Rap can’t just be shoved off as an annoyance that rebellious teenagers listen to. As an art form, rap holds many complexities waiting to be unraveled. While some consider Eminem as the Michelangelo of this generation with “Rap God” as his Sistine Chapel, one must ask themselves how that came to be. Throughout its history, rap has morphed into a genre of music that has affected the whole world in intricate ways. Rap is art because art is portrayed to reflect the pressures and hardships minorities undergo, allowing for these issues to be looked at more thoroughly by the average American.
While art is accepted by the modern masses as an expression of the creator, art is rather a complex reflection of the hardships and pressures that artist faces. Humans are hardwired to document their world, which explains why history appeals to everyone. It answers the questions of who we are, how we came to be, and why we are here. In that same way, art is a visual representation of history. I consider art to hold not just the connotations of history, but also the effects that part of history had on the artist. These effects manifest themselves in how the art is created, causing a biased account of what happened. For example, I find it difficult to comment on an event without adding my own position. Say, if I am to hypothetically get in a fight, I would twist what happened to my advantage, which is synonymous to how art is created. Art is created when a negative event happens, causing negative feelings, then the artist addresses how they feel, and uses their art as a medium to channel their hardships. One such art medium, that allows artists to process their struggles, is rap.
As with any art form, rap has historically been used as the rapper’s self expression. While rap can be traced back to its origins in Africa, where a village storyteller would tell tales of their village, rap has become a relatively new form of music. Back when slavery had a strong grip on the southern United States, the African-American population would have field songs to express their situation. During their church services, there was a system of call and response to songs the congregations would sing, which had sprung from the call and response system of the field songs. Eventually these field songs gave rise to the Blues in the beginning of the twentieth century, hip hop in the 1970’s, and rap in the 1980’s. The creation of each of these genres of music were first met with disdain, but is now an integral part of the music scene. This trend can be seen in the Billboard charts. In 1965 the charts consisted of the Beatles, boy bands, and songwriter or singers, while in 2010 the charts held an assortment of Rappers, such as Usher and Eminem. The ideas and concepts talked about in modern day rap, are analogous to the treatment of slaves in early America. Because of art’s history of documenting struggle, rap has stemmed out of the difficulties oppressed populations face.
Rap as an art form, is utilized to be a vehicle to communicate the struggle of a certain group of people. Regardless of the situation, everyone has had to overcome a difficulty and through rap, Watsky is able to document his personal ordeals. He began his rap career by performing self written poetry, which forced the problems he was facing into the public view. A poem titled “S for Lisp”, was one way for Watsky to indicate how he feels about his lisp. He says, in the middle of his poem, “…So I will say this/My subtle lisp is not sinful. I’m not sorry Saturday, I’m not sorry Sunday; I’m spiritual and when I speak I celebrate the Sabbath seven days a week…” First, Watsky recognizes that he has a lisp, then early on explains how other people see it as an impediment, and finally tears apart the claim that he can’t say things well. However, Watsky was successfully able to convey his world to his audience, just as any artist would present their artwork. Rap as art takes the struggle of the rapper and is used, not only to explain what happened, but what stance the rapper takes.
Used to show the rapper’s life to the rest of the world, rap is also a platform for the rapper to push their own political stances. Art has always been subtle pointers to current events and political events. Although not subtle, rap comments on events in the news and tells what the audience should think about what happened. For example, in Watsky’s most recent album called x Infinity, he references a certain political candidate in “Pink Lemonade”, who he doesn’t approve of. “…I vote Yeezus/Deez Nuts 2020/You want to run a country? that makes me shiver/Bitch I wouldn’t trust you to run with adult scissors…” He takes an approach of ‘endorsing’ Kanye West as president, but then one line later, states that he wouldn’t trust Kanye West with something so small. Watsky is essentially saying that if someone can’t do something small without messing up, he wouldn’t be able to trust that person for running a country. His following song called “Don’t be Nice” also becomes a political when he says, “…Politicians switching positions like it’s the Kama Sutra…” While being crude in language, Watsky passes his point across that regardless of who the politician is, they change their ideals and stances on policies and issues. Watsky has a strong political view, and he conveys it through his artwork, allowing messages, both subliminal and overt, to