Controversy questions state of hip-hop, rap

For all of you who frequent the frats here at Linfield, you’re probably familiar with the Tyga song “Rack City,” released in early 2011.

How would you react if you heard that Tyga was coming to Linfield to perform as the main act in this year’s Wildstock?

Probably quite differently from how Harvard students are reacting to the news of the artist’s performance in their annual Yardfest music festival April 15.

Many Harvard students are protesting the arrival of the controversial artist on their campus, whose lyrics they have called “explicitly and violently misogynistic” in an online petition urging students to eliminate Tyga from the lineup.

“Rack City” is undoubtedly sexist, uses offensive language and is named number nine on BET’s “25 Best Strip Club Anthems.”

So, what is it that is making us sing along?

Have we decided to ignore the message in order to appreciate the beats in many of the popular rap and hip-hop songs of the day?

Has popular music lost its ability to inspire political and social change?

I believe these questions are central to the debate over hip-hop and rap lyrics today, which some people applaud as fun, dance-worthy songs, while others condemn them for their treatment of women, focus on drug and alcohol abuse, and general lack of artistic purpose.

The issue with putting hip-hop into either of these categories is that it ignores the varied history of the genre, which has never been accepted by those of the “high culture” set as legitimate art.

Critics would rather over-simplify this type of music as angry, violent, anti-feminist and homophobic, ignoring the music of artists like Tupac, Run-D.M.C., Wu Tang Clan and many others.

These artists in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, known as the Golden Age of hip-hop, are remembered for their innovation and subject matter.

They stimulated change socially and politically for a generation that grew up in the wake of the Civil Rights movement.

Hip-hop proved to be an important tool in educating and acknowledging the struggle of the black population in urban areas, with songs like Tupac’s “Changes” addressing drug use, police brutality and gang violence, that seemed inescapable in some areas.

Hip-hop never had a completely unified front on how to address these issues, or even on the changing sound of the genre, typified in the Common song “I Used to Love H.E.R.” about the rift between the East and West Coast rappers of the time, but at least they were addressing these problems.

Contrast that with quotes from artists of today, like Drake, who famously said that “we live in a generation where there is nothing necessarily to fight for politically.”

I would disagree with Drake. I feel there is still a strong platform for hip-hop artists to advocate for social change, as Macklemore proved in his single “Same Love” about equal rights for gays and lesbians.

While Tyga’s raps definitely push the boundaries of what is socially acceptable, it is the lack of a strong social message that makes songs like “Rack City” appear to be pointless violence.

Popular rap of the day, if not fighting for a clear message, is nothing more than fancy rhymes over strong beats.

What Harvard students are realizing is that music is not simply entertainment, but can become a powerful force for change in a world in desperate need of direction.


Olivia Marovich/Staff writer

Olivia Marovich can be reached at