We are in the grunge period of hip-hop.
There’s rebellion and social status markers such as jewelry, drugs, the throwing of money. I know it is awesome for a rapper to have the financial liberties to purchase a chain worth thousands of dollars. However, I find it challenging for me to see the deeper symbolic value beyond the money. We see this in nearly every music video today. Clips of counting money, showing off cars and beautiful women dancing. Snoop Dogg says it best in an XXL short interview, “I want to make a music videos that represent me [at a deeper level]. Rappers make the same shit; same cars, same money, same women. It is easy to do that”. So where is spirituality in modern, grunge hip-hop?
Snoop has it right. It isn’t exactly creatively stimulating or challenging. When it comes to lyrical composition, Snoop’s point similarly holds true. Rappers are comfortable writing raps about money, cars, drugs and women. Granted, we all can appreciate these lyrics when the imagery and similes are very ingenious. An artist must become comfortable with their vulnerabilities and hardships faced on their personal road to enlightenment and pull those experiences into lyrical form. We, the listeners, should crave for the deeper levels of lyrical vulnerability and personal testament to pathways towards enlightenment.
Sonically great, lyrically surface level.
I came across Atlanta artist, Sahbabii when a local Austin DJ was spinning for a free local hip hop show. A song caught my attention soley on the melodic composition as I couldn’t understand the words worth shit (I blame it on the loud bar).
After the event, I looked into this guy’s catalog. Sonically, his music sounds great, it truly does. His lyrics, however, did not connect to me in any way. His song ‘King of the Jungle’, again sounds phenomenal but he talks about ”sex with your mama with no condom. Not very stimulating for the brain, for me at least. Nonetheless, I quickly became very confused about this individual once I stumbled on a Fader interview of him.
Spirituality in a mainstream outlet, finally.
In this interview, he spoke a good deal about his spirituality. I was taken aback. His answers to these interview questions were night and day to his lyrics. He spoke about how he was a straight A student, how he and his team read books together (like a book club) and how he moves by his spiritual thinking and energy. He specifically mentioned Unknownism as the basis of his thoughts, curiosity and who he is as a human being. Opposed to solely thinking of who he is as a rapper. I was thoroughly impressed. After uncovering this deeper side, it did leave me to ask the question, where spirituality and existentialism fits in hip hop? If it even has a place.
A person’s spirituality is the arguably the most important aspect in their life; as spirituality is one of the most relatable commonalities between people, regardless of location, financial stability, race and even standard state education. In 2017, we do not see an ample of spirituality topics in hip hop.
What does existentialism even mean?
Existentialism is defined as a philosophical theory or approach that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of will. Boiled down to its basic form, it is the understanding that one can be and is responsible for their own spiritual and mental development as an individual, rather than in group thought. What could be truer today as the number one disease in the United States is depression?
Sahbabii directly hits these points in his interview. At the young age of 20, he is pushing for enlightenment. Not only for himself, but also for his team and all those around him. Through his success and intellectual curiosity, he is looking to help those around him level up. However, I was still mystified that his recent project does not reflect his spirituality and thought process at all.
Is spirituality and becoming an enlightened individual too corny for hip hop currently?
I find that question very difficult to answer with a firm yes. Nas and Damien Marley created Distant Relatives. The Underachievers rap and rep Indigoism (if you don’t know about this term, I highly recommend looking it up). Kid Cudi’s brand is around his spirituality and personal mental development. So clearly, this higher level of thought and challenging lyrical content do exist.
We do not see much of this in the hip hop culture as we know it because frankly it just won’t sell like clothes, cars, and money does. It is a difficult topic to comprehend. At this point in society, music is playing to more of a release from the bullshit, where our minds can take a break from engagement. This is where I realize the surface level lyrics will be in the forefront of music 9 times out of 10. But we can still get more from the artists.
Music plays a huge role in brain and spiritual development.
Even if the lyrics don’t speak to high levels of thinking, the aura and persona of the artist should. The rebellious sentiment youth and millennials have today is absolutely warranted. They were dealt a tricky hand growing up; participation ribbons and exposure to technology at a young age that can adversely affect the chemicals during brain development for example. However, the rebellious sentiment can have positive intentions.
Music can be that strong, driving medium to help facilitate the intellectual development to help create positive transformation within listeners. Music is not one-dimensional. As listeners, we should seek those multi-layered artists. We should look deeper into their minds and brand beyond the monetary success. I thank all the artists that enable listeners to reflect in ways that we could not have done ourselves.
Spirituality and enlightenment sit in an interesting juxtaposition in hip hop today. It is not highly revered as it should. We as listeners should always challenge ourselves. Our human spirituality is a reflection of what we listen to. Sahbabii explains he researched the real meaning behind 666, the ‘Beast’s number’. It is the chemical composition of melanin. In 50 years, I will still remember this information and how I came across it. That is a profound effect. This is not a call ‘for the culture’ or to talk shit about mumble rap. We all need to dig deeper into the multiple layers of artistry. Fittingly, you will dig a bit deeper into yourself.