The Roots of Rap and Ignore Fetty Wap

Brian Kehoe

Rich white man rule the nation still/
Only difference is we all slaves now,
the chains concealed/
In our thoughts
if I follow my heart to save myself/
Could I run away from 50 mill like Dave Chappelle?


Rap Music: What your grandparents haven’t heard and your parents just don’t understand.  Rap, despite its portrayal in the media, transcends its stereotype. While some may only hear the profanities and assertion of criminal activities, others can listen and understand what is underneath, and the deep cultural roots that rap music maintains.

The first rap-like form of expression can probably be traced back to Africa: tribal storytellers known as griots would merge their rhetoric with a beat produced by hand-made percussion instruments. Through recounting the events of the recent day, or by weaving an elaborate tale of the grand escapades of their ancestry, griots were adept storytellers whose rhythmic delivery resonated within the audience. This archetypal form of rap music was a raw mass of molten expression, to be tempered and refined with the passing of every generation. With every new decade, a more sophisticated form of the tradition emerged until it hung on the precipice of legitimacy as an art form.

This tradition evolved into a coping mechanism for the African people abducted and stolen into slavery. The heartbreak and trauma of slavery was slightly appeased through song. In the labor fields, slaves would call out to one another and sing, and perform a rudimentary form of the tradition similar to the heralds of the old country. Since then, what was once a platform for recounting ancestral myths and stories has transformed into an established form of art and musical expressions from gospel to blues to jazz, and now, to rap.

Rap music has effectively maintained its fundamental values of fighting a system, commenting on social injustices, and representing the muted voice of a minority. Pioneers from the 90’s (such as those featured in Straight Outta Compton) highlighted the essential values of rap, which are to rhyme with purpose and collaborate with your neighbors to overcome adversity. In the time since its founding, rap has evolved, finding a place within popular music; the truly inspirational and memorable rappers are the ones with the unique ability to call up their roots and serve as a vehicle for an ancient and powerful message. Listening closely, some rappers today hold these values dear. Granted, some modern artists perform tracks that stray from these ideals, but that is mostly to satisfy the quotas of their record deal.

For example, there are artists like Fetty Wap. Fetty writes music to appeal to the masses. While sales and concerts indicate the popularity of his music and his persona, his lyrics are meaningless platitudes that express the oversimplified clichés of his wealth and prowess at maintaining relationships with less respected and often objectified female counterparts. Performers like Fetty Wap have not earned the right to call themselves rappers because they maintain no connection to the integral values of rap. He simply broadcasts catchy tunes over the airwaves, often with repetitive lyrics, and little rapping for large portions of his songs. Simply put, Fetty Wap is a pop star, and his redundant interpretation of stereotypical hip-hop trends leeches away from the greater significance of the art. Through his disregard for all of the cultural history leading up to rap music, and, yes. his inability to rap in any form that is poetic or meaningful, it is evident that Fetty Wap has no right to rap, or even claim that he has the ability to do so.

So, tune out Fetty and tune in the admirable rappers, the ones who deliver their message despite the roadblocks in pop culture where the average consumer just wants to hear a catchy tune, as in the infamous words of Bo Burnham “Repeat Stuff.” Listening to artists like J. Cole, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, and you will recognize the integrity of rapping and, nice to add, these are artists who have also skyrocketed to popularity in mainstream media.