99 Problems & Rap Is All Of Them

No other genre of music is more preoccupied with the ascent from rags to riches than rap. But that’s not exactly why we choose to blast rap music at parties or in cars.

It’s all about the beat, which is not supposed to be minimal. The beat is the reason car mechanics continue to stay in business by installing custom speakers.

But if you believe rap to be an art form and choose to look past the beat, there is a common narrative. A studious college student who listens to rap on occasions other than workouts or parties may observe that rap is the best expression of the ‘American Dream’ in music.

The Notorious B.I.G. expressed this attenuated dream most eloquently, but Jay-Z made that dream into a reality: the rapper who hosted President Obama at his home was once a hustler.

Jay-Z fully embraces the rags-to-riches dream in his music because he has achieved it. So it is a bit condescending when he continues to rap about how his “Mirandas don’t stand a chance with cops.”

But we can hardly expect Jay-Z to go back to dealing cocaine just so the verse “my Mirandas don’t stand a chance with cops” could be the capital-T Truth.

Rap, that currently dominates the aural landscape, is only about the ‘hated’ and the ‘haters.’ And Kanye West expresses that duality more provocatively than anyone.

It’s perverse to continue hating the haters even though you are no longer hated, but in fact embraced. But rap without resentment does not click quite as well.

And Kanye West bleeds resentment. No one is as bad at managing his public profile and still as good at his work as he is. This duality makes him the ‘hated,’ a reputation he relishes.

“Yeezus,” West’s sixth studio album, was released as a bare, blank CD so that listeners will  have nothing but the music to pay attention to. His business plan is to “make better music.”

The album is a technical marvel and an assault to the ear that you have to get used to in order to appreciate its overall assembly. It is hostile to the listener the way a disciplined marine appears hostile to a little kid.

West calls himself a “black New Wave artist.” And we would dismiss that claim if it were not for how different “Yeezus” is to anything on the air. It would be nice if Kanye West were a little humble, but that would be equivalent to expecting Kim Jong-un to send his goodwill to America. We may love to hate Kanye West, but the few parties I have been to were a lot more fun because the opening cut of West’s album was playing instead of Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop.”

Rap may be accessible to the ones from the hood, but it’s not limited in scope. Rap music is an inventory of the anxieties and egos that are a part of our character.

It’s my belief that listening to rap music while driving encourages speeding. This belief has only been enforced by all the times that I have been behind the wheel.

The beat assaults your ears and you react with as much aggression as the rapper felt and conveyed through his music.

To manipulate your emotions and make you feel at command is art. Or so said a professor during Art History 101.

In fact, rappers reference variety of painters ranging from Da Vinci to Basquiat to validate their own work.

Jay-Z raps in his new album: “It ain’t hard to tell, I’m the new Jean Michel.”

Jean Michel Basquiat was an African-American artist whose figural paintings raise social issue in the same vein as Andy Warhol’s Pop Art.

In a recent The New York Times interview, Kanye West similarly compares himself to Picasso.

Prominent rappers want their reputation to verge with that of great painters and visionaries. Having achieved the rags-to-riches dream, rappers move on to validating their riches as more than materialistic pursuits.

In a track titled “New Slaves” West criticizes the materialistic sentiment: “What you want, a Bentley? Fur coat? A diamond chain? / All you blacks want all the same things.”

It is interesting to note that Kanye began his career as a producer or a “beat maker” and sought validation as a rapper later.

So in a way his criticism is also of his past desire to be a recognized rapper.

West also condemns corporation one of which finances his work: his album was backed by Def Jam Records which has a corporate monopoly over hip-hop recording artists.

Rap is a medium of contradictions. It comprises of materialistic desires, artistic pursuits all intermingled with catchy beats and verses that rhyme and stumble on ideas never before expressed in a never before expressed way.

 

Sumeet Singh is a fourth-year English major and can be reached at sumees1@uci.edu.