The Misrepresentation of Rap

by Joy Bewaji

Hip-hop might have been born in the ghettoes of America, but it has gradually seeped into the lifestyle of the modern youth in other parts of the world. The culture of hip-hop is associated with pretentious wealth, mad fashion, jewellery, cars, all with a ‘bling bling’ effect. One of the most popular sub-sets of hip-hop is Rap. The lifestyle and attitude of this culture is a great lure to youths. The baggy pants with a generous peep of the boxers, face-cap, bandana, silver chains, tattoos and body piercing are some of the audacious looks of hip-hop the modern youth adopts from rap idols.

Rap has greatly evolved over the years. For many people, rap is just a fad- a craze that will someday go extinct. A lot of people can’t understand how a music that is barely audible can stand the test of time. I remember back then when the screeching voice of an emcee would startle me out of bed. Just by listening to it I’d feel breathless. It required so much energy even for the listener. Now this unique genre has moved into more sophistication, class and panache. These days the rhythm is smooth and funky.

The modern rap music is more of an art; something like a creative collection that you reminisce on. It has grown, quite like a healthy baby, into a grown man that can accommodate people’s idiosyncrasies. Rap these days is combined with melodious chorus, and a to-die-for instrumentation. So even if you don’t understand the lyrics, you’d be able to dance to the melody.

Rap has also influenced other genre of music, there are collaborations with rock bands (oh I love that Linking Park “collabo” with Jay Z), and in the case of Nigeria, it is infused with juju, fuji and even reggae music. Gospel music has also found a niche in the rap world where emcees release holy rhymes, and a joyful choir sing cheerful choruses which reminds you of life’s abundant goodness.

However, in the midst of all-that-is-good in the world of rap, this genre of music is still a tacit taboo in many societies. Why is rap music a suspicious genre that sends a negative vibe in the atmosphere? With all its apparent success, why does it seem a caveat rests upon every emcee in the world?

The problem with rap is both an attitude problem and a lyrical one. In the minds of many, rap is synonymous to hooliganism, crime, rape, violence, vulgarity, misogyny, materialism, robbery, vandalism, and many other negative effects. Many rappers unapologetically promote these vices. If you listen hard to the words of a rapper, you’d sense anger, bitterness, hatred, and vengeance. Their lyrics, though melodious, are packed with offensive rhymes. They talk about killing your mama, sleeping with your wife, taking drugs, having unprotected sex and a whole lot of absurdities.

For some of them it is just an approach that works in showbiz. It may not translate into the kind of life they live; and while a lot of people can distinguish between mere entertainment and reality, the naïve youth may not be able to tell the difference.

When you live ‘off-the-streets’, your inspiration is drawn from the most incongruous scenarios- rap music is one. You listen, it touches your soul, and you believe all that is said on the CD. So when 50 cent says, “get rich or die trying”, the ignorant youth picks up a pistol (just like it is done in many rap videos) and heads for the nearest shop he can pull a fast hit on. While the rap act in the video may survive the heist or is given a VIP treatment to prison, you, on the other hand, may begin to wonder where you went wrong and why a mob is chanting war songs and preparing to set you ablaze.

In the long run, rap grows into a cult where drugs are sold and scores are settled. It’s not just words anymore, people start to live out those words.

The misogynistic theme is also another popular scenario that is disheartening. In the face of hip-hop, women are seen as mere body parts. Nothing depicts them as total beings with brains, dignity and pride. The typical rap video is embellished with half-naked women whose jobs are to wriggle their ‘behind’ to a few perverted audiences who may begin to talk disdainfully at them. The usual scenario is one on the beach or in the club with a hundred scantily dressed women, shaking whatever body part can move vigorously. One man- a fully clothed emcee is surrounded by a bevy of naked beauties lusting over him and shaking to the endless beat of obscenity.

The ‘bling bling’ lifestyle is a life of materialism. It suggests a pattern of acquiring objects of pleasure that is flippant and almost of no consequential importance to a good life. You hear them talk of “money, power, respect”, they teach you how to rob a bank, steal from a jeweller, and dupe a prey. And of course there’s also the crude language to go with it.

More comical is the “in-house” battles that arise between fellow emcees. It’s always more of a lyrical attack, a battle on who’s hotter, ‘badder’, and nastier. Lyricists are fond of attacking one another with hateful words. This violent-style of rapping suggests battle and bloodshed. The dispute is commonly of ‘coastal challenge’ where one rapper claims supremacy over the other, and where their coasts are celebrated as the best.

Looking at the whole ‘rap game’ through an outward view appears like an elementary feud that is baseless. But with the death of 2Pac and Biggie in the nineties, it dawned on many that this elementary game is taking a new and deadly shape.

And like a ripple that grows into a larger ring on the river, hip-hop has found a place in our shores. Although you’d agree with me that a lot of them just play refined versions of juju music (I don’t know about you, but Rasquie sounds like a protégé of Obesere), but the issues of hooliganism, pornography and misogyny have been well perfected here. A lot of rappers are more interested in the ‘butt shaking’ and ‘hips wriggling’ of women than in the apparent political, economic, religious and social irregularities of our generation. (Ok, so you don’t want to sing about that? Then think of something else, just please, stop this clichéd scene of obscenity) Instead of just duplicating trends, we need to find out how this genre reflects the Nigerian culture. What really is our take on scantily dressed women? How comfortable are we about musical videos that are full of sexual innuendoes?

Some of our hip-hop artistes with their lucid videos of vulgarity can readily beat the Americans to their game. Jazzman Olofin with his elementary rhymes and cheap pilfering has made entertainment in Nigeria quite distasteful for children and for those of us who truly believe some pranks are better left in the privacy of a bedroom. This goes for Ruggedman too. In his bid to commercialise his skill, he has coupled himself to the strings that lead only through one lane- mediocrity. What a waste.For me I am quite comfortable with Modenine (I might be in the minority, but somebody has got to satisfy people like me!), he plays this game the way it should be done and thankfully he hasn’t found the ‘bum’ of a woman intriguing enough to sing about. Oh but for the love of hip-hop, I pray thee, bring back the Trybesmen…

The presentation, delivery and theme of hip-hop in Nigeria must be different from what obtains in the United States or any other country for that matter. Hip-hop is a movement- a voice that should give hope, faith and strength to a generation. It has

got to represent something potent, because when the music is over an impression remains in the heart of the listener. My question is, what kind of impression remains?

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1 comment

Ryan March 27, 2008 - 1:35 pm

Thank you for this — it fits in with a class topic I have. There isn’t much on musical misrepresentation.


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