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Hip Hop: The most culturally marginalized genre of our time

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In light of a certain current event in politics, it’s more known now than ever that in America, real racism moves in silence. When we think of the words “rap” or “hip hop,” does it evoke the same divine legacy as genres like rock n’ roll, jazz, or any of the other landmark genres of American culture? Is it safe to say after the anthems that lifted the disenfranchised, the commercial force from “Hypnotize” to “Hotline Bling,” and the social poignancy from Straight Outta Compton to To Pimp A Butterfly, that hip hop has earned its place as the defining music of our generation? For some reason it feels like history hasn’t paid as much respect to Grandmaster Flash as it has to Peter Gabriel. It seems the quiet conclusion in the common mind is that hip hop is a disposable rendition of “real” music, a mere ornament to more legitimate artistry. Is hip hop truly a secondary art form, or is that just a fallacy founded on old-head skepticism and underhanded racism?

Of course, multiple genres can coexist as cultural paradigms in a given era, but hip hop has consistently been the most socially and culturally impactful to this generation. Moreover, it should be clear that contemporary artists like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, or Drake will hold more profound cultural substance in their discography than The Lumineers, Skrillex, or Maroon 5 decades from now. This is not to pit different styles of popular music against one another, but rather to recognize the vitality of hip hop, despite its funny name and reputation of being unwholesome. One quick glance at history will reveal that this country’s most celebrated genres of music were built upon counterculture—a glorious overthrowing of the social climate that breathes new life into a complacent population. This was jazz in the Harlem Renaissance, and rock n’ roll during the Vietnam War. Actually, come to think of it, it seems all the greatest American genres of music were spawned from black communities seeking some cathartic respite in desperate times. Rock n’ roll obviously stems from the blues, and it doesn’t take a music historian to understand why those black musicians were feeling blue. Pop music today is all derived from R&B, and in fact, it seems the only reason Justin Bieber is called “pop” while Usher stays “R&B” is a racial distinction. White pop singers are pop, but black singers are R&B. Even today’s electronic music is deeply indebted to Chicago house and Detroit techno. The tragic exploitation and cultural smudging in the history of black music is no recent phenomenon. So when one wonders why someone with the title of “rapper” is more likely to be chuckled at than taken seriously as a musician, let us factor centuries of music racism into our analysis.

Any avid hip hop fan has heard a world-famous rapper actively refuse the title in their lyrics. In his trap ballad “Apple Pie,” Travis Scott exclaims “I am everything except a rapper,” and explains in interviews that “artist” is his preferred label. In his debut album Section.80, Kendrick Lamar viciously delivered the lines “Matter of fact, don’t mistake me for no fucking rapper.” Both these lines were, in fact, rapped. What makes these rappers so abhorrent of their given career title? Perhaps it is because when a young black boy expresses dreams of becoming a rapper, he is often laughed at. It doesn’t feel likely that a young white girl with dreams of being a singer would be met with the same response. In American culture, rappers are known as criminals, degenerates making a quick buck off cheap tracks, indoctrinating the youth with their deplorable agendas. After Kendrick rapped his opus “Alright” from atop a police car on the BET Awards, Geraldo Rivera responded by saying “Hip hop does more damage to African Americans than racism.” While an entire master thesis could be written on the idiocy of this statement, it promptly proves the magnitude of American hatred for hip hop. Indeed, sales are sky high for rap tracks, but commercial performance and actual cultural respect are not the same things. Remember that like our electoral map, the sentiments of the metropolitan coasts are far different from those further inland. As we navigate this treacherous political climate, hip hop can serve as a microcosm of our divided nation. “Panda” may have reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it’s improbable that the half of the country that voted for Donald Trump is made up of Desiigner fans. In sum, it is safe to say that “rapper” is a label with baggage.

Those who deny the prevalence of racism in hip hop might argue that it is a genre so littered with corrosive content that it deserves its reputation. Indeed, sex and violence have become lyrical staples in raps over the years, but first we must address the hypocrisy of any rock n’ roll fan in the world that attempts to point fingers at oversexed or misogynistic content. Might I offer some “Brown Sugar,” or “Cherry Pie” as potential refreshments here? Moreover, to address violent content, let us recall that music is artwork. Has Martin Scorsese been publicly scorned for depicting the violence of New York City? NWA’s “Fuck the Police” was an account of the inner city reality of 1980s Los Angeles. Perhaps before blanketing every rapper who mentions a gun in a song as a sociopath aimlessly rampaging upon our public servants, one should consider that they speak of their environment, and ponder how their environment reached such anarchy in the first place. In other words, American society historically reduced black communities to drug-fueled war zones, and when the black communities expressed their perils through music, the music faced the same widespread discrimination that created the environment in the first place.

