Stop dismissing musical messages in hip hop

Michael Colton, Entertainment Columnist

Listen to the music.

It’s true that art is for enjoyment, for the artist and the consumer, however this is only true to a certain extent. When a musician uses their music as a platform for meaningful social discussion, it is critical that it is appreciated as such, not merely as a ‘banger,’ like so many listeners do today.

When Kendrick Lamar dropped To Pimp a Butterfly in 2015, it was an overnight classic; it seemed that every music fan I knew talked about the album, hailing Lamar as a creative genius. While those declarations may be true, one issue stood out within the acclamations of the (mainly white) music fans that I heard discuss the album: the worship being given to the album was for the wrong reasons.

TPAB–as the lyrics, album artwork and accompanying music videos indicate–is an album of social defiance. Each song, quite obviously, tells tales of oppression, police brutality or the dangers of Black American life. The Blacker the Berry asks White America why they hate the black community from which Lamar speaks. Alright, the album’s principal cut, delivers an expression of hope and prosperity amid the dark and harrowing tracks that accompany it. This message is what prompted the use of the song as an anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement. The objective of an album does not get much clearer than that. Yet, the important tales of societal unrest that Lamar delineated in his work have not reached a majority of its listeners, namely its white audience.

When artists look to convey messages of social justice in their music, it is because the issues that they speak of are truly prevalent in our society. Relentlessly bumping the music simply because it has a good beat trivializes the real issues being discussed, showing that these listeners (1) Do not care about the matter at hand, and (2) Do not value the lyrics that an artist speaks through It is this disregard for artistic presence that has pushed mainstream music into a state of mumble rap and meaningless love songs.

In order to respect the integrity of music itself, we must learn to appreciate both aspects of music equally. For a white music fan like myself, there is a lot to learn from artists like Kendrick Lamar, who tells tales of oppression that I have never faced in my life. Through truly valuing the message of a musician, one can not only gain perspective on the issues of today, but perhaps can help make these issues known to all, and even spark change.