Screwston, Texas

What Community Responsibilities Do Rappers Have?

Some rappers happen to be thoughtful, intelligent people. Every Monday or thereabouts, Rocks Off will have some of them here discussing issues relevant to their culture.

"Don't nobody care about how much your watch cost"

This Week's Panel: Z-Ro, Paul Wall, Bun B, D-Risha, Delo, Renzo, Kyle Hubbard, John Dew, Lil Flip

Not Invited: James Franco. Because he's gotta win something, right?

This Week's Prompt: Hey, everyone. So here's one for you. This ended up in our inbox this week. It's a backhanded diss song aimed at Z-Ro called "Letter To Z-Ro" [Ed. Note: The video has since been removed from YouTube] and takes issue with him and his secular ways, pointing out perceived contradictions in his music.

Now, this is something that came up at the recent Bun B Rap/Religion discussion, so we'll just continue that discussion here.

Here's the question: How much responsibility does a rapper have to his community when he's making music? Let's say someone wants to write a song called "I Love Tits, Weed and Murder." Is he bound by any sort of moral restriction or obligation? Or is artistic expression free from that?

Z-Ro: It depends on that individual. True artists do it because they have love for their craft, and to take care of their family.

Paul Wall: Nobody's making diss songs about Ozzy Osborne or Metallica, so why Z-Ro? The King of the Ghetto does enough for our community by motivating us to be real and providing us with a soundtrack to our struggles. There is no moral obligation but to provide for your family and make the best music you can make.

Bun B: Not necessarily, but they had better be able to explain themselves when asked about them.

D-Risha: To answer this question best, I think it is a good choice to have morals in the music because the community that you represent will back you. But we (the artist) deal in free speech, so to be honest, it's up to the person. I'll give an example. You have a group like Odd Future, who pretty much says the first* thing that comes to mind, and they are doing well.

I like the music but I don't agree with all the subject matter. I really think they're gonna piss a lot of old folks off and I like that, because name an artist who has done it since Eminem? Then you have artists like the aforementioned Z-Ro. This guy speaks to the community, and I would say more than half of his success is due to that community, because I feel he directly speaks to them with every song that he creates.

*We would argue otherwise here. Everything Odd Future face Tyler, The Creator says seems like a shrewd, calculated move.

Renzo: My obligation to my community is to pay my taxes without jeopardizing their safety and try not to sleep with their wives. I don't owe my community an apology for creating a song. It's my personal experience that I decided to share with the people in the form of entertainment.

I would have no problem sitting down with my community and talking to them about the inspiration for my songs while receiving their honest feedback. However, the songs that I write are from my personal experiences so what would be the benefit of me asking permission to express myself or apologizing for having them.

People are multidimensional and when people can respect that, they'll go further in life. The guy who made the Z-Ro diss expressed himself, and now he can go back to finding a way to write a gospel song without so much anger in it that they have to silence 25 percent* of it. I applaud him for representing a population, but don't think any artist should be censored. To make it more blunt:

Songs don't fuck up a community, people who depend on everyone else to raise their kids, and turtlenecks, do.

*This is indeed a curious situation.

Kyle Hubbard: I think an artist should be mindful of how his musical output affects the community, but [it] is in no way his responsibility. I think it's safe to assume most artists starting making music as a means to express themselves, and not really to help the tides of change in their community.

One could argue that once they have the ears of the people that they should use that power for the good, but then again I, have never seen the public strongly get behind someone who had overtly positive material. People like to point fingers at rappers and scapegoat the whole genre as the source of the world's ills, but I have yet to see the audience get so strongly behind a Christian rapper that he is ever able to break into the mainstream, or out of the "Christian Rap" genre, for that matter.

Delo: I feel movies/music/television all fit in the same category. Actors never get confronted about movies they make, and they give visuals of violence that can explain or give ideas to do wrong. I never heard a rap song that teaches you how to load a gun, but you can YouTube "how to make a pipe bomb." Music is an expression. I can't blame a song for any act of violence. And anyone who does is reaching.

John Dew: If a rapper has any aspirations to move anywhere past his/her current platform, or in other words if they are enterprising, they must monitor their usage of the freedom of speech. That is where the fine line comes into play, because for all those who are not in that classification are grouped into doing it for the music.

The issue with doing it for the music is complex. You have those that do choose to truly express themselves and would die behind the things they say because it is their true belief. Then there are those [that] will do it as a means of entertainment and narcissistic qualities of it, which inevitably creates a lack of skill in which the art of it is lost and it becomes only a fraction of what it should have become.

Most artists that are on top of the game you will notice have some sort of musical training or at least had some. It is an obligation not to the people but more to yourself, as a rapper, for what you stand for. If your standard of living has a certain perception on it, that is what your music becomes (Art Imitating Life).

However, the issue in today's hip-hop game is, When did life start imitating art? Rap was never intended to be what it is today, but neither were cellular phones. So as the game evolves, so do the rules.

Lil Flip: I can't speak for others, but the way I was raised, I was taught you never steer the youth wrong. But me, a father, I speak grown-man shit. Some artists make music to vent, some make it because they love it, and some make it just to make cash. On all my albums, I speak on real-life situations.

Also, I'll do two club or flossing songs, but at the end of the day, don't nobody care about how much your watch cost.

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Shea Serrano