Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hip Hop and the English Language

Trying to find something good to post about today, I found this article called "Hip-Hop: An Indelible Influence on the English Language." Oh, there is a lot of fodder in here for me, mainly because I'm not a huge fan of hip-hop and because I believe the title is true. Much like how e-mailing and texting has had a lasting influence on our culture, it is obvious today to see how hip-hop has also left its mark:
Whether it is the addition of the phrase "bling-bling" to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2003 or the inclusion of the term "crunk" in the 2007 volume of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, hip-hop culture is changing the nature, the sound, and the rules of the English language. Words such as "hood" (short for neighborhood), "crib" (which translates as place of residence), and "whip" (meaning car) have become commonplace within everyday conversation. Phrases such as "what’s up" (hello), "peace out" (good-bye), and the extremely popular "chill out" (relax) are frequently used in television shows, movies, and even commercials for Fortune 500 corporations.
I used to like it. Hip-hop and rap used to have good qualities, but I'd say its one of my least favorite genres now. Part of it is the music, I'm a big fan of guitars and drums, while most hip-hop music is created with electronic synthesizers. They even use synthesizers on their voices, because apparently they don't have a decent sound. You know, back in the day you had to have some kind of talent, now anyone with a computer can get a record contract. But I digress.

A huge part of my difficulties with hip-hop is the language it uses. Hip-hop was establishing its roots between 1965 to 1984, according to the article and Bakari Kitwana's "The Hip Hop Generation." The music was entertaining, but at the time, it was also used by African-Americans to express concerns of political, social, and personal issues.

But hip-hop has evolved and what it was during that time period no longer exists. The valid, intelligent issues raised in these songs like racism and poverty have been replaced with language revolving around hos and bling, yet racism and poverty are still very real. Lots of hip-hop music seems to emphasize material possessions over quality relationships. Much if it is also considered degrading to women. The hip-hop movement has gone a step further and glamorized gang-banging and drug-dealing.

And I haven't even touched on the acts of murder many hip-hop artists commit on words. "Back in the day," there seemed to be a sense of pride among hip-hop writers in having a wide vocabulary and using words creatively. Now, consonants and vowels are dropped or misspoken on purpose to try and make the rhyme fit. This is just lazy and I can't respect it the same way I respected the hip-hop lyricists who came before. Compare the lyrics of Ice T, Public Enemy, NWA, and, yes, even The Beastie Boys to today's Flo-Rida, Ne-Yo, and Fabolous. Even their names are ridiculous. I mean... Jay-Z and Eminem needed to come back!

Now I'm not saying that hip-hop hasn't had any good effects on culture or that it hasn't made people think about language in an entirely different way. I have a few hip-hop favorites that I still listen to. But there is a reason why record sales have been down since 2005 and rumors are circulating that the death of hip-hop could be drawing near. Something has changed in its dynamic, and now it no longer seems to be contributing much of anything good to society, let alone language.

Additionally, with the current economic and social climate, hearing about a celebrities bling and expensive cars isn't what people want to listen to when they're struggling to make sure there is food on the table or a roof over their heads. Crime, poverty, and discord are abundant right now. If hip-hop went back to its roots and discussed political, social, and personal issues in the intelligent and thought provoking ways that it used to, it could make a come-back.


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  2. what about Kendrick Lamar? He raps about racism and poverty