By Rahsaan Thomas
Can mainstream rap music return to its positive roots? The Yard Talk panel debated whether a paradigm shift was possible.
Demond Lewis: “The Powers That Be won’t allow you to turn it around. They won’t give the airplay or push to positive music. How can we change something that society and the Powers That Be want? I can say I’m against that music, but I’ll buy their CD because of a cut I like.”
John “Yahya” Johnson: “The media agenda is pushing cultural destruction. How do you deal with that? How do you fend off that when the Top-20 is pushing sex, drugs and murder and we’re talking about these things happening in the ghetto?”
Marcus Henderson: “Once we admit that a spiritual war has been declared on us, then we can understand how to engage overt action against what controls us mentally, spiritually and emotionally.”
Johnson: “Change starts when the people get fed up.”
Lewis: “Def Jam, Ruthless, Cash Money all owned by non-Blacks. Rap is something we made popular, yet we don’t even own 50-percent. We don’t control it, so how can we change it?”
Eric Curtis: “Music is a trend, so it is going to change.”
The Roots’ mainstream success “demonstrates that it is possible for Black men in hip-hop to represent a masculinity that is tasteful, intellectual and transformative,” wrote Crystal Belle in From Jay-Z to Dead Prez: Examining Representations of Black Masculinity in Mainstream Versus Underground Hip-Hop Music for the Journal of Black Studies.
|“The media agenda is pushing cultural destruction”|
“The story of The Roots proves there is room in mainstream hip-hop for alternative notions of Black masculinity. It also proves that what would typically be considered ‘underground’ in nature due to its subject matter regarding equality and anti-racism, can also have mainstream appeal.”
Antwan “Banks” Williams agrees.
Williams: Common and John Legend just came with the Glory song that may start a snowball effect of good music. Christian rapper Lecrae is starting to be accepted in the mainstream because of his talent. He is talking about the ‘60s civil rights movement, being a young man dealing with pressures of gang banging and selling his soul. It’s starting to resonate.”
Richard “Bonaru” Richardson: “I absolutely believe positive rap can come back. Rap is an outlet – it is a voice of reason. People are always looking for a new trend, a new curve. That’s why rap will never die.”
Richardson believes the music can change direction like he did. He started out writing lyrics about negative themes.
“Once I learned that rapping is a way to get a message out to the public, I started using rapping as a positive voice.”
“Lifestyle when you stuck between a blunt and a bottle/ No family visits, no wife, no father figure or role model/ A follower, too young to do the things that I want to/ Now I’m way too old to do the things that I gotta do,” rapped Richardson.
Williams’ lyrics also leave room for hope.
“I see the world spinning in a downward spiral/ learned how to tell the future by reading the Bible/ my present circumstance makes every heartbeat vital/ as a picture-perfect death can somehow go viral/ outlined in chalk people pose for the camera/ others demonstrate, I can’t breathe with their hands up/ you got two choices, you can lay down or stand up/ or let it take its course if you don’t cut it like cancer,” rapped Williams.
The panel feels that it’s possible to bring positivity back to rap music but only by starting all over.
In the final part of this series, the panel will discuss how to reverse the trend of these negative themes.
-Trenise Ferreira contributed to this story