It has been argued by many throughout the decades that hip hop may be the most competitive genre of music known to society. MCs compete daily through their lyrics over who’s the greatest rapper alive, who has the most money or even who has the most substance in their music; rank has been a major characteristic of hip-hop for decades. However, rappers are not the only contributors to this competitive nature.
Each day, we as fans and supporters of the culture use our social media platforms and music consumption outlets to promote and sometimes denote various artists. I am sure we all can relate to the many times spent with friends in various settings debating on whose the greatest lyricist, who has the better flow or even who has a better generation of rappers. These debates are solely based on personal preferences and opinions vary from person to person. Opinions and responses to these questions can also be changed and shaped over time. However, it is my belief that there is at least one question rappers and fans debate on constantly in which the answer is a lot simpler than many may make it out to be. It is the question of what should be defined as real in hip hop?
Recently, rapper Kendrick Lamar bought his sister a 2017 Toyota Camry as a graduation gift worth $25,000 dollars. When I first became aware of this story, I immediately thought of how wonderful it was that Kendrick was investing in his family and showing love to the ones who supported him long before the general public did. I also applauded Kendrick for deciding not to invest in anything absolutely fancy, but instead showing his younger sister the value of keeping it simple, buying a car that best fits her driving experience and staying financially grounded regardless of overall income. However, it disappointed me that others on social media did not share my applause but instead destroyed Kendrick suggesting that he should have invested in a more high maintenance car.
This story and others I have heard throughout my eleven years of following hip hop music have lead me to draw two main conclusions. One is that we as fans tend to have this perception that all rappers are to have a similar “rags to riches” story, wear new chains each day and rap about the generic hip hop topics. As mentioned earlier though, this is simply a perception and should be treated as such. There is a big difference between perception and reality.
The second conclusion I drew from this story is that though we may blame rappers for flexing more than they should, aka the Bow Wow challenge, we also clown certain artists when they choose to express themselves in different ways because of the perception mentioned earlier. We seem to forget that rappers are also human and no human has the same exact background, endures the same struggles or expresses themselves in the same way. To us, Drake is not “hard enough” when he chooses to sing and experiment with other styles of music. Young Thug is gay and seeking attention when he chooses to wear a dress while complimenting the looks of other men. Lil Uzi Vert worships Lucifer because he is wearing an upside down cross. Macklemore sounds corny when he raps about mopeds and thrift shopping.
In the end, the real question is do we really know what these artists really stand for or do we choose not to learn because their way of expressing themselves does not fit our perception of reality? It is my belief that we as fans play just as much of a role in this issue of reality versus perception as rappers do. I do not agree with everything rappers do or stand for, but I respect their desire to be themselves despite criticism from the public. Being real is about being yourself and not about being who the world wants you to be. With that being said, there is nothing wrong with flexing your real check, your real personality and most importantly your real self.
Billy Pickens, III