Does hip hop degrade society or are its flaws ours?

Films and video games have long since been scapegoats for the demise of our society. Since its emergence into mainstream popular culture, hip hop has also oft been hailed as a cause for its degradation.

“Hip hop doesn’t enhance society, it degrades it,” was the question brought to life by Google+ and Intelligence Squared at the Barbican this past Tuesday. With a host of big name speakers the likes of KRS One, ?uestlove, journalist Toure and Jesse Jackson, the panel proceeded to thrash out various elements of the genre – with half arguing for, and half arguing against the motion.

But arguably, is it really a cause, or more of a consequence? “We don’t make things up,” argued Egyptian “Arab Spring” rapper Deeb at the conference, going on to argue that rap deals with a bad reality. To this respect, it would be hard to argue that themes such as violence, misogyny, sexism and homophobia have not been present since the beginning of mankind.

It could also be argued that if anything those are no longer the values that commercial, mainstream hip hop are promoting, with rappers the likes of Lil Wayne choosing instead to appraise values like consumerism, and others the likes of Drake and even Kanye West at times giving an insight into the softer side of the male psyche.

If gangster rap is what has traditionally been linked to violence in society, arguably its presence in the genre is not as strong as it originally was. To a certain extent, gangster rap has reflected US society. It is no coincidence therefore that it was most common during the late 1990s with the likes of Public Enemy and NWA. At a time where there was still severe racial dissatisfaction, gentrification and tension, these artists used the medium that was accessible to them, namely music, to express their anger – these issues are arguably not as prevalent in todays society.

But is todays hip hop – the kind that talks money, fame, glamour, girls, cars and the ‘good life’ any less dangerous to society than one that preaches violence? Not really. In fact, it could be more so. Why? Because it creates a reality that for the vast majority of its audience, is unattainable – thus making them all the more frustrated, desperate and reckless to reach it.

Does this mean hip hop is degrading society? Not really. As argued above, it’s only reflecting its truths. Whether or not those are too ugly to look at is an entirely different situation and can’t be tackled by blaming a genre of music.

As argued by Estelle in Tuesday’s debate, “stop looking to hip hop to raise your kids!” Perhaps the closest thing to a solution is to educate ourselves, our peers and our children in understanding the difference between what is real and what is not real – across the board – and investing more in an education system that strengthens our minds to the extent that we can decide for ourselves, rather than taking our favourite rappers word for how we should live our lives.

As written for SB.TV

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