So what’s the second way gangsta rap marginalizes people? In the influence it has over the people that listen to rap. So many kids in ghetto neighbourhoods have bumped 50 Cent – and idolized the lifestyle that he portrays. The violence, drug selling, and the rapping that somehow leads to one becoming a successful millionaire. The lifestyle aint a good one, and it’s about time for it to stop being promoted. In the most oversimplified way, give the kids a better idol, and they’ll have more positive aspirations. And of course, Talib’s been on this conscious tip forever – “This gum flapper, swear he a gun clapper/Nah, something backwards, he really a dumb rapper.”
Those three are what I think are the biggest problems in hip-hop and the music industry. Simplified? Sure. But real problems, that slowly, and finally, are starting to see positive change.