That’s a rap

Sraavya Sambara, Editor-in-Chief

My friends nod their heads synchronously to the thuds of music escaping from their phone speakers. They gush about the latest albums, from Kendrick and Drake to Jay-Z and Kanye, but to me, they could be speaking Latin.

Unlike the masses of my generation, I have never understood the allure of the rap genre, always preferring lilting melodies and slow lyrics to the frenzied pace of rap. I like to relax to music, and quite frankly, rap oftentimes just gives me a headache. It’s chaotic and unconventional, with the rapper just belting out tuneless stanzas faster than I can comprehend their meaning.

All my friends, however, seem to be entranced by the rap music they insist on listening to every waking moment, and swear up and down that rap is an incredible form of expression. So maybe I’m the problem. Maybe I haven’t given this genre a fair chance before writing it off.

Thus, I shall try to put aside my presumptions and listen to a selection of rap songs in order to truly understand the genre and come to an informed opinion on the matter.

I ventured into the realms of rap music with Kendrick Lamar’s “Hiiipower.” The song immediately surprised me with a catchy beat interlaced with a steely tune, when I had expected angry noise. When Kendrick began to sing, I was intrigued by the racial themes he explored through his lyrics. He sang about a movement representing the African American culture, and how they as a community needed to overcome the negativity surrounding them while maintaining their self-respect and dignity. I was amazed by the eloquence of the lyrics and the elegance with which he showed the issue to the audience. The lyrics were truly poetry, but the song itself was lacking. Kendrick stayed on pitch, but he delivered the lyrics in an unimaginative monotone. I would be content reading these lyrics and appreciating them in that form, but I didn’t connect to the song the way he performed it.

Next was “The World Is Yours” by Nas. I was relieved when the song opened with a melody, albeit an unsettling one with eerily sharp notes. Nas sang and commanded the audience to take control of their lives and make it what they would, regardless of their fear. His smooth voice coupled with a subtle jazz background made the song soothing to the ear, and a captivating listen. This was a rap song I appreciated – it stayed true to its genre with its constant beat, but yet also offered a catchy melody. This was a song which defied my preconceptions about rap – it wasn’t jarring or loud, or laden with expletives.

With my prejudgments of rap starting to falter, I played “i” by Kendrick. I couldn’t help but nod my head side to side to the tropical and uplifting beat this song started with. Kendrick rapped about the importance of self love and moving past adversity. He stressed that suicide is never the only option and how one only needs to rely on themself to get through hard times. It was the perfect combination of music, melody, and rap. The drum beat was satisfying and light, and told his story in a way that a bubblegum pop song perhaps could not. I realized that I had unknowingly generalized rap music as being dark and angry, but this rap was teeming with positivity. It provided that rush of adrenaline only inspirational music can —  that I-can-conquer-the-world feeling which makes you want to get out of your seat and do something. Kendrick didn’t perform any vocal feats, but then again, maybe he wasn’t trying to.

“Telephone Calls,” by A$AP Rocky, however, brought me back to square one. It was loud and rash, and confusing to listen to. He spat out the lyrics with no specific style, and so fast that I could barely catch what he was saying. I caught a few disturbing racial epithets and slurs about prostitution, but that was about it. I didn’t understand the purpose of this song —  I didn’t understand what he was saying, and didn’t enjoy the way he said it either. This song was the epitome of everything I dislike about rap music. It was a rollercoaster of senseless noise, and one I couldn’t wait to get off of.

My last song was “Paramedic!” by SOB x RBE. The first 20 seconds of the song featured a small melodious intro, but the song quickly descended into rhythmic chanting with some light background music and a tribal beat. The actual rap, in my opinion, was repetitive, and maintained the same tempo throughout the entire track. There was no variety in the song; almost every line was delivered in the same tone in the same way. Although the lyrics were definitely interesting, as they explored the imperfections of people, and the imminent violence which surrounds them, I found the song quite insipid. There was no climax to it and the entire song was stagnant in terms of the plot.

I emerged from my five song journey into the rap genre more confused than clarified. I had begun this journey thinking that most, if not all rap tracks consisted of the artist shouting the lyrics against the backdrop of a generic beat. However, by genuinely listening to a sampling of the genre, I found that I was wrong. Each song, although inextricably connected by their characteristic beat, were unique in the style of their lyrics and performance. Some, like Kendrick’s “i” and Nas’ “The World is Yours,” I enjoyed, while others, such as A$AP Rocky’s “Telephone Calls,” I couldn’t.

As for the verdict —  while I can concede that rap music is a deeper genre than I had given it credit for, it cannot, at least for me, replace the harmonious melodies of sweeter styles such as R&B and the eclectic pop genre.