Hip Hop is a worldwide musical phenomenon, still flourishing since its inception nearly 50 years ago. It is also no secret that the world of Hip Hop has been historically male dominated, with lyrics that typically degrade and marginalize women. However, recent years have seen women rappers and Hip Hop artists flourish, making contributions that cannot be understated. As this portion of this course is centered on hip hop since 2014, it would not be complete without a balanced study of male and female artists. To acknowledge and honor the success of these artists in equal measure, Week 5 will be devoted to the "troika" of historically influential male hip hop artists (Drake, J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar), while Week 6 will be centered on an equally powerful set of popular female artists (Beyonce, Rihanna, Sza and Cardi B).
Week 5: Male: economic ascendancy
Lamar: MONEY TREES
“Money Trees” is as complex as it is blunt; combining storytelling with a credible stream of emotions, “Money Trees” details the pains of life in low income, black America, rife with gang violence and the struggles of persistent financial instability. The experiences Kendrick Lamar posits in this tune, however, validate the importance of having money, arguing that ‘money trees are the perfect place for shade’, and revealing that he and his friends would often have ‘dreams of living life like rappers do’. It’s clear that songs like this propelled Kendrick Lamar to fame and, consequently, to financial stability; yet Lamar chooses to conceal this financial success in other songs, possibly to be able to deliver a credible, relatable display of life in low income America. Do you find his display convincing? Why or why not?
Cole: NO ROLE MODELZ
If Kendrick is secretive about his newfound financial stability from rap and Drake flaunts it, J. Cole is somewhere in between. “No Role Modelz” makes numerous references to J. Cole’s background of having grown up in a low-income neighborhood North Carolina, and gives shout-outs to numerous family members in his many hit songs; yet J. Cole also reveals feelings of insecurity, questioning the validity of his relationships with women potentially attracted to his status and wealth with lyrics like ‘You think if I didn’t rap she would flirt back?’. J. Cole’s lyrics are aggressive, subjecting women to ‘bird’ status and admitting to his wealth before acknowledging that wealth isn’t everything (and certainly won’t create meaningful relationships for you) in other songs like "Love Yourz". How does J. Cole’s music interact with “Money Trees”? Do these songs admit that chasing money is necessary to achieve financial stability, but ultimately leads to unhappiness? Is it possible that, for male rappers, money is the ultimate gift and curse?
Future/Drake: LIFE IS GOOD
“Life is Good” is the ultimate party song. Combining booming bass with an impressive, seamless artist switch (a worthy follow-up to “Sicko Mode”?), “Life is Good” is every bit the side of Drake partygoers have loved for over ten years. Replete with bad language and references to luxury brands, lines like “I’ve got red bottoms on, life is good” and “Wine by the glass, you’re man’s a cheapskate, huh?” suggest every bit the kind of new money splendor hip hop has tried to emulate for the last 40 years of its existence. If Kendrick is secretive of his wealth while J. Cole is somewhat resentful of it, Drake songs like “Life Is Good” perfectly emulate ‘living life like rappers do’ (see above paragraph on Kendrick Lamar). Where for some rappers, remaining lyrically faithful to their humble backgrounds is imperative to their success as artists, for others, detailing a successful transition to high wealth status is equally key. What do Drake’s lyrics tell you about these divergent views on the values of the rap/ hip hop world? Music critics and fans have pointed out the historical absence of teamwork between these three artists. Can Drake reasonably coexist alongside rappers like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar given their different styles and, perhaps, perspectives on wealth?
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