Gangsta Rap vs. Gospel Rap

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It has been 27 years since N.W.A. released Straight Outta Compton, an album that took the hip hop world by storm. The album, featuring tracks such as “F— tha Police,” pioneered the subgenre of gangsta rap, a genre known for overt misogyny, violence, and in-your-face profanity.

It is hardly surprising that a group whose acronym stands for “Niggaz Wit Attitude” would garner some attention. But N.W.A. did more than just ruffle some feathers; they stood at the headwaters of a new and influential rap movement, setting the tone for rap music over the next decade (if not longer).

N.W.A. is back in the news with the recent release — and soaring box-office success — of the biographical film by the same name, Straight Outta Compton. I have not seen the movie, nor can I recommend it based on ratings and reviews. But the movie’s popularity gives us occasion to reflect on an oft-maligned art form: rap.

N.W.A. was so successful at shifting rap towards the gangsta variety that many — including Christians — have responded by writing off the art form as inherently destructive. This is a mistake. Rap may often be distorted and corrupted, but it remains a genre that we can direct toward its true end in Christ.

Gangsta Rap as a Corruption and Misdirection of the Genre

Every art form, however, has the potential to be corrupted and twisted. Rap is no different. We must recognize that the tone and content of gangsta rap are far from wholesome. One of the most prominent ways that rap has been corrupted is in its emphasis on braggadocio and arrogance. This sort of arrogance is most easily seen in battle rapping, which is a sort of verbal warfare between an MC and his competitor on stage. The MC celebrates himself, disses his opponent, and talks trash in every conceivable manner.

It matters little whether the violent lifestyle creates the violent art, or the art the lifestyle. In reality, both are probably true. The reality of gang violence in Compton created an environment in which N.W.A. decided they needed to fight to survive. Their art matched their lives. But once that art went public, it became the anthem of other young males. And the art form, while not exactly creating a violent life, at the very least confirmed what many young males suspect — that the only path to success is that of violent and destructive self-promotion.

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SOURCE: Desiring God
Bruce Ashford

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