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Country music is often viewed as wholesome and all-American. This makes it the music genre of choice for conservative listeners. I cannot pretend I defy this stereotype, I love country music, but I am also a fan of rap music. Somehow, this has become a topic of controversy. My conservative friends are often the first ones to react critically when I share my Spotify library. Even Senator Marco Rubio received scorn for admitted to liking rap music in 2013. Yes, rap music often depicts lifestyle choices which do not align with some conservative principles. It also depicts the real, American experiences of individuals who the conservative movement often fails to understand and connect with. Conservative dismissal of rap music sheds light onto our cultural failings with people of color. Rejecting the entire genre ignores the many artists who discuss topics that align closely with conservative values.
While many rappers would not personally identify as conservative, a significant amount of rap music actually reflects conservative ideas.
Tupac Shakur, arguably one of the greatest rappers of all time, decried single parenthood and sexual misconduct in his 1993 hit Keep ya Head Up. Throughout his career, Tupac advocated for strong family units built on respect and personal responsibility.
Similarly, in his 2002 hit I Can, Nas addresses issues of drug use, sexual misconduct, and racial inequality within his community and pushes listeners to work past the obstacles. Nas presents education and hard work as the path to success rather than illicit activity.
In J Cole’s most recent album, he argues that our current taxing system takes too much from hard working Americans. He continues to argue that we fail to hold the federal government accountable for the money they spend. Cole raps, “I pay taxes, so much taxes, sh*t don’t make sense/ Where do my dollars go?/ You see lately, I ain’t been convinced/ I guess they say my dollars supposed to build roads and schools/ But my n****s barely graduate, they ain’t got the tools.”
I attended a concert in DC where J Cole performed this song. Following the song, he genuinely asked the audience if we knew where our money went. Considering we were within miles of where most of our tax dollars are spent, it was a shocking statement to make to an audience equally as bewildered. J Cole continued to remind us how much more we could contribute to our society and families had we been able to keep more money in each paycheck.
Nicki Minaj has rapped about empowering women.
Chance the Rapper created the Black Boy Joy movement to reject negativity and victimization and promote positivity. He has also donated extensively to increasing urban educational opportunities.
2 Chainz turned his Atlanta home into a free STD clinic.
Young Thug dedicated an album to his deaf brother, including a music video in sign; he has also rapped that he has so many kids because he never wanted an abortion.
Eminem even rapped in 1999 about how the trade policies of the Clinton’s destroyed job opportunities in Detroit.
Rappers constantly advocate for personal responsibility, advancement through capitalism, equal opportunity, and civic engagement, even if we do not see it on the surface.
Many forget that long before Kanye West was on the Trump train, he wrote raps detailing crime in inner city Chicago. Kanye often wrote about the need for criminal justice reform in his music. In his 2010 song Gorgeous, Kanye wrote, “Inter century anthems based off inner city tantrums/ Based off the way we was branded/ Face it, Jerome get more time than Brandon/ And at the airport they check all through my bag and/ Tell me that it’s random”
Eight years later, President Trump has met with Kanye and has announced support for criminal justice reform, which involves sentencing reform. The point? Don’t sleep on rap music.
Rap music illustrates the real, raw, often emotionally charged experiences of low income people of color across the country. In every album, there are dozen of lines that conservatives would surely relate too. With that being true, why is Kanye one of few openly right leaning artists? I’m sure part of the problem is the conservative dismissal of rap music. Why? It is viewed as too real, raw, and emotionally charged.
There is a difference between glorifying sex, drugs, and violence and using those things as a theme for understanding the conflicts that plague communities. Listening to and distinguishing the difference between these things allows us to better empathize with and address these problems.