Geraldo targeting Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” as an example of harmful music is a tragic irony in itself. Indeed, “Alright” is a modern homage to “Fuck the Police,” with a chorus that ends with “We hate ‘popo,’ wanna kill us dead in the street for sure,” but also ends with “If God got us, then we’re gonna be alright.” We could have guessed that Fox News would walk right into this one, but given Kendrick’s role in revolutionizing the mastery of hip hop as an art form, it’s amusing that he of all people fell between the crosshairs. Let it be understood, however, that not all hip hop is wholesome. Some rappers do inspire more harm than help. But do we denounce all of rock n’ roll because of the music of Nickelback? Not usually, and so the same logic should apply to the blunders of some of today’s less respectable rap and trap artists. “CoCo” by OT Genasis should not discredit the work of Nas. Yet still, the sweeping remarks of condescension toward the art form continue across our culture.

The third and least recognized factor that shackles the image of hip hop is the deadlocked stigma that rapping and composing hip hop is just easier, that it doesn’t contain the artistic subtlety of other musical disciplines; the idea that real musicians learn an instrument and develop their artistry while rappers just rhyme words together along with the beat. While I have no census bureau statistics on this stigma to cite, I have found myself conversationally defending a rapper’s right to be considered a musician too many times now. Here, it becomes somewhat clearer why skilled rappers tend to hate being called one. Take a moment to identify how hesitant our culture is to call rappers musicians, and it all begins to connect. Keith Richards once told Rolling Stone magazine that he thinks hip hop is “for tone-deaf people,” and “all they need is a drum beat and somebody yelling over it and they’re happy.” While this man’s brilliance as a rock n’ roll pioneer is incontrovertible, he speaks of hip hop like the genre’s equivalent of Reverend Shaw Moore from Footloose. Ask a high school jazz band instructor what they think of hip hop. The overwhelming majority of them will give the same elitist eye-roll. This is why To Pimp A Butterfly strikes the ultimate irony, as a rapper has resurrected jazz music through his album’s sound palette singlehandedly, a genre whose players often do not respect hip hop nearly as much as one might hope.

Moreover, Kendrick’s palpably virtuosic rhythms and rhyme schemes gave the genre consummate evidence of artistry in hip hop. The way today’s rap scene intertwines deft production and melody overall proves that its legacy is just beginning. Artists like Kanye West, Chance the Rapper and Frank Ocean are sonic alchemists, weaving their raps into instrumentals that evade the confines of genre altogether. That being said, however, the sanctity of a rap record should have been obvious decades prior. How many years after “Keep Ya Head Up,” after “It Was a Good Day,” after “Juicy,” will it take for the greater sum of this country to admit that hip hop is the enduring vessel of truth in times of stagnation and despair? Does Snoop Dogg need to rip a guitar solo? Does Jay-Z need to sing like Adele to earn his due respect as a true musical icon?

It’s baffling that the ultimate marriage between music and poetry would be so criminally marginalized over time. Further, it’s believed that simple English and blunt subject matter is unworthy of literary praise, as if artistic quality is restricted to complexity and technical skill. Pop art, or the method of repurposing an existing work in a foreign context, is fully recognized in visual art, but when a musician first discovers the role of sampling in hip hop, words like “cheating” and “stealing” begin to fly… because albums like Late Registration practically produce themselves, right? Was Warhol slighted for using pre-existing images, or for not being able to paint like Monet?

And finally, there are those that will optimistically argue that hip hop just isn’t old enough for classic status, and that the time will come. After all, the biopics are only beginning to roll out now. So for any reader who perceives hip hop as any less meaningful, artistic, subtle, or culturally vital as other historic genres, anyone who chooses to ignore the thousands of beats and verses that brought this world a little joy, please understand the ever-so-poignant weight of discrimination. It tends to obstruct one’s happiness. Hopefully in due time, these stubborn skeptics will hear Outkast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” or Jay Electronica’s “Better in Tune with the Infinite,” or Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam.” In the 1950s, Elvis Presley took songs like “Hound Dog” from poor black musicians and prospered on their work. In 2015, Taylor Swift was awarded the Grammy for album of the year, instead of Kendrick Lamar for To Pimp A Butterfly. Progress may move at a glacial pace, but if there’s one thing this country has shown, it’s that oppression only makes a community’s culture stronger. I guess they just never thought hip hop would take it this far.

