Noting positives, negatives in hip-hop

By Taheerah Abdul-Rahmaan

It seems as if many at Northern Illinois University have a huge concern for hip-hop music.

If you can recall, I wrote a column last week on the death of the hip-hop culture mainly through the lyrical content of the modern rap artists.

Students came up to me throughout the week and expressed delight over my column; some liked the column for the topic alone and one friend in particular thought it’s time someone spoke on the record label’s supposed role in “forming and shaping” music artists.

The rapper, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson was used as the prototype of the current rapper, not rap industry; 50 Cent has the women, cash, bling bling, braggadocio, thug swagger and tattoo to pull it off on TRL.

On MTV’s Direct Effect music countdown, there’s no room for the button-up, respectful and thoughtful crooner.

A fellow hip-hop-loving friend, Christopher Davis, agreed hip-hop’s meaning is changing because of the dominance of rappers like 50 Cent. We had an extensive conversation on the changing for the good and bad; nowadays rappers make more money than ever, transcend the rapper role and get into production, act, market and even sit as label executive.

But the musical message isn’t as proactive as their entrepreneurial spirits. Welcome to the newest thing to hit the genre.

Some people also, I think, got the wrong message.

In class, one person called me a hypocrite for listening to rap and planning to see the movie of a rapper I think is damaging. Another person thought rap music didn’t need any changes. And a good friend wondered which rappers I listened to and if they all were negative.

For the record, I don’t think all rappers are negative, nor do I wish the worst of luck on those who are. I’m happy 50 Cent’s making money and good business moves; I admire that business drive.

But there is a level of accountability too many, both rapper and music lover, fail to hold up to and scrutinize. Rap lyrics, like any other words, have the tremendous power to influence minds.

But like my friend, Juliet Olieh, a junior special education and FCNS double major said, “Instead of focusing on what rappers aren’t doing, why not talk about those positive moguls?”

So scratch all that.

For the record, let me emphasize there are positive rappers out there doing things … and, no, all the positive ones are not broke.

Multimillionaire actor-producer-rapper Will Smith, yes, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, is the greatest example of that.

Smith dropped his 11th album, “Lost and Found,” this summer to rave reviews. His latest movie, “Hitch,” was a blockbuster at the box office, just like most of the movies he stars in. He doesn’t use curse words in any of his rhymes and is a proud husband and father. And Smith is a hip-hop rap artist.

Smith is the prototype of the contemporary mogul; he started out rapping in the early 1980s, started acting and eventually we came to see the blockbuster-making ability of this young man who started out beat boxing in West Philadelphia.

But even those who curse give back to the greater American culture.

Rappers like Diddy, Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent, as well as label executives distributing music like Diddy and Russell Simmons commit their share of good.

From hip-hop Summits, the employment of thousands, charity events, concert fundraisers and academic scholarships, many rappers do give back arguably in more ways than many who criticize the lyrics.

I guess the supposed death of an aspect of hip-hop culture is only that: one aspect of the culture and not the death of the whole.

The fact Jay-Z sold out concert tickets in Madison Square Garden in 2004 testified to the growing influence hip-hop has on the average American. I should also remember Jay-Z for his vast donations to New York victims after the Sept. 11 attacks when I think of the lyrics he puts to wax that I necessarily don’t agree with.

If the lyrical content isn’t up to par, certainly the business savvy spirit, charity and unlimited potential of the hip-hop culture remain evident.

Columns reflect the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the Northern Star staff.