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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news


Brittany Brazil |
December 11, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

(RIAA/Wikimedia Commons)
(RIAA/Wikimedia Commons)

I was taking my periodic shopping-for-things-i-don’t-need trip and I heard someone complaining about the song that was playing in the store. I turned to face a woman with who I presume was her daughter, sifting through the sweater section. My first response was annoyance at her lack of appreciation for Drizzy but then I took a step back. What factors contributed to her distain for 6God

Being a hip-hop lover myself, I hear complaints all the time about how the music contains too much profanity and I always respond in loyal defense. It’s time to settle this once and for all! No, I know that can’t be done. As a matter of fact, a difference of opinions is healthy and extremely important in making music powerful. I will, however, explain my defense against such an argument. 

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When beginning this conversation, it’s important to define what exactly is meant by profanity. Is it literally the swear words themselves? Or is it more about the messages put forth through the use of vulgar language? I think you’re fooling yourself if you are actually concerned with the words. Profanity is often an attempt to bring the listener’s attention to something. That something may be positive or it may be negative, but I don’t think you can pick and choose when you want to allow swearing based on your subjective perspective of the “goodness” or “badness” of that particular something.

Once you’ve let go of the actual words, the debate becomes over the controversial content of some hip-hop lyricism. 

To take a break from my own mindset and explore the world of others, I asked my friends, mainly individuals from the ages of 18-22, to fill out an anonymous questionnaire concerning the presence of profanity in hip-hop. My respondents attend various high schools and colleges and live throughout the country, but demonstrated several patterns in their perceptions of the issue. It was fairly unanimous that hip-hop contains more profanity than other genres, but I’d ask, “Is that a problem?” As I expected, the results of whether hip-hop was excessively profane was pretty evenly split. You either are with it or you aren’t. There’s no “light” profanity. 

As far as content goes, I asked my respondents what types of concepts they found offensive, or could conceiveably see to be offensive.  The most common responses involved the objectification of women. Don’t worry, I hear it too. However, though I always preach that music should educate and influence your life, it should never be the sole influence in determining right from wrong. I’d like to think that adults are mature enough to recognize this discrepancy, and not let what’s often a fantastical delusion of the world act as their moral compass. If an adult does so, it seems that the blame is on them for not being able to properly navigate the ethical world. 

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If anything, I understand that a problem may arise where children cannot make this differentiation, and therefore the negative messages in hip-hop may penetrate their fragile, developing belief system. I don’t know whose responsibility it is to educate children, but it’s not pop culture. Maybe it’s parents, or maybe even teachers, but Drake isn’t the one responsible for teaching them how to be a good human being in his music. As a public figure, Drake is responsible for being a role model, but that’s him as a person. His music is his art, and that doesn’t have to be representative of the individual he actually is in reality. Though rappers may express their true behaviors in their art, sometimes it is an act. They may impersonate characters that are not true to their own identity, and that’s not being dis-genuine, it’s telling a story. 

Finally, a friend posed the question to me: if we are not meant to let those negative parts of music influence our lives, what is their purpose? Is it solely for entertainment value? If so, what does it say about you that you can listen to blatant degradation of social groups, as well as encourgament of illicit behavior, and find it entertaining? 

My answer is quite simple. It’s an interesting sensation to step out of your own reality, and into someone else’s. 

Though the issue of lyrical content in hip-hop is an ongoing one, I think the issue over swear words is a bit clearer. But as with most things I talk about, I always have more questions than answers. Even though I don’t know everything, Kanye does.  

”I think it's more profane to have an album with no profanity that's not talkin' about nothin' than to be as profound with profanity.” -Kanye West

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