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Nada Funk – What’s on our mind

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January is the month that you do less of what turned out bad for you in 2015, and much more of all the things that turned out good. If you ran a marathon in 2015 then you’re running three in 2016. If you went through tough times financially, then you certainly don’t repeat another year like the one you just had.

Tomorrow is Monday and the unofficial start of the new year, so why not get ready for it today. Let’s not all be those cliches of putting the things that we can do right now, off for tomorrow. Part of being able to progress year-over-year and make adjustments to the lives we live is doing the exact opposite of that.

What’s on your mind” by Nada Funk is a medley of mini-productions all happening simultaneously while interweaving sound waves pound against your body forcing it to dance in your seat. If you check out the artwork you’ll see a bunch of circus acts performing at the same time. If they could all perform around one another, seamlessly, then that circus becomes something special of which separates it from everything else out there. That’s precisely what you get with this Nada Funk creation right here. A medley of familiar sounds and tones that band together to form something never heard like it before.

While you’re still contemplating about getting a jump on your 2016 before you let another year get a jump on you, hit play below and let the vibes tell you what to do. The force is strong in this one.

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Fono – Everybody Knows (Feat. Anna Straker)

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Starting your week the way you start your day is key, that’s why today’s tune is perfect. It’s a bright and energy-filled taste of sunshine, and it’s going to put you in the most excellent mood. Who doesn’t like to start their days and work weeks happy?

It’s important that when you wake up you understand that the day ahead can be whatever you want it to be. It can be a great day before you even get out of bed, and understanding that you are the one in complete control of how your day goes is clutch to that. Negative people are products of negative programming. This is due to their programmers (parents or parental figures) and how their programmers dealt with their own experiences. That is why it is so hard to deprogram another human from the only things they know  because it is YEARS of programming that have to first be unfolded in order to find the root problems, to then be reprogrammed by understanding where the faults lie and how to counteract them. It’s the same dilemma, on the opposite side of the spectrum, found with students attempting to become computer scientists today (http://techcrunch.com/2015/10/31/the-path-to-expertise/). It takes years to become an expert at something, the same way it takes years to detach a human from lifelong habits that could be affecting their state of being as well as mind. It is only when a dedicated individual wants to become more positive that deprogramming can actually work.

On an easier note, for those of you that are already positive or have already started being more positive in your everyday lives, the simplicity of the method is easy. All you have to do is smile when you wake up, tell yourself that you’re going to have an amazing day and be grateful for everything you see: the sun shining, the delicious cup of coffee and the smiles that you do get over the ones you don’t as you make your way to work or school. It’s honestly just knowing, feeling and believing that all the good shit that can possibly happen, will.

Remember that everything in life has a balance to it. Ying has Yang, Good has Evil, Day has night, but no one said that you had to pick a side and stick to it forever, and no one said that you even have to live on a side that you never asked for.

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Alessia Cara – Here

This song has been out for a moment, but honestly, deserves a good write up. The tune will sound instantly familiar pulling the track from somewhere you know with lyrics that are even more so.

Alessia Cara does what I love in lyrics and a track, creating a whole scene. It is a story that takes place in a night. Not a whole realisation that could take years. I got a night.  At the party, in the corner where you sit with your cup and eyes glazed over, judging the judgers and pitying the souls who aimlessly venture the halls with a shitty playlist and intentions.

The blanket of a heavy night holding back the creative reactions we hope for. The words not connecting, the whisky got in the way. The song just not right, the DJ is on a different level. The inspiration created by poor decisions of ourselves or the girl in the corner you realise you know from uni. The want, to capture the moments of utmost human disappointment, the need to feel understood and the human urge to do so in a beautiful symphony.

You are at the party. You finally make it to the door, you hear the one song you were waiting for. The person you were meant to see. The mood you are set on making. The story you are set on living.

It is true that you want to live the life that is curated to sell. To ensure you are interesting. To make the story one that everyone knows and a party that we all feel like we have been to before. But doing the same thing over and over is not creative, its insanity.

We seek the path to a creative story, the freedom to let that be the “real” you and the strength to believe that is going to be good enough.

Here. You. Are. And here is Alessia.

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Louis the Child – It’s Strange (Feat. K-Flay)

The path of resistance is never the one we intend on taking, but sometimes it turns out that way. The fork in the road offers two paths, neither are particularly enticing. Uphill or the unknow,n or not the right time.

