Freedom of speech through music has been a universally beloved medium of expression to spread messages of joy, pain, and social awareness for hundreds of years. And although controversial lyrics have surrounded all genres while the political correctness of society continues to change, hip-hop music in particular has suffered from a negative stigma for quite some time.
While hip-hop originated as a more celebratory art form, widespread across New York City block parties throughout the 1970s, the popularity of "gangster rap" began its reign of dominance in the late 1980s to early 1990s, and an outcry of concern overwhelmed the entire country, an era which was well documented in the fan-favorite 2015 NWA film, Straight Outta Compton. The murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. in the mid-1990s as well as the hysteria surrounding Eminem's music in the late 1990s to early 2000s only fueled the fire under the political powers that be, who declared hip-hop as promoting violence and being a dangerous influence on the youth of America. Decades removed from these events, hip-hop has experienced creative growth, which has helped shed its unfavorable reputation, but the remnants of cases against some of its high profile artists still exist.
Many of our articles on the Sonicbids blog explain how the independent music scene is thriving thanks to the evolution of technology and easier access to resources, which in turn leads to more promising opportunities. However, indie hip-hop artists are still faced with obstacles that artists in other genres don't have to face nearly as often. In many cities across the country, many of the top venues consciously choose to turn down hip-hop acts because they have a preconceived notion of not wanting to attract the "type of crowd" that may not fill capacity, or increase the chances of a fight breaking out. And when you're working hard to garner a diverse fanbase rather than perform in front of the same people at every show, this can be a difficult obstacle to overcome.
But with rising hip-hop artists placing a strong focus on being innovative and revolutionizing the genre as we know it, progress is being made to bring rap music to a wider variety of stages.
"I feel the negative stigma of hip-hop at venues in Boston is slowly diminishing," says Latrell James, a prominent Boston-based rapper/producer who has performed at festivals such as the Boston Urban Music Festival at Faneuil Hall and BAMS Fest, which takes place at the Lawn on the D in the flourishing Seaport district. " With the most recent surge of talent locally, some of the biggest shows in the city have been hip-hop concerts. Venues here are beginning to see that hip-hop shows can do equally as well or even better than other genres in the city."
Unfortunately, there will always be a large portion of the population that looks down upon hip-hop due to its often explicit nature. But with much of today's independent hip-hop music being rooted in positivity, it makes it easier for artists to rise above stereotypes and showcase their desire to create art that changes people's lives for the better. From working with youth centers in your local community to putting your musical range on display by performing with a band, there are a number of ways to allow your music to resonate with wary venue owners and promoters.
It's your responsibility to create art that accurately speaks to the realities of your upbringing and life experiences, but as hip-hop artists work to overcome misconceptions and negative mentalities that still treat the genre as a "threat to society," the most important point to get across is that hip-hop music is nothing to be scared of; rather, it should be embraced for its honesty.
Eric Bernsen is a marketing/public relations professional and music journalist who specializes in the genre of hip-hop. You can find more of his work at HITPmusic.com (where he is an editor/writer) as well as HipHop-N-More.com, where he contributes album reviews. Follow Eric on Twitter @ebernsen.