My career of choice is rap artistry and production; while this may not be the traditional answer you would get when asking someone what they want to be when they grow up, this has been my dream for a few years now. Rap has been an integral part of the music industry for the past forty years and continues to expand its influence today. It originated in the 70s when DJs started to pair energetic beats with funk and soul songs. In the late 80s and early 90s, this newly-created music style gradually started to become a mainstream one, and the rap genre was finally recognized by major music labels and entertainment media. Nowadays, its popularity is uncontested, which is evidenced by the number of rap songs topping music charts every year. Musicians still introduce innovations to this genre, inventing new techniques and methods, even though it has been in existence for several decades. This paper will answer the following main question: What does it mean to be a rapper? Being a rapper implies becoming an artist, performing a social role, and demonstrating an entrepreneurial spirit.
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Rap as an Art Form
Art is essential to the life of any person since it reflects reality and helps better understand human experiences. Rap can be considered art because it relies on poetry and music, the two most prominent art forms. Bradley (2017) argues that, in rap, verbal rhymes and the beats, representing the poetic meter, constitute the dual rhythmic relationship, he stresses the idea that rap lyrics can be viewed as literary verses. Following the reasoning presented by Bradley, it can be assumed that the rap genre manages to encompass both poetic and musical elements. The fusion of these two components results in an innovative art form of rap, which becomes a natural modern continuation of the thousand-year-old tradition of poetry and music. The emergence of rap proves the notion that art always changes, adapts to different circumstances, and takes various forms.
Every artist has their professional tools which assist them in creating their masterpieces: painters have brushes, and sculptors use chisels; rappers are no exception to this rule, and their primary instrument is their “flow.” The flow represents a unique way of performing a song, which rappers employ to adjust the rhythm and articulation of their lyrical delivery. Rappers use it to “create new rhythmic layers, support the general effect of a verse, and contribute to a verse’s narrative structure” (Adams, 2009, p. 2). Although, it is worth noting that flow can serve not only as a tool but also as a distinctive style of a rapper, by which they can be discerned from others. Thus, rappers can be recognized as artists who combine music and poetry and use a flow as a special tool to create their art.
Rap Artists as Activists
Rap music has a long history as one of the mediums of social protest and critique of the political status quo among young people. Rappers discuss topical issues faced by society, which often present taboo themes, such as drug use, unemployment, violence, and criminal activity. These accounts expressed in an art form help listeners relate to the experiences of the narrators and empathize with them. Martinez (1997) suggests that many rap lyrics “narrate a biting distrust, disillusionment with, and critique of major societal institutions and government” (p. 279). The oppressive nature of the environment many African American rappers encounter daily leads them to express their concerns in the form of music. Therefore, rap becomes a platform for voicing societal problems; by mentioning them in their lyrics, rappers can draw attention to these issues and, thus, motivate listeners to seek solutions.
By reflecting systemic oppression in their art, rappers exceed the limits of the role of an artist and embrace the status of social activists, attempting to challenge the existing structures and influence change in society. Nowadays, the trend for social critique is on the rise; every year, more artists begin to engage in political activity to achieve positive results in transforming the societal environment. For instance, one such rapper is Kendrick Lamar, who, in his song “The Blacker the Berry” (2015), according to Oware (2018), “challenges the stereotype that black males are criminals destined for prison” (p. 186). Lamar’s example demonstrates the fact that rappers have moved from simply voicing societal problems to directly addressing the existing injustices. Thus, rap artists of today express themselves not only as musicians but also as activists who are willing to use their popularity to promote progress and act as agents of change.
Entrepreneurship among Rap Artists
The music industry has been consistently expanding for the past century, which can be judged by the growing number of new music acts, artists, records, and platforms, such as streaming services. Rap music is among the top-ranking genres and one of the main sources of revenue for major labels, promoters, and production studios. According to the official statistics provided by Goldman Sachs, “In 2017, Goldman found live music, publishing, and recorded songs made $26 billion, $6 billion, and $30 billion respectively” (Hale, 2019). This information demonstrates that the music industry as a whole, and the rap division as its significant part, brings large sums of money to their shareholders, and rap artists are among the main ones.
Becoming an artist implies being aware of all the business intricacies and able to present a product that will be in demand; this means that rappers have to be entrepreneurs. The success of rap artists often translates into other areas of their activity, which shows that their creative nature helps them achieve new heights. Dr. Dre was a shareholder in Beats Electronics, which was sold to Apple for three billion dollars, while 50 Cent invested in Vitamin Water, which was bought by Coca-Cola, yielding him millions (Harkness, 2018). These examples illustrate how rappers’ artistry benefits their creative thinking and assists them in other business ventures. Thus, a rapper who wants to produce music that will be listened to by others must be skilled in entrepreneurship and able to market their product to appeal to the public’s tastes.
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This paper highlights the importance of rap music as an art form and a social phenomenon stresses its place in the music industry and attempts to answer the question of what being a rapper means. Rap encompasses poetry and music; rappers employ a special tool called “flow” to manipulate their work and adjust it to better correspond to their artistic ideas and desires. Rap is closely associated with social protest, and rap artists have a long history of expressing their concerns about society in their art. Being a rapper implies having a responsibility to the community and addressing societal issues, and being able to act as an agent of change. Rap is a billion-dollar industry that provides its shareholders with substantial amounts of revenues and significant resources. For rap artist to be successful in the music business, they must be able to analyze the demand of the market and be skillful in marketing their brand appropriately. Thus, being a rapper means being an artist who can use their work to advance social causes and a proficient entrepreneur, able to appeal to the listener.
Adams, K. (2009). On the metrical techniques of flow in rap music. A Journal of the Society for Music Theory, 15(5), 1-12. Web.
Bradley, A. (2017). Book of rhymes: The poetics of hip hop. Civitas Books.
Hale, K. (2019). Goldman Sachs bets on hip hop and millennials for music revival. Forbes. Web.
Harkness, G. (2018). Entrepreneurialism. In T. Riggs, (Ed.), St. James encyclopedia of hip hop culture (pp. 146-150). St James Press.
Kendrick Lamar. (2015). The Blacker the Berry [Song]. To Pimp a Butterfly [Album]. Interscope Records
Martinez, T. A. (1997). Popular culture as oppositional culture: Rap as resistance. Sociological Perspectives 40(2), 265-286. Web.
Oware, M. (2018). I got something to say. Palgrave Macmillan.