It is refreshing, the “power of the squad” and what it can do when you sit back and see who steps up when you need a leader for a moment. The hardest lesson learned as an adult is the one when you realise you still have to ask for help. You are lost. You are at the fork and need someone else. Not like you can’t pull up your own bootstraps, but when someone else can tie your shoe so you are not tripping all over yourself, it helps.

It is unclear when being an adult became synonymous with doing things on your own, being the lead instead of the follower of your path. It is a learning process to let someone else in. Someone you can lean on that doesn’t make you feel defeated; it is a refresher and shot of life— you are ready to go back in swinging.

It is a great day when you can sit and look out at your “squad” or mini crew, or your one and only, and you know you got it. But you don’t have to do it all alone. I realised in everything I love doing, I do it better with someone else there. I write better, I get more ideas, I feed off it and feel myself putting more in to my passions, my chores, my plans.

We carve space in life when we find people who make us feel like the best version of ourselves.

That’ s you in fighting form. You amplified. And the lesson is, to get here, there is usually someone giving you that extra lift. I carve a YOU-shaped hole in my life, under my arm and covering my back; In the front of my mind and on the inside of hands. Just a bit on the back of my heels and completely around my chest. I resist. And then when I am too tired, you still come back and pull me up or kick the backs of my heels up, so I know I can still do the lifting.

Take a listen to this, the lyrics and the mood will make it all make sense.

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JATA – Ebony

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The most passionate kinds of love are the ones we wish to control the most, even knowing that love is the most uncontrollable thing on the planet. Our primal instincts with our very first few relationships are to try and control love and fidelity, until somewhere down the line we begin to realize that these things are impossible to control. (Don’t say “no” because we have all been there.) But why do we find ourselves in those particular scenarios, ever, still sometimes to this day, long after we have immaturely learned such lessons? I would say that it is something called “passion” that holds the key; something that can easily get lost even within the most perfect love stories.

Passion is what drives endless loves. Passion is what creates timeless love stories that we still tell our kids and they make movies about. Passion, is the one thing that beats love because without it, even love becomes mundane.

Remember what it was like to feel stomach pains whenever you didn’t hear from that kind of love that drove you insane. Remember the headaches from all the tears you shed each time you got into a fight, broke up and thought it was over for good. Remember how you swore, each time you got back together, that you would never fight again about the dumbest shit ever. That’s passion right there, because love by itself is not rambunctious, but love unrestrained completely becomes exactly that—fiery down to its very core.

Please shoot if you want to.
I’m happy to hold the gun.
Oh please be my reaper.
Yes, you are the only one.”

And that’s it. That’s the difference. True love is two souls living for one another. Passion, is one soul living only for the other.

Kill me if you want to. 
Fill me with what you will.”

That’s what I dig about this Jata tune titled “Ebony”. It’s tumultuous, yet organized in a way that only music has the power and ability to shape such noises, and it’s passionate in the lyrics it delivers without being whiney or weak. It’s that psychopathic kind of dark love that will literally do anything for the other and flirts on the borderlines of obsession. And it’s personified passion only when heard like this, right over 808’s that never stop thumping like the eternal flames from hell.

You see, love, by definition, can only exist in one place in the afterlife (heaven), while passion will be found on both planes.

Please set me on fire.”

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Delany Jane – Shades Of Grey (Tony Tokyo Remix)

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I’m losing sleep
Light a smoke so I can breathe
It’s too dark, it’s too loud in the city”

Every once in a while my soul requires a huge change. Do you ever feel this way too? It’s like a timer inside of me goes off and I feel the need to get away from everything I know that currently surrounds me. I find the redundancies that a repetitious life can provide to become too overbearing, and then my insides begin to itch and the world starts appearing a little greyer to me with each day that passes.

In ten days I move over to the left coast from the city that I was born and raised in. I always knew that life would take me to the farthest places that the mind could go, so I sit here in anticipation, anxious for a new beginning.

Two months ago I had a baby boy. Yes, you read the right, I became a dad for the first time ever. That’s the kind of change that my soul absolutely loves, change that switches your whole mind state up in less than a second and flips the former life you had right out the window. With it, all the stupid vices and petty habits tossed too. I guess life gives you real responsibilities when it feels that you are truly ready for them because I am completely armed to crush fatherhood like a champ and I can’t wait for each new day now, like before, but for totally different reasons. The world seems different to me, and even NYC seems like another life.

Where life once happened at lightning fast speeds, it is now a snail slow dial up connection. There is no rush to get anywhere and there’s nothing more important than what I have in front of me. Old acquaintances become names and phone numbers that I don’t have time for, and there are no such things as enemies because those too require way more time than I care to give to any single thing or any other person that isn’t part of what I already have. That’s been the biggest change in me: what I, who I, and how I spend my time. I just don’t see the importance in anyone or anything else to pull me away from the beauty I see every three to four hours and I don’t think I ever again will.

