MICHELLE XU
MICHELLE XU

In light of Nas recently speaking at Georgetown, discussions about the significance of rap have picked up substantially. Many believe that rap’s lyrics should be openly taught, regarding the genre as an art form with literary merit. As Michael E. Dyson said during his conversation with Nas in Gaston Hall last week, “Just as we study a Homer, we study a Nas.”

Rap music appeals to a very large part of the population, especially within the younger generations; however for a multitude of reasons, teaching and analyzing the lyrics wholesale could be detrimental to society. The nature of the music is not conducive to being analyzed by the masses and should not be accepted as scholarly discourse.

While it is clear many rappers have developed expansive vocabularies and complex rhyming schemes, the words themselves are far too explicit to be worthy of study. The constant profanities are an obstacle in themselves, and the subjects they broach are not any easier to stomach. Misogynist ideas and sexist terms run rampantly through rap and hip-hop songs. Drug use, illegal violence, monetary gains and material success are glorified. Racism is an overarching subject. Egotism is irrationally overt. Each one of these themes is harmful to society, either based on its action — such as illegal violence — or because of the repercussions of it — egotism propagates selfish people.

It is understandable that these topics are derived from situations in reality, and it is true that many of the rappers are regrettably well versed in these criteria. But what can students learn from such obscenities? It is commendable to study anyone’s struggle from the bottom to the top of society, but the manner in which rappers convey their journey is not conducive to study. It reinforces these values, of being sexist, egotistic and material-driven to the audience.

Without a doubt, this form of music has enthralled a tremendous number of people, but why? Does this mean that a vast majority of people can relate to the themes? Does it have more to do with the provocative sounds and beats? The popularity and open encouragement of the immoral and defiling antics so often discussed in rap suggests society is more accepting of this behavior. Constant exposure to this lifestyle, vicariously through the music, has led to desensitization. Societies change over time; long ago, Shakespearean literature was regarded as promiscuous. Yet, if one truly listens to the constant themes and jargon of rap, can it be held in the same light? Are the explicitly foul terms now growing to be acceptable enough to be taught in classrooms in the same manner that Homer is?

Rap is not to be dismissed as a social movement; its popularity confirms there are people who believe in its various themes. Many defend the genre by citing systemic problems that hip-hop artists have serious validity to their claims. Those who feel cheated or violated use music to express their status and dissatisfaction with the system working against them.

However, this reality of those who do not have a voice in society must be expressed in more civil ways. The messages in rap songs, while perhaps true, are too explicit and far too vulgar to validate rap as a means of communication and an area of study. This dissention must be conveyed with much less provocative cultural tendencies, so the true thoughts of the movement can be correctly spread to the others who do not embrace these explicit cultural values.

It is hard to argue the merit of rap music based on the lyrics, as there is little intrinsic value to the words themselves and what they allegedly teach. However, the larger, more significant issue is about this social and cultural movement toward accepting, encouraging and potentially preaching rap. Rappers enjoy prominent social status, and when those artists become as socially significant as classical heroes, such as Homer, it brings to question our modern values and morality in general.

JERRY D. RASSIAS is a sophomore in the College.

 

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

14 Comments

  1. I think that you bring up some really interesting points here. My question would be: what happens when we don’t talk about these things? As a girl who listens to rap (and, yes, is often frustrated by the sexist lyrics that I hear), I personally would prefer to talk about the lyrics and create a more open, meaningful dialogue around why such ideas are still so mainstream. To me, not talking about rap lyrics–even if it’s because they are “too explicit and far too vulgar”–sends the message that the sexist or derogatory attitudes we find within them cannot be changed, so we shouldn’t bother discussing them. If we don’t have a constructive conversation about the things we appreciate–and don’t appreciate–about rap, how will it ever change for the better?

  2. C'mon, really..? says:

    It’s hard to not dismiss this piece as racist in its origins, so I’m trying not to.

    Rap is poetry. Poetry is literature. Literature is studied throughout academia. Just because rap is not a conventional medium that Euro-centric academia (and the author of this piece) is comfortable with, it doesn’t mean anyone can dismiss it for the depth of content it provides.

