Materialism in rap and hip-hop masks deeper messages

By Sam Nephew

Music is an artists’ outlet for expression, an opportunity to send messages that mean something to the world, and the ways in which artists express their feelings and knowledge, as well as who they attempt to reach, varies by genre.

Hip-hop and rap follow that general rule but get a lot of negative attention for being materialistic because so many artists use their songs to brag about designer brands and “gettin’ paper,” like those that inspired this post. The artist could be talking about serious themes and issues, but if its packaging is too flashy or bejeweled, that message can get lost behind the sheen.

Much like blues and jazz music before it, rap and hip-hop stem from the roots of oppression, so it’s not too surprising that, again like those earlier genres, struggle and hope are two topics often mentioned in lyrics — but in a way that’s a little less “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” and a little more “We gonna party like it’s your birthday.” Having lived in the “ghetto” or “the hood,” artists use their music to share with the world exactly what it’s like to live with very little or nothing at all. And when you grow up like that, the easiest way to explain how far you’ve come and to prove that you’ve “made it” is to show off your wealth.

Buffalo, N.Y., rapper Dante Stubbs, or $tubb$ Br!m as he’s known on stage, puts it simply: “Most rappers, including myself, come from nothing, like poverty, broken homes or abuse. So when they start making money, that’s what they want to talk about since they never had it before.”

Looking at rap and hip-hop with a sociological eye allows for a different perspective on the roots of the genres. The music, lyrics and underlying messages are sources of praise and controversy, undoubtedly essential creative outlets for many people, and an art form crafted from particular social issues. Though many artists focus on other issues they endure — like poverty or abuse — they still often include materialistic references to represent overcoming adversity. “Most rappers, not all,” continues Stubbs, “they struggled to get to where they are, so they want to tell the world.” The materialism is an effect of the “rags to riches” mentality.

When Nicki Minaj appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, her interview showcased that desire for “bling” and money. Minaj, who was raised in South Side Jamaica, Queens, a predominantly poor New York City borough, is draped in diamonds — a representation of her money and riches, the materialism that represents social challenges met.

Music in general has always been an outlet to effectively convey a struggle, be it related to family, work, love, abuse or failed ambitions. Socioeconomic hardships clearly fall into that “struggle” category and, thus, are fodder for lyrics to which a broad base of people will easily relate. But sometimes, when the listener comes from a world outside of the socioeconomic realm from which the genre was born, it becomes harder to understand (or easier to misinterpret) the connotations and message.

Does this materialism bother you, or are you just listening for the beat? Do you think it distracts from a bigger, more important message?

Photo by Hip-Hop Producer

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4 Responses to “Materialism in rap and hip-hop masks deeper messages”

  1. doudounouns

    Yeah the materialism in hip hop bothers me. I’m french and used to listen hip hop all day. I wasn’t understanding what rappers say at the time..Just the beat bangin’. And it was cool. But now i understand 95% of it and when you try to be positive,open minded, loving and forgetting individual it kind of ruins the song. I can’t be all the time positive when i listen to lyrics like “f*ck you n**az, i get money”-”bitch better su*k my d*ck” “i kill all of you,”,gang references and all that. It’s just ignorance. And coming from a poor environment is not an excuse to say anything like that. People need knowledge in music, or at least no violence. The “i’m rich and you’re poor” thing is just non-sense to me. So i just listen to old songs because i was raised with it but i can’t listen more than 5% of actual hip hop. I rather listen to reggae like Groundation or chill out music without lyrics (like Bonobo for instance). Songs about weed with no violence in it are okay (lol).
    When you’re listening to violent/materialistic/non-sense music, you absorb it in a certain way and al the negativity that comes from you will come back.

    The purpose of the life is not to have 3 lamborghinis, treat women like dirt and disrespect people because they don’t have money. It’s just a destructive and evil thing.

    i know everybody around you listens to that kind of music..But you’re not a sheep right?
    true friends will understand that you want to change for the better..

    Peace, Love and Om bless

  2. P Buddery

    There seems far too much materialism and far too much violence/exploitation in rap lyrics, as well as dull music.

    Life is about living. Being able to relax is good. Having friends is good. Being happy is great. But a lot of these hip-hoppers seem to be involved in futile and miserable feuds. And how much time do they waste buying bling that could be better spent doing fun things like walking, driving, flying aeroplanes, or whatever?

    To conclude, if I was that rich I would have more holidays. And in these days of ever-tightening speeding restrictions, it makes sense to have lots of driving licences from different countries and one car rather than the other way around.

    And they all need to make more jokes. They are too serious. I often hope that all that bling is ironical, but I have my doubts.


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