*As a trained historian I study and identify changes in American society. But it’s still surprising and exciting to suspect one of the major changes occurring in our country right now.
Rap music is different from other kinds of music. Stylistically it is distinct from all other vocal music in that the artists are speaking rather than singing the words to the songs. That is the surface difference though.
Every other kind of vocal music revolves around the good and bad of relationships – in other words, love. Rap music is much more hedonistic, a quality that is based in the fact that rap music was born to African-Americans – a minority group in this country constantly trying to assert its place in American society. So rap music evolved into the foremost music forum to proclaim one’s wealth and brilliance as a reaction to the non-recognition black people were given in society.
Why does any of this matter? Because while rap music has always had a passionate fan base from its beginnings in the 1970s through the early 1990s. Now in 2013 rap music has grown into one of the dominant and most popular types of music in the world. It is the music of choice for youth in the United States. As such it is shaping the way future generations view the world around them.
I don’t believe that anyone fell in love because they listened to a Stevie Wonder song, rather their feeling were reinforced by the music. Similarly rap music doesn’t make anyone selfish but it does help to legitimize one’s desires and the efforts to fulfill those desires. And this is the change in American society. From the beginning of our country individualism was always cherished but so was the idea that American society was worth subjugating the individual. Since the 1970s when American society imploded politically because of the Watergate scandal, the idea that our country is/was worth sacrificing for has been on the decline. Not surprisingly, this is also when rap music (with its anti-establishment tones, and accentuation of the individual) was created and started to grow. Today the sense that the country is going down the drain (and therefore not worth sacrificing for) is prevalent among both left and right wing rank and file.
President Obama gets us out of this negative reinforcement loop in multiple ways. He is an African-American and consumer of rap music who has clearly invested in the country. Furthermore he engages the young adults, the exact group who are most apathetic toward national goals, and gets them involved in the political process; over the last two presidential elections Obama has gotten young adults to again believe in sacrificing for the country.
This is not meant to be a puff piece for Obama. There is probably a conservative politician who could mobilize young people in a similar manner. But we as a country should no longer ignore the consistent message that rap music promotes; nor should we forsake its potential to reach difference making individuals.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.