“A lot of us have heard the narrative of hip-hop, but we also have to think about the context for hip-hop and how it was created,” said African American Studies lecturer Dr. Jason Nichols.
Nichols is not only a lecturer at the University of Maryland, but also a hip-hop artist who raps under the moniker, Haysoos.
At an event hosted by the Justice for Juniors program at the Stamp Student Union, Nichols and several other panelists addressed the idea that there is a growing lack of trust between the police and the hip-hop community.
By the 1980s and ‘90s, about four out of five youth detained in the justice system were of color, Nichols said.
“Mobb Deep were about 16, 17-years-old when they released their first album,” said Nichols. “They talked about the things they were facing in the streets including encounters with the police.”
“All of a sudden in the industry you started to get the image of a super gangster that went along with the narrative that mainstream media was giving us off black men,” Nichols said. “There was ‘gangster rap’ without a conscience where there wasn’t any social commentary about what was going on in the community.”
Some rappers have ditched the traditional narrative of rapping, which expresses personal experiences, and transitioned into rapping about violence, drugs and sex.
This transition, Nichols said, has negatively influenced the hip-hop community.
Junior broadcast journalism major Tessa Trach agrees with Nichols.
“It seems like these songs are more repetitive as opposed to older hip-hop where it was very much a personal story, more of a narrative,” Trach said. “[The music industry cares] less about issues people are facing today and personal issues and more about what they think the audience wants to hear.”
Nichols said the idea that only sex and violence sells is a lie and is causing many to negatively perceive the hip-hop community.
“I think that ‘gangster rap’ has the ability to influence youth to be more reckless and violent towards police, and I think that the police is drawing that connection,” said freshman business major Tae Kim.
The president and first lady, as well as other Americans, are connecting this recklessness to hip-hop, an ideology that frustrates Nichols.
Senior Pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church Dr. Sheridan Todd Yeary said the message behind hip-hop began to change when it started to become co-opted by record labels and media influences.
Nichols referenced the four core elements of hip-hop: MCing, DJing, b-boying and graffiti. However, Nichols stated that hip-hop has an essential fifth element: knowledge.
“Why can’t you be a rapping doctor, or a rapping surgeon or lawyer? You can still express yourself through your music and still do other things with your life,” Nichols said.
It is important that we listen to the lyricism of hip-hop songs because the message it sends can have a lasting effect on listeners.
“I don’t think that hip-hop is shifting towards ‘gangster rap,’ because not all rap is ‘gangster rap,’’ said sophomore government and politics major Nicole Valentine. “However, I do think that hip-hop can influence police brutality because the lyrics that people choose to include in their music can influence the police to perceive their industry in a negative way. ”
“I think that hip-hop a lot of times is a microcosm of a larger society and it’s people just expressing what it is that they are experiencing,” said Nichols.
“I think with the development of trap-rap like Fetty Wap, that [hip-hop] is definitely pushing away from original rap, but I still think you can see original stories from other artists, such as Kanye,” said sophomore community health major Katie Dolan.
Nichols would like to see the hip-hop community transition away from this form of “gangster rap” and fall back on the fundamentals, because juveniles have become the scapegoat for urban crime and other events that are going on in communities, he said.
“I have rappers in Chicago talking about the streets of Chicago and what needs to be done and what they feel is being neglected,” Nichols said. “I would like the next rappers from Baltimore to talk about what is going on in Baltimore.”
Featured Photo Credit: Police during the spring Baltimore riots. (Aiyah Sibay/For The Bloc)
Joel Valley is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.