be absorbed by his audience. Political messages have been implemented in art even before rap was ever created. For example, messages can be identified in the works of propaganda artists. These messages have the potential to change a whole society, which is why Watsky’s ideas of politics hold so much power. However, Watsky doesn’t just use references to convey his message, he uses ingenious diction and syntax to allow his message to seamlessly hop from his mouth to the minds of his listeners. Watsky’s use of diction in rap include rhyme, alliteration, metaphor, and other less visible techniques to push his message. In the song titled “Brave New World” Watsky raps, “…Two fleets keep peace on the mean streets/One treats brown people like they’re beastly/Nothing like the force that police me…”. Watsky first of all takes rhyming to the next level. He doesn’t just rhyme on the end of the line, but he does it words in the middle of lines. This causes an effect of a smooth transition between lines and thoughts. The rhymes include “fleets”, “peace”, “streets”, “treats”, “beastly”, and “police me”. The meaning behind these lines calls out some police who treat people of color badly and the contrast of how those police treat him, referencing the Black Lives Matter movement. In the same song, Watsky says, “Where did all the people at the supermarket go that used to scan my groceries?/Vanished mostly/And wassup with all the homies in the camo and the ammo with the rifles on/Their shoulder walking through the city thinking that they’re Annie Oakley?” This brings to light race relations between white people and every other minority. Watsky is pointing out that minorities do low skill jobs, i.e. cashier, and that he sees less of those people. This allows the audience to assume that those minorities had either lost their job, or moved away. In the following line, Watsky questions the hostility of stereotypical white people. He also makes an allusion to Annie Oakley, who was a sharp shooter. All these small parts of Watsky’s songs, really adds a deeper meaning to every song. Art should be multilayered, which is why I consider Watsky’s rap with its diction and syntax art. While rap can be controversial and negative, it is still art, regardless of how it is conveyed.
Although some rap has strong language and dark connotations, it is a way for rappers to explain their situation, rather than creating more tension. Watsky is not immune to using curses, and in “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa” he doesn’t hold back from cursing. “…Like my teacher taught me when I heard the crowd applaud/I thought I was an atheist until I realized I’m a God/It could hurt a bit when I murder shit/in a moment I’ll be tying off a tourniquet…” Like many rappers, Watsky succumbs to using curses to not only continue his rhyming scheme, but it’s necessary to emphasise his emotions. On the surface, it looks as though Watsky takes every opportunity he has to use negative word choice, but it makes sense in the context of his message. In another one of his songs “Stick to Your Guns” he looks at the horrible situations of mass shootings. “…You’re the sorry flock of sheep who made me rot to core/and of course you’ll make a break to escape through the corridor/don’t be late – I’ll set you up on a date with the coroner…” This is taken from the view of the shooter. Its dark language allows the audience to know what’s going on in the mind of the attacker. However, the song continues, but switches viewpoints from the shooter, to the media, and then finally to a politician. It’s essential to the flow of the song to use the mind of the shooter and the references to killing to provide a platform for Watsky to comment. Dark language, without looking too deeply, can make rap seem less artistic and more violent, but if seen from a deeper vantage point, art has to be a little risque or obscene to allow the rapper’s emotions to transplant themselves into the listener.
Rap has been vital as an art form to help minorities cope with their troubling world around them. It is important to listen and fully understand what rappers are hinting at. Without knowledge of the struggles of others, it is difficult or impossible to make it through a personal problem. The lyrics of rap also bring up huge issues society has to face regarding race, poverty, and violence. Art is suppose to create discussions and controversies that the general public must look at thoroughly before moving on, which is why rap is so vital to the American society as an art form.
Watsky. “Brave New World”. x Infinity. Steel Wool Media, EMPIRE. August 19, 2016. Watsky, Kush Mody, Russell Simmons, Anderson .Paak, Frans Mernick, Mikos Da Gawd, Daniel Riera,Wax, Andrew Oedel. MP3.
Watsky. “Don’t Be Nice”. x Infinity. Steel Wool Media, EMPIRE. August 19, 2016. Watsky, Kush Mody, Russell Simmons, Anderson .Paak, Frans Mernick, Mikos Da Gawd, Daniel Riera,Wax, Andrew Oedel. MP3.
Watsky. “Pink Lemonade”. x Infinity. Steel Wool Media, EMPIRE. August 19, 2016. Watsky, Kush Mody, Russell Simmons, Anderson .Paak, Frans Mernick, Mikos Da Gawd, Daniel Riera,Wax, Andrew Oedel. MP3.
Watsky. “S for Lisp”. April 18, 2010. Youtube.
Watsky. “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa”. All You Can Do. Steel Wool Media, Welk Music Group. August 12, 2014. Anderson .Paak, Mister Carmack, Mikos da Gawd, LODEF. MP3.