    As far as the explicit nature of lyrics, honestly just grow up. Mark Twain says the N-word more times in one chapter than most rappers do in entire albums. We’re all adults here and we should be able to read profanity without giggling or being shocked.

    It’s sad to see someone who clearly must not listen to hip-hop carelessly dismiss the medium of expression that is more complex than the author of this piece can see. As we study art, we can and should study rap.

  3. is this an april fool’s joke?

  4. “However, this reality of those who do not have a voice in society must be expressed in more civil ways. The messages in rap songs, while perhaps true, are too explicit and far too vulgar to validate rap as a means of communication and an area of study. ”

    Clearly you only listen to ASAP Rocky or Big Sean.

  5. Yet another article that makes me wonder if the Hoya has just become really good at satire.

    Sadly, it hasn’t and this is just an out and out piece of racist garbage lacking in any nuance or appreciation of the subject you decided to write about – rap. But you clearly don’t see it that way, but maybe you’ll read this and see things differently.

    1. Rap and hip-hop are not homogeneous genres, the broad terms represent decades of diverse music, artists, communities, trends, eras, contexts, issues, etc. To ignore studying the music and art that comes in the form of rap and hip hop would be to ignore the narratives and experiences of those individuals who experience it and identify with it, many of whom have had immense impact on art, media, business, fashion, politics, etc today. Not every rap song is about f***ing b****** and making it rain – just like not every Greek play is about killing your dad and having sex with your mom then taking part in rampant hedonism. You don’t have to study all of it, you don’t have to agree with all of it, you don’t have to adopt it as your own lifestyle, but trying to figure out what its actually about and why it might be important to society (and so many people) isn’t a bad idea.

    2. Rap and hip hop are often mediums used to express narratives. I hesitate to leave you to your own devices in listening to what I would consider foundational or canonical rap (can I trust you to listen beyond the *cursing* and whatever else you might consider offensive) by artists like Grandmaster Flash (The Message), NWA, Nas, Tupac, Biggie, and Talib Kweli… ugh and even Kanye West (despite whatever he’s doing lately). They are all radically intelligent artists, AND TO OFFEND PEOPLE LIKE YOU IS A CONSCIOUS CHOICE THEY ARE MAKING. I guarantee you that just like F. Scott Fitzgerald poured over every sentence in The Great Gatsby, these men poured over their lyrics and made DELIBERATE DECISIONS about what they wanted to say, exactly how they were going to say it, and who their audience was. Grandmaster Flash, NWA, Nas, Tupac, all represented MOVEMENTS, gave voice to narratives and experiences that few people were listening to before they were top 100 hits on the radio.

    3. Listen to “F the Police” by NWA and while you might be offended (honestly it might be above where you’re at right now) realize that every single lyric and way in which they say it is deliberate and the issues the artists dealt with were real. Just because they’re not placating popularized white society, media, and language by asking the police politely to stop harassing them in the street because they’re black men, doesn’t mean what they’re saying isn’t valuable criticism of the society they live in.

    4. http://flavorwire.com/428256/the-respectful-rappers-tumblr-everyone-loves-is-racist-and-stupid/

  6. The Voice of reason says:

    Obviously the author has not listened to very much hip-hop. If this article was title “Lil Wayne Unworthy of Academia,” maybe the content would make sense. Rap is not hip-hop. Not all rap or hip-hop is vulgar. Vulgarity does not imply a lack of validity of opinion. Many revered pieces of literature have vulgar sections both in content and dialogue, however, this does not make them unworthy of study. Additionally, you have to realize that there is a big difference between the content in a song by Fat Joe and a song by A Tribe Called Quest. Declaring that all music in these traditions are the same is an extreme generalization. Before you write a published piece about an entire artistic category, try to have at least a baseline knowledge of what said category contains.

