What Are Reasonable Expectations to Have of Rappers?

Illustration for article titled What Are Reasonable Expectations to Have of Rappers?
Photo: Astrid Stawiarz (Getty Images for Atlantic Records)

I have a theory that because of the way we curate our social media circles nowadays, I believe most of us think our circles are representative of reality. This is my story, this is my song. I also think it’s pure bullshit.


We all know most of the people who inhabit America are absolutely dumb, at worst, or entirely unconcerned or unconsumed with the shit we fight about on Facebook every day in the Woke Olympics, at best. That last fact is why I get so baffled at people (and myself sometimes) who like to hold rappers to an interesting, unreasonable standard. If we take into account who they are and the music they create, it often makes SO little sense. I think being well-read, or reading at all, and engaging in intellectual debate has almost rendered us incapable of placing realistic expectations on many of our favorite artists.

To be clear, I’m a firm believer that if you know better, you should do better. I don’t think intentionally making problematic art of any stripe is OK. I also think, though, that if you’re going to engage with problematic figures and art, you should expect problems, and picking apart the issues you don’t like seems counterproductive and futile.

You’d like an “for instance,” wouldn’t you? Glad to oblige. Meek Mill just released his latest album, Championships, complete with all of the trimmings and discussion about his recent issues with the criminal justice system, of which he’s had himself a hell of a past few years. This has landed him on national talk shows, such as Smerconish, to defend his positioning. I find that curious, because while I think it’s good that Meek uses his platform for good, his bread and butter is still bitches, guns, sex, money, and murder, like it’s always been and very much on display throughout the entire album. Is it because that’s just who he is so we’re good with it, much like we are with almost all hip-hop that only has room for mothers (and sometimes wives) in the respect circle?

Misogyny is alive and well in hip-hop, and despite the protestations from various corners of the Niggas That Read Community, if it hasn’t started to change, I’m not sure that’s ever going to change. As they say, all your faves are problematic, right? Smarty art rappers from Common to J. Cole to Kendrick, and on down the line, struggle with their discussions of women in their music. Very few women are more than a bar away from being referred to as a bitch or a ho, and very few rappers seem to give even the slightest fuck about that or how it comes across. And even women rappers like Remy Ma could be considered rape apologists.

I bring up Meek’s album (and will now get to the ‘for instance’) because the most vaunted track on the album is “What’s Free” because of Jay’s verse. But before you get there, you have to listen to Rick Ross and Meek do their things. Rick Ross’ verse is pretty standard fare for him. We got stuntin’, enemies, and poverty tales alleviated by drugs. Towards the end of the verse, he takes shots at who I can only imagine is rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine, who is in the midst of some issues with the law and the gang he was allegedly claiming ties to. Ross closes out his verse (and shots at 6ix9ine) with: “purple hair got them faggots on your back.”

As soon as I heard that line, my Spidey sense started tingling. Why in the hell would he use such a term? That term is a slur and off-limits. He’s calling out Tekashi for being a fake gang member (the irony of Ross calling anybody fake is delicious) and then decides to make mention of prison rape by using a homophobic slur for no reason at all. He didn’t have to use that term. It is entirely unnecessary. And I knew that some people were going to zero in on that and require, oddly, Ross to be called to some carpet for such blatant homophobic rhetoric. Except, this is the same nigga who JUST said that, “Mona Lisa to me ain’t nothin’ but a bitch...” The language of disrespect and disregard is present just a few bars prior, but that doesn’t set off any alarms. Or if it does, that line would never get thinkpieced to death. And maybe his f-word line won’t either, but of all the criticism I read in my corner of social media, that line apparently offended the sensibilities of some. It jumped out to me, of course, until I self-corrected and asked myself why I expected anything more of Rick Ross.


Rick Ross is a problematic rapper. He always has been and always will be. Nobody listens to Rick Ross for community upliftment. You listen to Ross for drug tales over lush production, and drug tales over lush production typically come with all of the standard issue problematic language. That’s his bag. Because a certain segment of society has less of a tolerance for such language now, hearing hurtful language used so blatantly stands out like a sore thumb. But because we’re (arguably) better, should Ross be better, too? I don’t know. It would be nice, but realistic? Eh.

But here’s the main issue: I’m not sure how many people actually care, either. I mean, it stood out to me, but there are huge swaths of the listening populace who literally couldn’t care less and use that term on a daily basis. I may be enlightened, but I can’t reasonably expect artists who have shown no desire to “see the light,” so to speak, to come along on my own personal journey towards being a better human.


This is why I’ve personally struggled with a lot of the music I grew up with. I spoke previously about how it’s hard for me to listen to Dr. Dre’s 1992 classic, The Chronic, now. As much as I loved it, the whole album (and much of the Death Row catalog I loved so much) is problematic as fuck, because I’ve grown. That growth has borne unreasonable expectations towards artists, making certain language and ideologies very noticeable and off-putting. Thing is, if I’m going to listen to a lot of the hip-hop I love, I’m going to have to engage with problematic ideologies.

Either that or I’ll just have to listen to gospel....

...where the problems are the artists.

Le sigh.

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.



Getting old sucks. A lot of what you liked as a youth you’ll look back on and think WTF?

Maybe you should go back instead of forward...like the Bell Biv Devoe of the late 80s when all you had to worry about was not to trust a big but and a smile.

I think if you’re looking for socially conscious rap or any other music it’ll probably be really bad. Most artists are good when they’re young, angry and really high.

Personally I think it’s ok to like music that you like when you hear it and not get caught up in logistics.  I mean try to listen to Today was a Good Day and not enjoy it.  

For my money Public Enemy was the only artist that ever had a great combo of music, lyrics and style. A lot of their stuff holds up well.