I mean, I got everything I need right here with me. I got air in my lungs, a few blank sheets of paper”

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Saint Sister – Madrid

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Too often people pretend that they are happy because they feel that they have so much in comparison to the poor people of the world, but we always know that people are full of shit, and that they don’t know what true happiness is like, because you and I have seen it together. They think about old loves to themselves, never divulging that sort of information to even their “besties” because people say these sorts of thoughts are some kind of taboo or the other. They wonder what these old loves are up to and think of all the good times that they had with them and then the thoughts dissipate into the sea of chores and get lost amongst the hours that go by.

And here I am thinking of you and not being those people. Here I am learning that true love requires passion and that passion requires a fight somewhere down the line to certify that it is real. Here I am not wondering what you are doing, but projecting that some day again you and I will walk the endless coastlines and I will see those brush strokes that God himself painted into your eyes looking deep inside of me again. Here I am knowing that no matter how far in opposite directions we go, eventually, we will run into one another again, because the world is only round and life is just funny that way.

I wonder sometimes if I think of you way more than I should, but then how many times in one’s life does one come across a love as great as ours? How many people can tell the kind of story of us in NYC that we can tell and not have others looking at us like we’ve completely made every single bit and detail of it up?

I don’t know where life is taking me. I’ve been riding its waves and surfing its winds up until now and I think I’ve been doing just fine. But, if I could have a word with the conductor, I would ask him to bring me back to you in this lifetime, so that I can stare into your soul and hear your voice once more.

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Drake – Hold On (Funk Academy Remix)

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Mitch hadn’t been able to cope with Kate’s breakup. He got teary-eyed every-time he checked his Instagram profile and saw another usies of them at some random moment back home. Sure, their colleges were thousands of miles apart, and somewhere inside he knew she was right about them eventually moving on, but he wasn’t ready, and why did it have to be now?

Back at her dorm Kate was feeling new again. New bed, new bedsheets, new room and blinds, new people, new roomie and a whole new world on a campus full of endless episodes right outside her grasp. She hadn’t felt this good in months, if not years, and for once, she felt an absolute freedom that she had never felt before. Life was too good.

Speeding down the highway of love Mitch was headed Kate’s way even if it took days to get to her. He was determined to get his high school sweetheart and dream crush back, and he was determined not to take no for an answer.

Philosophy 101 proved to be the most interesting class of Kate’s first day. Her professor was the kind of teacher that all girls fantasize about: dreamy, handsome, stoic and sexy, and she had already imagined what it would be like to drop down to her knees and take him in her mouth inside his office. She couldn’t believe some of the thoughts she was having, but she figured that these are the kinds of thoughts that total freedom brings, so she brushed them off and smiled and took in the exciting new world she would call home for these next four years.

Mitch’s heart drops after each song that plays on his “My Love Kate” Spotify playlist. It’s as if the playlist had been subconsciously curated to crush him at this very moment. Still, with every tear he finds the energy to continue driving, and with every whimper he finds the hope to keep on going.

After breakfast Kate heads to her first class of the new day, stopping every four or five minutes to take deep breaths of the manicured campus’s air, and to take deep breaths of a world that she saw as limitless and beautiful and full of wonderfully bright and hopeful days. Her shoulders stand tall and her head no longer slouches and she takes note of all the hot boys noticing her, and she loves every second and inch of it. And right when life couldn’t seem to be more perfect, Mitch pulls into the parking lot and her heart stops.

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Grace Mitchell – Jitter

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A new lady on the scene who can rap and sing better than you.

Lyrics punching through the song which has this danceable production and sexy French somethings littered throughout. It is a song for Fridays and middle fingers if you ask me. The track was sent in from the artists as she launches her first album that promises tracks of similar caliber with angst and flow.

The title track from the album, Jitter, is a ride for sure. The vocals and how this track was mixed gives you that anxiousness, go feeling like a line of blow. My only regret is not having my good headphones at work so I can get in the full base. Part trap, part 80’s, all good.

It couldn’t have come at a better time really, if you are younger or older or whatever, it actually doesn’t matter. You will have that moment when you realize your body hurts for the first time, you get your first judging eye from some kid. It’s coming or it came. Getting older is inevitable, aging gracefully is a choice, aging is not. How you handle that is up to you.

Grace, “I like what you got going on.”

Throw this on as you step up, step out with a new dance.