Since its inception, hip-hop has been something of a bogeyman. It’s glorified violence, misogyny, shark-eyed greed, homophobia and a whole load more. Artists have been branded as ‘sick’ (the outrage in the press when the Beastie Boys first came to the UK was savage) and Jay Z’s Glastonbury headliner slot was seen as a threat to the very essence of the Pilton Festival (rather than, say, a defining moment like Sly Stone at Woodstock or Otis Redding at Monterey).
The playing field of pop is far from level. While the aforementioned are arguably correct in a number of cases, the same is true of almost every other facet of music too. Dance music is borderline possessed when it comes to sticking bikini-clad women on magazines, compilations and flyers. Rock music has been a promoter of racism, misogyny, violence and more since time began. Scorpions can feature an underage girl, naked, on a sleeve, but does all of rock get hauled over coals? Chris Brown was rightly harangued for the battery of Rihanna, but do you remember Nick Carter or John Lennon being referred only as ‘wife beaters’, after allegations made against them?
For the most part, rock ‘n’ roll gets off despite a very grotty crimesheet. R. Kelly is thought of almost wholly as a pervert, and so with it, RnB and hip-hop are lumped in with the notion that it is entirely depraved and constantly looking for sex, like some kind of predator with an angry hard-on. Meanwhile, The Rolling Stones perform ‘Bitch’ and ‘Under My Thumb’ and get themselves beatified in the halls of National Treasuredom.
Recently, The Guardian asked if hip-hop ‘degraded society’. Is a similar debate planned for the degradation of society at the hands of rock music? Probably not. That’s because people see rock as too broad a church. Yet, so is hip-hop. The world of rap has many avenues, not all focusing on guns and dealing. Dream Hampton, co-author of Jay Z’s Decoded, points out that hip-hop is more than just prison-culture, saying “there are as many bitches and hos in the Bible as in hip-hop, but you can't have that conversation with a pastor. In hip-hop patriarchy can be discussed, confronted and laid bare, where others hide behind civil discourse and censure."
The Barbican is showing Ice-T’s new hip-hop documentary, Something From Nothing, putting rap into a rather rarefied air, debated and respected, rather than shoo’ed and scalded. Daisy Age hip-hop promoted positivity and harmony and the Deep Dick Collective are rappers who are openly gay, not to mention Odd Future’s Frank Ocean ‘coming out’ as bisexual. Yet, the Daisy Age is swept under the rug of the common perception of hip-hop and Frank Ocean will be mockingly branded as ‘gay’, because rappers aren’t allowed to represent anything but the rags-to-riches story of the street, complete with the soap operas that come along with running into the law, beefs and brawls.
Dismissing hip-hop as little more than thug music is only fine if you apply it to the rest of music. Mos Def, The Roots possess musicianship beyond most indie bands, and go political without preaching. Hip-hop, at its best, is raw, direct, politicised, funny, poetic, a voice from the under-represented, charming, deep and personal. Just like rock music can be. Demonise lousy music, not entire genres.