Positivity in Hip Hop by Jonathan Ruiz

In today’s world, the genre of Hip Hop is seen as very negative music.  Hip hop artists have been getting bad publicity by getting in trouble with the law.   Also, many artists brag about their lifestyle.  They talk about making large amount of money, fame, and the companionship that most people desire.  They present themselves as being in a world full of drugs, violence and sex.  This may concern any Hip Hop listener who wishes for music with actual substance.  It has been questioned if Hip Hop culture has a positive effect on society in general and if there is music for positive/conscious listeners in Hip-Hop.  Despite all the criticism, I believe there is positive Hip Hop music being made.

Hip-hop began 40 years ago in the South Bronx, a borough of New York City and a place that was consumed by poverty.  Using turntables and worn records, young people in the South Bronx began to create a brand new type of music.  The five elements of Hip Hop were created, MC’ing (rapping), DJ’ing (audio mixing and scratching), breakdance, graffiti art and beatboxing.  Hip Hop was a voice.  It was a way for anybody to express their own thoughts and give a societal message.  Fab 5 Freddy, a Hip Hop pioneer and host of Yo! MTV Raps in the 1980s, believes Hip Hop has been successful because it is “infectious” and it allows people to express themselves in a positive, dynamic and consciousness-raising way.  “Hip Hop is for everybody with an open ear.”  In the beginning Hip Hop was positive.  It was an outlet for those who had nothing to have some way of expressing themselves.

It is easy to see the negative aspects of Hip Hop music.  Artists who talk about negative issues such as violence, sex and drugs, actually have proven to sell better than artist who make positive music.  Unfortunately, Hip Hop artists who do rap positively, or about political, social or economic empowerment do not get the same attention and do not make as much money as a result.  Most positive hip-hop artists still do not receive the attention they deserve.  However, many artists or groups such as The Roots, Mos Def, Lauryn Hill or Common are gaining mainstream attention, which is encouraging since they are promoting positive values.  With Hip Hop constantly colliding with R&B, it helps that R&B artists such as Erykah Badu, India Aire and Musiq Soulchild, also promote positive conscious lyrics.  Positive hip-hop is getting more publicity and is growing more and more.  Mathematics by Mos Def states; “Hip-Hop past all your tall social hurdles like the nationwide projects, prison-industry complex Broken glass wall better keep your alarm set, Streets too loud to ever hear freedom sing, Say evacuate your sleep, it’s dangerous to dream…” .  He is saying that it is possible to get out of the ghetto even though it may seem to be hard to be free from that existence.  Another inspiring example is from Forgive Them Father by Lauryn Hill, “And when I let go, my voice echoes through the ghetto, sick of men trying to pull strings like Geppetto, Why black people always be the ones to settle, March through these streets like Soweto…”.  Lauryn is saying also that she was able to use her voice to be free from the struggles of the ghetto and she will stand up for herself and not let anyone control her.  Lyrics like these can inspire and encourage a person that they can find a way to live better than they are.

Hip hop is one of the most influential musical genres on the globe.  There are rappers all over that know how much of an influence their music can have. Some artist try to use that power of influence to do good.  “I want others to accept myself as a street guy who lives his own life, who has his own opinion and wants it to be expressed,” said Russian rapper Detsl.  “The more real I’ll be in my songs the more problems of my generation I can express from the screen, the more honest I’ll be for myself and for those who are listening to me.”

The corporate takeover of Hip Hop has taken away much of the creativity and genius from the artist.  Since drugs and sex sell, the artists are told to make music reflecting those ideas to make a quick buck.  This may not be what the artist want to do but in order to make money they “sell out”.  The desire to make money encourages artist to write negative lyrics and this reinforces the negative view of Hip Hop.  Within the mainstream, money runs everything, so artist within the mainstream do not preserve the initial intention of the genre.  The reason Hip Hop was created was to give an opportunity for people who felt like they had something worthwhile to say it.  Instead Hip Hop is being used to brag about living a flashy lifestyle, with no actual important things to say.  This message unfortunately caused many Hip Hop listeners to make material things a priority in their lives which is one of the negatives many people associate with Hip Hop.

There is more to Hip Hop than what is presented in the mainstream.  Many underground rappers use their music to discuss interesting non-mainstream topics. For example, some rappers like Public Enemy, Sage Francis and KRS-One, touch political issues in their music.  There are others, like Immortal technique, Unknown Prophets and the Christian rapper, Braille,  that prefer to stay underground and make music independently because they want to be able to state their views. One song by Unknown Prophets featuring Braille is called Explore. “Yeah so dare to explore, And challenge yourself, To reach heights you never seen before, Go ahead and touch the sky, Life is much to shore, Don’t ever settle for less, If you want it the world can be yours”.  These lyrics tell the listener to take risk and do your best to accomplish your goals.  The Hip Hop underground possess the opportunity for artist to create the positive substantial music, the rare albums where an artist is allowed to grow and shine and encourage their audience.  I believe that unfortunately, mainstream Hip Hop does not have much variety and very few acts have lyrical content that goes beyond the bling-bling life style with an attempt to bring diversity to what Hip Hop really is.

Hip Hop is more diverse than many people know.  There is rarely any positive or conscious hip hop nowadays played on the radio, nor are many artists talking about anything besides fame, money and sex.  But if a Hip Hop listener searched for music being produced within the underground or non-mainstream, they will be exposed to a very different scene.  Some artists make political hip hop like Immortal Technique or uplifting music like Unknown Prophets or religious music like Braille.  These artists get their point across through metaphors or by telling a story.  It is important for these type of artist to be heard because of the impact it can have.  These artists are trying to help anyone who will listen to inspire them to improve their own lives.  These artists want to show that there is much more to this world than material possessions.  They inspired people to dream and to not accept things the way they are.  These types of artist want to make a change in society.  I believe their intentions are good and if this type of music reach the public, not just music but the lives of those who listen may get better.


Akil II, Bakari. “Hip Hop Commentary.” Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner-Where Hip Hop & Politics Meet. Web. 20 Dec. 2010. <http://www.daveyd.com/commakeroomconscious.html&gt;.

Robinson, Desi K. “THE GENRE AND THE REST OF THE WORLD.” Rice’n’peas Magazine. The New Black Magazine. 21 Oct. 2008. Web. 20 Dec. 2010. <http://www.thenewblackmagazine.com/view.aspx?index=1638&gt;.

Nanamaker, Ben. “Hip-hop Positive? No.” The Lantern. 30 Apr. 2004. Web. 20 Dec. 2010. <http://www.thelantern.com/2.1346/hip-hop-positive-no-1.88054&gt;.

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One Response to Positivity in Hip Hop by Jonathan Ruiz

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