Hip-hop and finding a way through

She asked me, “is there anything you want to listen to?”

I paused. “Not really. It doesn’t matter anyway. You don’t like any of the music I listen to. Put on what you want.”

We continued talking. Later, I said to her, “you don’t have any respect for hip-hop or rap do you?”

“No” she said. “It doesn’t respect me as a gender.”

 Which is a fair point. Hip hop isn’t known for championing gender equality. At least in the mainstream media, it’s about ego. About wealth. About image. About having the hottest girl on your arm, the most exclusive clothes and more money than other rappers.

But despite all that, I still listen to it.

I like the rhythm. The flow. Some verses just feel right. In Reading Like a Writer, there’s this great idea about rhythm: most people who work with the written word will take the wrong word but the right rhythm, over the reverse.

There’s another thing that appeals to me. Hip hop is the ultimate fuck you music. It’s about doing things your own way, despite what everyone else is telling you. Taking risks when you could play it safe. It’s about the belief in your own ability, skill and power. It’s central message—an irreverence for authority and the established order—resonates with me. 

Another thing that gets me? The energy. The artists talk about hustling on the street. Working round the clock. Working harder than anyone else. Sometimes for money and material reward. Sometimes because their situation gives them no other route of escape. And sometimes because they just love the hustle. 

Related to that energy is anger. A lot of hip hop is about dissatisfaction. Disillusionment. Realising that the stories we’ve been drugged with are false and how that knowledge changed our lives. 

This underlying anger is perhaps the strongest draw for me. On the outside, I’m happy. Calm. Light hearted. But sometimes, when I’m alone, I have this dual sense of melancholy and anger. 

I can see what I could do, what I could be, but I mess it up. I see the mistakes I’m making, the weaknesses I’m neglecting, the things I’m letting fall apart. 

Sometimes that anger and sorrow is for other people. For individuals who have been dealt a hand that they don’t deserve. Who have been mistreated by the hands of fate. 

And sometimes that anger and sorrow goes beyond individuals. It arouses itself when I consider the state of the world. The systems that dominate us and destroy us at the same time.

Which is, perhaps, why I love hip hop and rap so much. It knows all this. It talks about all this. It’s discourse makes me think that there’s a way through. That there’s a way out. And that I, and any individual, can find it.