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Since the ‘70s, rap music has proven to be the bane of many parents’ existence. The loud, explicit lyrics coupled with pounding beats performed by artists, who wear jewelry, the price of a small NYC apartment have appealed to many worldwide — especially teenagers. The genre is scoffed at by adults for being too vulgar and for having a bad influence on teens.
Without a doubt, rap has had a clear impact on youth; the music has resulted in the creation of hip hop culture, an art movement originating with African-American and Latinx teens in the Bronx in the 1970s.
The effects can be seen in style, dance and language. Students “flex” their Gucci wallets and newest pair of “J’s” while performing viral dance challenges on TikTok, mirroring their favorite artist’s social media uploads or music videos.
Senior Gio Piloto wears brands such as Bape and Dolce & Gabbana, inspired by the clothing worn by his favorite rappers, XXXTentacion and J. Cole. Discovering these rappers through SoundCloud, Piloto values more than just their clothing.
“I followed up with J. Cole ever since I heard how inspirational his music was,” Piloto said.
Cole’s work in albums such as “4 Your Eyez Only” and “2014 Forest Hills Drive” centers around his childhood experiences, especially being raised in the ghetto as an African-American.
Narrative-driven rap such as J. Cole’s resonates with many students who feel that the genre goes beyond the bling and flash commonly associated with it.
“For me, a lot of rap is more than music; there’s storytelling and deeper meanings to a lot of it,” senior Caleb Touchstone said.
Touchstone identifies with the mental struggles portrayed in various hip hop releases, especially those in Childish Gambino and Kanye West’s music.
West was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has struggled numerous times with his mental health. After being hospitalized in 2016, he released an album addressing the controversy of his drug addiction in 2018, called “Ye.”
“Ye” was a hit album with Touchstone, because he felt that it took an “honest” turn with fans; musicians and songs such as those featured on “Ye,” are important to students who want to be able to relate.
Piloto identifies with music on a different level. His connection remains with songs about the hardships of both romantic and self love.
“They talk about how you can’t never learn anyone until you love yourself, and how you should be thankful for the things you have. Life is a struggle and you should be thankful for what you got,” Piloto said.
Love is a more universal topic across all music genres, yet students feel that rap is still able to stand out among others such as pop and indie. The reason for this lies within the character artists create.
“Most rappers have more personality than Justin Bieber or Ed Sheeran could ever really provide in their songs,” Martinez said.
He describes this “personality” as something authentic; different from the “generic” pop hits on the radio. However, some students find this appeal to be more prevalent in older acts rather than the current rap trends.
“Rappers in the past were more unique; they were sort of inventing and refining the craft,” junior Zakaria Zeini said.
Zeini applauds rappers who come from “humble beginnings.” He enjoys listening to Tupac Shakur, who was deemed one of the greatest artists of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2010.
Shakur was a famous pioneer of “gangsta rap,” a style that highlighted violence and poverty in inner cities, selling at least 75 million album copies according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Despite his death in 1996, he continues to have a strong fan base.
“Tupac hit home for me, because Tupac never stood down for anybody. He always made sure to make his point clear, even if it was not in the most popular way. He was a legend and set the bar for many rappers now,” sophomore Platinum Foster said.
Shakur was killed in a drive-by shooting, devastating fans. His passing is synonymous with other rappers, including modern artists like XXXTentacion, Juice Wrld, Mac Miller and Pop Smoke. All were relatively young, dying from shooting altercations or a drug overdose.
These artists left an imprint on the hip hop community, forming bonds with thousands of devoted listeners. Mere hours after the assassination of XXXTentacion, many took to social media to express their grievances of the late rapper.
“I was affected when X died, because I really enjoyed [his] music and I listened to [him] everyday. It is sad that they all died so early in their lives,” senior Kobe Herrera said.
The shootings and drugs are a common theme in rap; there are many differing opinions surrounding the use of such topics that students have.
Herrera, who has been a rap fan since 7th grade, does not mind the violent lyrics, instead just appreciating the music. For Herrera, rap has been a mood-booster and a way to make memories with friends. Rather than lyrics, he prizes the overall sound of the song.
Others take the violence more seriously, finding figments of reality within the piece. Senior Noah Rieckmann finds them necessary; he sees the explicit lyrics as a depiction of certain lifestyles.
“There are people all over the globe making a living by selling drugs, and the gangs are real; it is nothing to play around with,” Rieckmann said.
Raised by parents who were avid hip hop fans, Rieckmann has been listening to rap since he was born. After listening to a variety of artists and beats “ranging from the West Coast to New York,” he believes songs are an outlet for rappers to vent, but also a way to show people how to “make it in life.”
Musicians such as YNW Melly make specific references to crime and weapons in songs such as, “Murder on My Mind.” Tracks like these are alienating towards many, who find it uncomfortable to listen to.
“I think it is just a front to make people look hard,” Piloto said. “I do not find it necessary.”
Hip hop music is also heavily criticized for its lyrics about women, with female rappers and musicians Janelle Monae and Nicki Minaj calling out the industry for its misogyny.
Junior Brooke Karten acknowledges this, taking a stand against those who she finds disrespectful.
“I do care about how rappers treat and talk about women. For example, I do not like 6ix9ine and I do not listen to him,” Karten said.
6ix9ine gained popularity in 2017, but has been under fire after lawsuits and allegations of sexual assault against a female minor were made public, sparking a push to boycott his music.
Lyrics containing descriptions of sexual assault and derogative terms are problematic in the eyes of Foster, who feels that they translate to situations in the real world.
“Boys nowadays follow up everything they see, so the songs objectifying, sexualizing and dehumanizing females make it seem like it is okay, when it is not…they want to be just like them,” Foster said.
Foster proudly calls herself a Cardi B stan and a “Barb,” the name of Minaj’s followers. She also believes that she could listen to female rap artist Megan Thee Stallion “all day long.”
All three have made contributions to female-led hip hop, gaining significant attention. Recently, Megan Thee Stallion has topped charts, with her single “WAP,” which featured Cardi B. It received heavy scrutiny for being too sexual, with critics taking issue with the suggestive scenes in the video.
Rap music has continuously been plagued with complaints about inappropriate lyrics and sending out the wrong messages. Famous pop singers such as Miley Cyrus and Billie Eilish have expressed dislike of the genre in interviews with Jimmy Kimmel and Vogue Magazine respectively.
Students disagree, finding that one rapper is not an accurate representation of the industry. Hip hop music is not limited to one certain style; they believe that rap is multi-faceted and that there is something for everyone.
“The most important part of hip hop is finding the flow that goes with you. Listen to what you like, something you could drop into and just vibe with all day,” Rieckmann said. “That is what is great about rap. It ranges so there is no way you won’t find something you like.”