  7. Following in the spirit of the previous commenters-

    We needn’t beat around the bush, this is thinly veiled racism. It amounts to little more than a stunning exercise in the further marginalization of the minority community of Georgetown. It is amazing that someone would feel it necessary to string together a series of *obviously* fallacious arguments to make the point that we, as academics, should not take seriously the words of a thoughtful and socially conscious (black) artist.

    Indeed, it would be difficult to enumerate all of the problematic and fallacious arguments and claims that form the content of this article. For instance, to claim that “this reality of those who do not have a voice in society must be expressed in more civil ways” is to ignore the most obvious reality of those who do not have a voice – they are exactly those people who do not have the resources to gain the skills to express themselves “in more civil ways.” To demand that the most under-privileged among us express themselves in the language of privilege, i.e. “civil” discourse, is to demand that these people be already included in and given access to a community from which they have been systematically excluded. That is, this demand for civility constructs a catch-22 that only functions to exclude the voices of those who already have no voice.

    Of course, that’s not all. The assertion that Hip Hop is unworthy of academia (just typing those words makes me nauseous) because it is too profane proves itself to be utterly tone deaf to the expressive role explicit language often plays throughout art and especially in Hip Hop. Explicit language is a powerful tool in stressing an idea, in expressing a feeling, and in constructing an artistic voice. More importantly with regards to this article, explicit and “inappropriate” language can be an incredibly powerful tool in subverting established systems of power, which often use the policing of language as a tool to maintain social hierarchy and systematic exclusion (this article is an excellent example of exactly this). To say that Hip Hop should express its ideas in a more “civil” way so as to be worthy of academia (still nauseating) is precisely to miss the point of explicit language in Hip Hop. Indeed, as an academic myself, one of the most theoretically and interpretively interesting things about Hip Hop is it’s use of explicit language to engage with social discourse; it’s profanity (among other things) makes it an intellectually fascinating topic.

    I could go on. It’s hard to find a sentence in this article that doesn’t reflect fallacious reasoning, insensitivity to the relevant social and cultural issues, or just a general lack of knowledge with regards to any of the topics being discussed. Besides the fact that it expresses a morally reprehensible view, this article is so blatantly faulty that it should never have been publish.

    The *only* thing this article claims is that an important and vibrant aspect of African-American culture should be excluded from our intellectual discourse because it does not conform to the norms and standards of the privileged elite, i.e. the norms and standards of primarily white straight men. In so doing, the article succeeds in further silencing and trivializing the voices, views and experiences of those most marginalized and disenfranchised by our culture. This exemplifies a well worn tactic in the history of oppression and exclusion – dismiss important and substantive content by deeming the form of expression inappropriate or unworthy.

    It sickens me to know that there are students on our campus who think these things. It sickens me to know that this is a campus that implicitly condones and endorses such reprehensible views by publishing them. And it sickens me to know that our minority community has to live in such an exclusionary atmosphere, where such views aren’t rejected out of hand as morally corrupt.

    This article has made me sad to be a member of the Georgetown community. Indeed, as far as I can see, the only thing not worthy of academia is the racist, marginalizing garbage expressed above.

  8. Listen to “Nature of the Threat” by Ras Kass, and tell me that rap is unworthy of academia.
    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3xAuDbnS458

  9. Your piece is wholly flawed in the essence that you apply a number of definitions to rap that you believe we (the audience) should inherently accept as truth. Vulgarity, misogyny, violence, and drug abuse, are certainly themes that appear in rap music, but it is fallacious to claim that these terms define all rap music. You don’t even cite your arguments with evidence! If this is how you compose thesis based essays for class its a wonder how the admissions office had any mercy on your application…

    Before making gross universal assumptions, I suggest you do much more research about the history of rap music and the artists who have built the genre. That or you just don’t like rap and felt like whining about it.

  10. Commercialized music promoted by rich white executives != hip-hop. (At least, not remotely in it’s entirety.)

    Vulgarity != unworthy of study. (In fact, as jdj indicated above, it may be just the opposite.)

    Caricaturization of a dynamic, evolving social movement/culture/music(s)/dance form/people-group into a single monolith and then dismissing it outright != a good idea.

