Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thoughts on the "Purpose" of Rap

For my Aesthetics class, I am writing a final research paper on Truth in Popular Music. My thesis has to do with the decreasing aspect of "mystery" in popular music over the history of music in the U.S. The "mystery" that I am referring to is an aspect that music can have which creates an interest in the listener. A song with subtlety and complexity is an aesthetic experience that one wants to turn to again and again, it leaves questions to be asked and answered. Mystery in music was much more common when some subjects (sex, drugs, violence) were more taboo and effort had to be made to develop themes without breaking "the rules" of TV and radio. For whatever reason, these subjects have become much less taboo and music has become increasingly blunt, both in its basic tonal and melodic structure and in its content.

First, with regards to the white Illonoisian girl from the video we watched in class, I do believe that people are attracted to music that represents something absent from their day-to-day life. This reminded me of an article I read years ago about the best Houston rap albums. Writer Shea Serrano described the charm of one rapper, named Z-ro, like this:

"Dissecting the appeal of Z-Ro is simple, really, because you can only like him for either one of two reasons: 1) he's just like you, in which case he presents your struggle and day to day hardship in an artistically integral manner that not only empowers you, but emboldens you; or 2) he's nothing like you, in which case he presents someone else's struggle and day to day hardship in an artistically integral manner, and thank God you don't have to deal with all that shit."

This writer explains the White Rap Enthusiast phenomenon more clearly than the girl did, but I think they were getting at the same point. It is important to consider that not all rappers are like Z-ro, whose music does seem to truly reflect his life (believe me, you won't find any interviews where he claims to be a pawn of the industry), and many seem to be perpetuating lies. Regardless, people are attracted to situations that are entirely outside of their everyday life, whether they are glamorous pool scenes or aggressive, violent encounters, and it doesn't really matter whether or not the artist has actually experienced them as long as they are producing clear representations for the public to consume.

My main problem with this, and this is what I will be exploring from a philosophical standpoint over the next week, is that the "truth" in this interaction between listener and music is lost when the music is presented in a simple, ready-to-consume box. That is, when I watch a music video with dozens of beautiful women wearing next to nothing in a club with explosions and Lil' Wayne in a frog costume I go, "Hey! That was cool!" and I move on with my life with no need to ever re-visit that video. How can any truth be conveyed about, say, the gap in ideal lifestyles of white and black teens in America be revealed when a video or song is merely absorbed by the consumer for its "fun" qualities and nothing else?

Regardless of whether or not a artist is trying to bring something positive to society, because of the qualities that popular music has developed and the rate at which this music is consumed, they will be unsuccessful on any type of large scale because not enough people will take the time to actually listen to the damn song.

1 comment:

  1. I really resonate with your notion that there is no mystery in popular music today, especially rap. If you listen to the radio, many of the rap songs are edited yet listeners still know exactly what the missing words are because the lyrics are so blunt and basic. I personally prefer neo-soul and classic R&B; and although the majority of the songs are referencing making love and things of that nature, the artists did it (and still do it) creatively using metaphors and imagery that make you think,which allows the listener to envision whatever the artist is talking about. With rap, you seldom have to use your imagination; the visual is provided for you in the form of a flashy video filled with women or violence. Listen to any old Luther Vandross song or Isley Brothers and you not only envision a scene that goes along with the lyrics, but you also can potentially discover something new, concerning the lyrics, every time you listen to their songs.