Hip hop is ‘different’ now. That’s what people in the movement say. And as someone who likes hip hop, and especially modern hip hop, this is difficult to talk about.
But it really isn’t the same as it used to be. And before you think this is just another spewing of nostalgic irrelevance, hear me out. Hip hop has been straying from its roots as ‘social movement music,’ and has taken new roots in bass-thumping superficiality.
Think otherwise? Consider the fact that ‘Panda’ by Desiigner is the No. 1 song in the country right now, regardless of genre. Exactly.
But just because ‘social movement hip hop’ is less popular now, doesn’t mean it still isn’t out there (see Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, etc.). And if the first quarter of this year in hip hop proved anything, it proved that ‘social movement hip hop’ might even be on the upswing.
Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce all released albums in the first quarter of the new year. While they differ greatly in their tone and message, all have implications of important social movement.
In Rihanna’s ANTI, which many believe to be her best album yet, she exposes herself as unabashedly sexual by nature, and in doing so portrays the role of the woman as one who need not be afraid to hide their sexuality, in fear of not ‘being a lady.’ Rihanna has always crossed societal lines when it comes to the established views of femininity, and this new album does it again, even better, with tracks like “Sex With Me,” “Kiss it Better” and “Needed Me.”
While Kendrick Lamar’s Untitled Unmastered did little to prompt social revolutions, the West Coast hip hop mogul did perform his hit single “Alright” at the Grammys in a blatantly righteous manner, pushing the limits of nonviolent black protest on national television, even in today’s age. He also visited the White House to talk music and social revolution with President Obama, dressed in none else than his usual cornrows and a plain black sweater.
And lest we forget, the most revolutionary of them all, Queen Bey. Beyonce released Lemonade most recently, an ode to all that is modern feminine empowerment, with a slant towards the struggle and the strength of the black woman in today’s society. Not to mention the music video associated with her hit “Formation,” which has more subliminally powerful messages in it than any music form I’ve ever seen.
These three artists highlight a change in mainstream hip hop culture that is reminiscent of years prior. They are breaching and surpassing societal boundaries, one bold step at a time. And in a time when social change is so inspired by social media and the internet, these hip hop sensations are taking center stage.
It is now becoming ‘cool’ to talk about social change in mainstream music again, which is so refreshing to see. And the manner in which it is occurring, with the masses being exposed to the revolution via Twitter and Snapchat, is breathtaking. Now, the revolution may not be televised. But it will be live-tweeted.
So, for as much as Desiigner might be taking away from hip hop, there is hope. Ri-Ri, Kendrick and ‘Yonce are taking the game to new heights.
And they are doing so with a sense of urgency.