Clean Rap: An Oxymoron?

Clean Rap: An Oxymoron?

A couple weeks ago, I was excited to learn about the release of Nicki Minaj’s new album, “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded.”  I was not disappointed- it’s full of catchy hooks, clever lyrics and generally upbeat sounds.  And, as most rap and hip hop seems to be, it’s filled with profanity and inappropriate subject matter.

I listen to the majority of my music through my headphones, so the profanity isn’t going to bother anyone else.  For some reason the “clean” versions of songs bug me.  Who is really being fooled if they’re hearing “mother__cker” rather than the whole word?  It’s just annoying.

However, it’s another matter when I want to listen to music in the kitchen- I can’t stand to cook in silence.  Yesterday I decided to listen to the “clean” version of “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded” while I cooked so that none of the household teens would be corrupted by the language, which I’m sure they have never heard in the halls of their high school.  The word “clean” is kind of a misnomer; Nicki is still singing about putting her dick in your face (???) and other topics equally conducive to cooking while in the presence of impressionable young minds.

I really like rap, even though I’m not what you might consider to be a gangster.  Anyone who had a soft spot for Dr. Seuss as a tot may also like the rhythm and clever rhymes that are found in rap and hip hop.  However, the subject matter from “Green Eggs and Ham” to “Sex in the Lounge” may not be such a smooth transition.  I implore my friends Nicki, Kanye and Em: why, why, why must rap be filled with so much profanity and grownup topics?  I somewhat already know the answer to that: rap and hip hop originated in a more urban atmosphere and hasn’t strayed far from its roots.  So even though Nicki went to a school for the arts and Kanye had braces and a mother who was a school principal they still keep it real with sex, violence, drugs and plentiful swearing.

My 16-year old son thinks it’s absolutely hilarious to turn off the car just before some explicit lyrics on the CD that’s playing.  That way, the next person to turn on the car is immediately greeted to LOUD expletives.  Funny, right?  So I know the kids listen to some shocking material in the car, and they know I listen to it through the comfort and privacy of my headphones, but that doesn’t mean we all want to listen to rap together and pretend we don’t notice the lyrics.  I’m still their frumpy mom, after all.

I set about researching whether there is anything even vaguely family friendly in the mainstream rap or hip hop arena.  Upon Googling, I decided to try a few artists that were recommended by other people who had the same question.  Here are my thoughts after sampling on iTunes and looking at some of the lyrics.

Chamillionaire – This dude definitely tempers the swearing, but he’s still pretty “gangster” and isn’t afraid of being politically incorrect in his references to African Americans.  While I’m happy about the somewhat cleaned up language, other potentially offensive aspects to his music remain.  Most popular songs: “Ridin’” and “Good Morning.”

Lupe Fiasco – Thank you, Wikipedia, for letting me know that Lupe is from Chicago!  I also learned that he initially disliked hip hop because of its vulgarity and instead preferred jazz.  He hasn’t strayed far from his original ideals, keeping his music pretty clean.  I am concluding, however, that you’re never going to get away from references to “niggas”, so if you find that offensive you might be out of luck.  Lupe’s breakout hit was “Superstar,” which I loved, and he more recently had a hit with “The Show Goes On.”

Rakim – I first became acquainted with Rakim on the 8 Mile soundtrack ages ago with the song “R.A.K.I.M.”  At the very mature age of 44 (an age I am very familiar with), Rakim has been around a while and likes to think of himself as somewhat of a teacher to the younger generation, so he tries to take the subject matter beyond the gratuitous violence and profanity often found in rap.  He definitely has a hardcore rap sound, though.

My pick: Lupe Fiasco.  He’s fairly young and has a fun sound that doesn’t try to sound too “bad.”  He had a new album in 2011 (“Lasers”), and there’s still an option for “explicit” or “clean” on iTunes, so he’s clearly not trying to present himself as a role model of purity, but on the rap spectrum he may come close.

Here is the video for “Words I Never Said” from “Lasers.”  I did note that there are a couple swears bleeped out- again, he swears much less than other rappers, and the subject matter is definitely more intelligent than you might find elsewhere.  Enjoy!

Filed under: Parenting

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