On the Stigmatization of Rap

By Avalon Kelly

“I don’t like rap,” I used to say when my friend would turn it on in the car.  If probed to explain why, I would simply respond, “I just don’t.  And there’s a lot of degrading comments about women.”  Not until about a month ago did I truly begin to listen to rap—and only then did I realize my appalling former naivety.

Rap music is often met with much pushback for little reason.  Those who “dislike” rap point to its portrayal of sex and violence, as I once did.  I didn’t realize the ignorance of this “evidence” until I really stopped to think.  How come this label is so often pushed on only rap music?…while pop, country, and rock remain unscathed?  These genres have much glorification of the same topics, yet face no stigmatization.  Rap does address these issues more directly and explicitly than other genres, but these artists comment on the same ideas in a different style.  It’s important that we recognize the hypocrisy of only pointing out the explicit content in rap as we deliberately turn a blind eye to the issues of other popular music genres.

My exploration of rap has also led me to recognize the art’s unmatched power in storytelling.  Kendrick Lamar, especially, highlights this skill in songs such as “The Heart Part 5” and “DUCKWORTH.”  These stories vividly reflect on not only Lamar’s own past, but also black culture as a whole.

Rap represents a powerful means of cultural expression; artists have historically used it to bring attention to societal issues of socio-economic injustice and racial inequality.  The fact that this genre faces a disparate amount of backlash for its inclusion of sensitive topics, including violence and sex, highlights a racist pattern in our country’s appreciation of art.  The annual Grammy awards further display this racial bias; although black artists make up 38% of the Billboard Top 100, they receive a disproportionately low 27% of Grammy nominations.

I’m not saying that you have to love every rap song you listen to.  But I am saying that it is unfair and ignorant to say “I don’t like rap.”