In the past year, shocking revelations have become a prevalent theme in hip-hop music. From a video footage of Lil Wayne openly kissing another man to Frank Ocean coming out announcement, it seems the culture of concealment is finally giving way for a more open and honest one. If this trend continues, it would be great for young teenagers who represent the core of mainstream hip hop fan base.
For some time now, much of mainstream hip-hop has become synonymous with self-aggrandizement, violence, sex, drugs, sexism, and an overall gang culture that promotes a "Carpe Diem" lifestyle. Since it arrived on the scene in the 1970s, hip-hop has morphed from a genre that narrated life in the ghettoes of America to a global phenomenon permeating all levels of society in countries all over the world.
The exponential growth of the hip-hop industry in the past 40 years has unfortunately been accompanied by a shift from the message the pioneers of the genre initially intended. To be more specific, there is a profound unwillingness to create songs that touch on sensitive issues that can be associated with being “too emotional,” “gay” or just downright “weak.” It’s very common to hear slang terms in hip hop culture such as “No Homo,” or “Pause” preceding a statement or a lyric that may inadvertently connote homosexuality. For example, the renowned Canadian rapper, Drake has suffered severe criticism for his sentimental songs of heartbreak and love.
This is why up and coming rapper, Angel Haze’s release of a song titled Cleaning out My Closet has left critics in shock at the brutal honesty that pervades through the track, chronicling Haze’s experience as a sexually abused child. The song is a personalized rendition of Eminem’s 2002 hit song, "Cleanin’ Out My Closet," where the rapper goes into graphic detail of his troubled childhood and resentful feud with his mother.
Haze’s version lays out a harrowing narrative about being repeatedly raped and sexually abused from the age of seven by a much older man. According to her account, the pattern of abuse lasted well over a decade and spiraled the now 21-year old into an emotional whirlwind of depression, anorexia, and suicidal attempts. The song is gut-wrenching and cuts through the façade of mainstream rap revealing an intense and personal story that much of the rap audience can relate to. The song is part of a six-track mixtape titled, Classick released this past Thursday.
In the song, Angel Haze also talks about how her strong disdain for her life growing up made her fabricate characters and fantasy worlds to escape her harsh reality. This is a prominent theme in mainstream rap where artists would rather glorify the violence they experienced growing up and value it as a credibility badge as opposed to highlighting the real impact of violence in urban communities, particularly on the youth population. Famed rapper, Nicki Minaj for example, has opened up on several occasions about growing up in a household of domestic violence. However, her music rarely ever reflects that experience, preferring a style glossed in theatrics and a battle of freakish alter egos.
It is refreshing to see some hip hop artists stepping out of the norm and creating spaces to discuss issues that are typically considered taboo in hip hop culture. This past summer, the Odd Future singer and rising R&B star, Frank Ocean took the brave step of making public his bisexual sexual orientation. The Tumblr post that resonated all over the web was met with widespread support from fans. Personally, I admired Frank Ocean’s courage not only because he came out as a bisexual man but his honesty about a relationship of unreciprocated love with another man and the inner struggles he had to battle after realizing that he could not have the love he so desired in return. His brave decision to make this public is one that many young people who listen to his music can relate to and can use as a refuge in their dealings with similar experiences.
Overall, hip-hop has opened up doors for poor, disenfranchised urban youth to achieve economic success but the music has become a fantasy world that alienates its audience. I grew up listening to mainstream rap music. I loved Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Cam’ron and other similar rappers. However, by the time I got to college it began to dawn on me that a lot of the lyrical content I was listening to was baseless and promoted a lifestyle that I did not quite find attractive.
These days, I still listen to rap but I keep it limited to artists who show some balance in their music such as Lauryn Hill, Lupe Fiasco, and glad to say Angel Haze will be joining that list. While I don’t quite like her extremely raw and most times, vulgar lyrical content, songs like her version of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s, "No Church in the Wild" lets me know that there is more substance to her music underneath the vulgarity and she is an artist paving her own lane very different from the overly sexualized theme seen in most female rappers.