Hip-hop’s Contradictions are Good For the Genre

Chukwudi Hodge performs at the Masquerade in Atlanta, Georgia, on October 6, 2018. Diana Ward | Avant-Youth

In 2017,  Hip-hop and R&B dethroned Rock to become the most popular genre of music in the U.S. That was when XXXTentacion’s “Look At Me!” jumped into the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, Playboi Carti’s Magnolia hit No. 29 and Lil Uzi’s XO Tour Llif3 peaked at No. 7.

SoundCloud rap took the world by storm. But that wasn’t the only kind of rap doing the heavy lifting.

Conscious rappers, known for their social commentary, technical flows and symbolic lyricism, also found success in popular culture in 2017. Tyler the Creator’s “Who Dat Boy” peaked at No. 87 and Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” hit No. 1.  

Hip-hop was, and still is, everywhere, and its success can be credited to contributions from both the SoundCloud and Conscious rap scenes. However, some Conscious rappers express disdain in being compared to their SoundCloud relatives. That animosity is often centered around how SoundCloud rappers portray the Black community in Hip-hop.

J Cole said in a recent interview with Vulture that SoundCloud rappers are “exaggerated versions of Black stereotypes” His concern for that portrayal is perhaps best illustrated in his hit song, “1985”: “But have you ever thought about your impact? / These white kids love that you don’t give a fuck / ‘Cause that’s exactly what’s expected when your skin black.”

J Cole backs the position that SoundCloud rap is doing more harm to Hip-hop than good. SoundCloud rappers, for their part, don’t really seem to care.

Lil Yatchy told TIDAL that his music was “just fun, it’s not serious. I hate serious rap. It’s boring. Serious rap music puts me to sleep.”

Playboi Carti points out on his song “RIP” that SoundCloud Rap has given him the means to achieve success:

“Fuck that mumblin’ shit, fuck that mumblin’ shit / Bought that crib for my mama off that mumblin’ shit / Made a mil’ off that, uh, off that mumblin’ shit”

There is a notable disconnect in the messages that these two subgenres put out. That makes Hip-hop contradictory. On the one hand, Hip-hop encourages you to get money, do drugs and have sex. At the same time, you’re told to have an informed opinion on the American socio political situation.

It could be argued, however, that the contradictory nature of Hip-hop is vital to the integrity of the genre. Without it, J Cole couldn’t have made “1985.” His album KOD also deals in large part with the issues revolving around SoundCloud rap, so the content in that album wouldn’t be viable either.

Diana Ward | Avant-Youth

Chukwudi Hodge performing on the Welcome to the Family Tour in Atlanta.

Similarly, Eminem’s resurgence with his 2018 album Kamikaze was successful in large part because of his biting lyricism about SoundCloud Rap. If SoundCloud Rap wasn’t prevalent, we may not have seen Slim Shady achieve anything meaningful in the latter stages of his career. It certainly looked like he was finished in that capacity after Revival, a much-anticipated 2017 release that lacked any meaningful direction, and ultimately received poor reviews.

Eminem told Skyrock that SoundCloud rappers “need a Hip-hop lesson.” I, for one, am grateful that he gave them one. The genre has continued to flourish as a result.  

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