  11. In light of Warren Buffet recently speaking at Georgetown, discussions about the significance of sailboats have picked up substantially. Many believe that sailboats’s jibs should be openly taught, regarding the genre as an art form with literary merit. As Michael E. Dyson said during his conversation with Warren Buffet in Gaston Hall last week, “Just as we study a Homer, we study a Warren Buffet.”
    Sailboats Warren Buffet appeals to a very large part of the population, especially within the younger generations; however for a multitude of reasons, teaching and analyzing the jibs wholesale could be detrimental to society. The nature of the is not conducive to being analyzed by the masses and should not be accepted as scholarly discourse.
    While it is clear many sailors have developed expansive vocabularies and complex rhyming schemes, the waves themselves are far too explicit to be worthy of study. The constant profanities are an obstacle in themselves, and the subjects they broach are not any easier to stomach. Misogynist ideas and sexist terms run rampantly through sailboats and hip-hop songs. Drug use, illegal violence, monetary gains and material success are glorified. Racism is an overarching subject. Egotism is irrationally overt. Each one of these themes is harmful to society, either based on its action — such as illegal violence — or because of the repercussions of it — egotism propagates selfish people.
    It is understandable that these topics are derived from situations in reality, and it is true that many of the sailors are regrettably well versed in these criteria. But what can students learn from such obscenities? It is commendable to study anyone’s struggle from the bottom to the top of society, but the manner in which sailors convey their journey is not conducive to study. It reinforces these values, of being sexist, egotistic and material-driven to the audience.
    Without a doubt, this form has enthralled a tremendous number of people, but why? Does this mean that a vast majority of people can relate to the themes? Does it have more to do with the provocative sounds and beats? The popularity and open encouragement of the immoral and defiling antics so often discussed in sailboats suggests society is more accepting of this behavior. Constant exposure to this lifestyle, vicariously sailing has led to desensitization. Societies change over time; long ago, Shakespearean literature was regarded as promiscuous. Yet, if one truly listens to the constant themes and jargon of sailboats, can it be held in the same light? Are the explicitly foul terms now growing to be acceptable enough to be taught in classrooms in the same manner that Homer is?
    Sailboats are not to be dismissed as a social movement; its popularity confirms there are people who believe in its various themes. Many defend the genre by citing systemic problems that hip-hop artists have serious validity to their claims. Those who feel cheated or violated use to express their status and dissatisfaction with the system working against them.
    However, this reality of those who do not have a voice in society must be expressed in more civil ways. The messages in sailboat song, while perhaps true, are too explicit and far too vulgar to validate sailboats as a means of communication and an area of study. This dissension(sp) must be conveyed with much less provocative cultural tendencies, so the true thoughts of the movement can be correctly spread to the others who do not embrace these explicit cultural values.
    It is hard to argue the merit of sailboats based on the jibs, as there is little intrinsic value to the waves themselves and what they allegedly teach. However, the larger, more significant issue is about this social and cultural movement toward accepting, encouraging and potentially preaching sailboats. Sailors enjoy prominent social status, and when those artists become as socially significant as classical heroes, such as Homer, it brings to question our modern values and morality in general.
    JERRY D. RASSIAS is (likely, maybe) a former sailor and born again Christian in the College.

  12. Michael m says:

    Congratulations dummy, you’ve just limited art that can be studied critically to landscapes and the compendium of the works of curious George, because that is pretty much all that’s left if you remove anything that might have a negative connotation by a group of people.

  13. Honestly, I don’t even know where to start. I am truly sad that this ignorance still exists in a world that proclaims itself as inclusive and colorblind, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I am disheartened that there are students at Georgetown University who fail to recognize the intrinsically deep value that rap has on individuals as well as on society at large.

    You posed the question: “what can students learn from such obscenities?” Again, where do I begin. Privileged white kids can learn about problems affecting people in real society. We all can learn more about social inequality, racial inequality, urban life. We can learn about contemporary events from a perspective that is not filtered through the media or political jargon.

