Present hip-hop lacks deep substance


Raveena Bhalara


Tricia Rose, professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, presented a lecture on “Hip-Hop, Mass Media, and Racial Storytelling in the Age of Obama” Monday afternoon. During the lecture she discussed hip-hop’s origins and its evolution through the years. 

Taylor Hampton

Today’s hip-hop lacks political themes because of pressures from the music industry, said an Africana Studies professor from Brown University. 

Tricia Rose, professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, examined the lack of social critique in current hip-hop during a lecture hosted by the Senior Fellows Honors Program of the UT College of Communication on Monday. She said the commercial success of hip-hop and the cultural identities common among hip-hop artists have led to the genre’s retreat from politics since its emergence in the ‘80s. 

In the ‘90s the music industry realized hip-hop’s potential as a profitable musical form. Rose said the original intent of hip-hop was to tell long narratives of struggle for marginalized minority groups, but as the genre became hyper-commercialized, the lyrics evolved into narrower, more superficial images.

“At its most broad media moment it has this trinity of ‘gangster-pimp-ho’ where that’s all you can be in hip-hop,” Rose said.

Rose said other roles exist, but the trinity dominates current narratives because to be authentic, artists have to identify as a gangster, pimp or ho.

“The images of the trinity mirror, almost identically, 300 years of racial stereotyping of black people,” Rose said.

She said that as a result, the lyrics began to depict street culture as masculine and violent. She said a by-product is the promotion of existing stereotypes. 

To give consumers a different experience, Rose said hip-hop needs to tell the narrative of black men by providing lyrics that tell what they think about school, or what it feels like to be fearful because of crime in their neighborhood.

David Junker, director of the Senior Fellows Honors Program, said cultural expressions become commodified because artists want to become popular.

“There is always a dilemma of how to compromise and do so while maintaining your artistic integrity and not eviscerating your music, not eviscerating political potential of your music while also appealing to as many people as you can,” Junker said.

He said artists that have achieved commercial success have the opportunity to address the questions that popular hip-hop avoids.

“There is always a kernel of resistance that is possible in hip-hop,” said Kathleen Feyh, a UT communication studies PhD alumna. “And we don’t see it in mainstream hip-hop — it is gone from that domain.” 

Printed on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 as: Modern hip-hop lacks depth