Hip hop is certainly defined by its social aspect. It is an instrument that can have a wide range of influences. Artists of color can do anything from hip hop to electronic music—even the most obscure styles can find a home in hip hop. However, hip hop and its various subgenres all have the same main goal: to convey a message through music. The only difference is that some artists choose to create music that is very socially-centered while others create music that is in line more with an EDM-inspired sound. There are even some rappers (including Eminem) who have made their debut in both realms. The question of social justice isn’t as relevant in pop as it is in hip hop at this point—if someone is making music that doesn’t reflect a certain perspective, that person is just missing the boat, no matter how great they sound.
While some artists might choose to create music that has some social message, others might choose to create music that is completely political. Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly is a good example of a song that is very overtly political in tone. On the album’s fourth and final track – “XXX,” Lamar raps:
When you got a nigga, he ain’t got no home,
He can’t do nothing for himself;
His mind is in love with the world and vice versa.
If our country wants to be a good place, we gonna have to stop treating each other like shit,
and it’s gonna start with our music when we go to bed tonight.
The song is a scathing portrayal of Black people who don’t live up to the expectations of society. His call to action is a direct call to action, similar to the call to action that Barack Obama made in The Audacity of Hope on his inauguration day.
In today’s culture, the idea of a “good place” is often equated with the concept of race and ethnicity. So, when we make music that speaks to racial stereotypes of Black people, it can be a problem. However, the same goes for any pop song that makes sweeping statements about other communities.
On a personal level, I do think that it’s a good thing when artists take a stand against things that are important, and when one of their artists expresses that stand in a creative way. For example, I would love to see Kendrick Lamar create more lyrics that have a positive message in mind, like saying “Stop beating your wife
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