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August 1st 2013

Beats of Change: Hip Hop's Positive Messaging Moves up the Playlist

As a longtime lover of rap music, I’ve been asked by many people over the years how I can stand a genre that is often infused with hateful, money glorifying, and degrading messages. Most of the time I respond by saying that my love for bass and beats trumps the words, and that it doesn’t matter what the musicians are rapping about as long as the music sounds good. However, what if rap and hip hop had as much driving bass as I crave, coupled with words that parallel my personal convictions and beliefs in social justice, equality, prosperity, environmental responsibility, and human potential? Could I give up the mainstream sounds for a genre that integrates my musical cravings with my core beliefs? After hearing the music at Party Corps’ Hip Hop themed Music for Good party in June 2013, I realized I could.

The June 2013 Music for Good party had an incredible lineup of talent: Sellassie, Do D.A.T., Khafre Jay, & Hot Pocket. Between sets I spoke with Do D.A.T. and Khafre Jay about their desire to make a positive impact on the world by using hip hop as a way to address community challenges. When I asked Do D.A.T. what inspires him, what moves him to strive against the mainstream by writing music that incorporates conscious hip hop, he said, “My niece and nephew are my biggest inspirations.” You can see Do D.A.T.’s concern for youth in more than his music, he also works with kids in educational settings, teaching them creative writing, social justice, and film. Do D.A.T. and I talked about the power of music, and its potential to serve as a safe place for kids to write about the painful tragedies they experience; “Right now I’m working with kids, and through the Beats Rhymes and Life (BRL) organization, we are using rap music to engage troubled teens in mental health services.”  From his work in the community, to his music messaging, and charismatic stage presence, Do D.A.T. is an artist that represents the heart and soul of an inspirational music leader, with a simple message to youth: “Be a proactive artist in the approach you take to creating, promoting, and consuming music.”

Khafre Jay, Founder and Executive Director of Hip Hop for Change, is another musician that is creating positive social impact through consciousness-raising outreach and artistic contributions. Khafre shines a light on the marketing of mainstream rap/hip hop and what this means for consumers. “We all know the industry sells sexism, drug abuse, homophobia, greed, and gang violence as if it represents hip-hop culture. These are actually symptoms of hollow marketing schemes and when young people buy into them, it perpetuates another generation of closed minds and more hollow marketing.” Through Hip Hop for a Change, Khafre and his partners use music as a tool to engage listeners toward topics other than the hyphy, crunk, and bling that dominate most popular rap. Khafre’s next album addresses political themes of sexism, racism, gentrification, homelessness, and the environment.

A key theme that permeated Party Corps’ Music for Good event was questioning the status quo. All of the musicians addressed the reasons why negative, disempowering, and hateful music continues to dominate the airwaves – the music is marketed to us, and we, often blindly, buy it. Or, we make excuses for it, as I did. I don’t plan to delete my massive collection of mainstream rap from my iPod, but with my recent discoveries of the musicians that are using hip hop to make this world a better place, you can guess what’s going to be at the top of my playlist, thumping bass in my ears, for a good time to come. 

Posted by Alexis Shoemate


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