    You say we should look only to those like Homer or Shakespeare to teach us. I say that rappers are our teachers. Jay-Z discusses structural racism, driving while black, and teaches people about Stop and Search in his song 99 Problems. Otherwise, many would not know the legal rights that they have. In Changes, Tupac raps: “instead of a war on poverty, they got a war on drugs so the police can bother me;” he teaches about Reagan and Nixon’s war on drugs. In your article, you mention sexism, egoism, and materialism. You fail to mention Lupe Fiasco’s engaging discussion of the word “bitch” on his track Bitch Bad. You fail to mention Tupac rapping about respect for his mother and respect for women. You fail to mention J. Cole saying “money can’t save your soul.” You say that there is “little intrinsic value to the words themselves.” Have you ever heard the lyrical genius and dictionary-like knowledge of a rapper freestyling? Have you ever recognized the rhetorical devises, metaphors, alliteration, and pure artistry that goes into rap tracks?

    I hesitate to draw attention to the racist undertones of this article, but they are too apparent to ignore. Some people, like yourself, disregard the art of rap in a refusal to cede legitimacy to hip-hop music because it is being generated by a black male youth culture, who is already viewed as suspect when it comes to the production of art. Why do people keep refusing to recognize good art as good art? First it was jazz and rock, now it is hip-hop. Why do people keep refusing to give blacks the intellectual and artistic credit that they deserve? Throughout history, those in positions of power have been negating any notions of black intelligence or black humanity. Thomas Jefferson wrote that blacks do not exhibit reason, intelligence, or logic. However, if it is a white face on a black art form or a black intellectual study, it is given legitimacy. What would you say about white rappers like Eminem, the Beastie Boys, or Action Bronson?

    Lastly, you write: “Rappers enjoy prominent social status, and when those artists become as socially significant as classical heroes, such as Homer, it brings to question our modern values and morality in general.” Why does this put our values in question? Many rappers should enjoy their social status, they should be praised for bringing important social, economic, and political issues to the table. Their music provides an avenue through which others in marginalized situations can hear about problems in society today. Yasiin Bey, known as Mos Def, just last year chose to undergo the standard procedure for force feeding in Guantanamo Bay to protest this awful prison treatment. Should this stand against the prison industrial complex not be lauded? Rappers should be viewed as socially significant, for they are at the heart of American life, American change, and the American dream.

    I apologize for the length of this post but I haven’t even grazed the surface of what I want to say and what should be said on this topic. I am a student in the School of Foreign Service and have taken countless economics classes, government classes, and international affairs classes. At the close of each semester I sell my book backs online. The only books I have ever kept are the books I read for Professor Dyson’s class on Jay-Z. What does that say about the education that I have received here at Georgetown? What does that say about the courses that are worthy of academia?

    Throughout this article, it became clear that you know basically nothing about rap or its history. Please, educate yourself. Take a class on hip-hop or even a sociology class on race or urban studies. And please, listen to rap. Listen to the song Ill Mind of Hopsin 5. Listen to Talib Kweli. Listen to Mobb Deep. Listen to Nas. Then perhaps you are fit to share your opinion.

  14. Joe Schmoe says:

    Yeah, but then you have idiots like this academic (see link below) who seems to think hip hop has a place in science education. He’s not alone. I’ve seen plenty of graduate students who self-describe as “hip hop biologists” and the like, and they come off as complete fools, making no valid case whatsoever that rap music ties into their work in any meaningful way. In their confusion they blur the distinction between work and entertainment, which can certainly be blurred in some areas credibly but not in science. Yes, not even in science education, unless what you’re trying to do is communicate basic science facts to children in an amusing way. What would you think of a devotee of Pink Floyd, Lynyrd Skynyrd, or Nirvana attempting to make the same case? Why not just rock out while you teach about the gravitational field? There’s no difference from one genre of music to another in this regard. Oh, but hip hop is just soooo special. Yeah right.

    http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/05/how-hip-hop-can-foster-the-scientific-mind/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*