Not all rap has to be art: Response to “Lil pump, big problem”


graphic by Tyler Herron

Rap has been a platform for “symbols of change” from the very beginning — the author of “Lil Pump, Big Problem” just wasn’t listening. To say that the lyrics of Xanax rappers are a regression back to something bad is to erase the decades of activism and art that has come out of the black community through rap, the first hit example being Grandmaster Flash’s 1982 song “The Message.”

It is ridiculously easy to pick rappers from any era, whether it’s N.W.A., Jay-Z or Tyler the Creator, and find songs that deal with all-too legitimate problems in America. I wager that it is just these topics — police violence, racism and institutionalized poverty — that lead suburban parents to focus on the alleged immorality in the rap scene rather than the message. 

“Good rap,” as judged by cultural outsiders, is always mysteriously free of these messy ideas. This desperation for universality of experience allows Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly to be described as “the evolution of a man who is trapped by his fame and fears” rather than, as the Wikipedia page summarizes it, “African-American culture, racial inequality, depression, and institutional discrimination.” (Before I go any further, I do appreciate the irony in a white girl trying to school a white guy in race relations through rap.)

Asserting that rappers like XXXTentacion and Lil Pump are a lyrical disease on the genre because their songs aren’t about serious topics is ridiculous — never mind the fact that XXXTentacion’s album was about his struggle with depression, which I suppose wasn’t deep enough when compared with J. Cole’s “Wet Dreamz.”

Popular songs don’t have to be meaningful to be enjoyable, and they don’t have to be enjoyable to everyone to have the right to be popular. “I’m Blue,” nominated for a Grammy for best dance recording, is certainly comparable to “Gucci Gang” in its repetition and overall quality, but I’ve never heard anybody complain about the vapidness of the line “I’m blue da ba dee da ba daa.” They just sing along. Why? Because it’s fun.

An argument I would agree with is that the actual behavior of some of these rappers towards women is absolutely repulsive, but it is certainly nothing new in the music industry.

David Bowie had sex with 14-year-old groupies and appeared in interviews high on coke, but when men of a certain skin color do the same thing it’s suddenly a black mark — not just on their record, but on an entire genre.

The rap group K.M.D.’s debut album “Mr. Hood,” released all the way back in 1991, encapsulates the difficulty in walking the line between entertaining and addressing issues important to themselves and their community. Their name, to be read as either Kausing Much Damage or a positive Kause in a Much Damaged community, shows the irony in the dueling perceptions of rap. It’s a music genre; it is never just black and white. The choice between angelic “art” by Chance and devil music by Lil Pump is a false dichotomy and attempts to reduce a vast form of expression into two neat little boxes.