On that so-called ‘gangsta rap’ and J Cole’s visit to Vancouver (01/14/2014)

Having never attended a rap concert before, I decided to continue my year in concerts… and who better than one of my favs! 2 Tuesdays ago (January 14), the PNE hosted J Cole to kick off the second portion of his North American tour entitled “What Dreams May Come”. Coming off what seemed like a super long school day I was super excited to head out to his concert, had been bumping some of my favs the entire week prior!

Bas, another artist from the Dreamville label opened getting the crowd in the right sweet spot for Cole to head on. For a Tuesday night, the colosseum was packed! Tickets only at $50ish and general admission, was almost swept up in the masses. (Oh the woes of being a small Asian girl in this kind of a situation haha) Friends and I were curious about the turn out, and were surprised by the amount of high school students that attended.  Cool mix of demographics- girls, guys, Asians- Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, our East Asian friends, Caucasian friends, African American friends, you name it. Cool. In general everyone was having a great time- you could smell it in the air. Cole included, who in between singles had a bottle of Hennessy to satiate his thirst or something 🙂 Cole performed hits off his first mixtape (Lights Please)  all the way to his top 40 successes (Power Trip, Crooked Smile). Great show!

I always get funny looks when people ask me what kind of music I listen to- I’m typified as a K-pop listener or something between alternative and pop. I love the expression I get when I say rnb/ hip hop (of course sprinkled with whatever’s on the radio and anything with a good instrumental / beat). This music preference, like much else (of course), I must attribute to the big brother who would always make rnb mix CDs (the Chico mix series!), including my fav classics: My Boo/ We Belong Together/ Caught Up/ Ignition/ etc. Back in high school, I used to get this all the time: “Why do you listen to gangsta rap?” So many things to say to that- firstly, why is there a need to attribute rap to “gangstas”? Stigmas suck.  I’d like to think we’ve progressed into the 21st century long enough without the need to racialize even music! Shame. Admittedly, the rap/ hip hop/ rnb industry is heavily dominated by a certain racial group who seem to have suffered hardships in their lives. Okay. But they aren’t the only ones to experience life; they just seem to have chosen the music world as a forum to express their thoughts about life. As rappers like Eminem, and more recently Macklemore prove, music isn’t racially segregated. It shouldn’t be.

Sure a lot of rap lyrics use strong language and *mature content, but they also tackle controversial  matters that aren’t so boldly expressed elsewhere: Gay rights. Poverty. Racism. Social inequality. Education. Family… The list goes on. Then more typically, you’ve got your feel good jams and party summer hits… And more importantly, those like J Cole remind us that not every rapper is ‘a gangster’. After obtaining his communications & business degree and graduating magne cum laude, Cole pursued his career in the business industry paying homage to his diverse background.

In Lit 12 we covered a section on Cavalier poets- those poets whose works incorporated the carpe diem trope. It took one assignment for me to realize that this trope isn’t limited to 19th century British poets, but a very common theme in hip hop. A more obvious case in point (that isn’t Drake) is Eminem’s Lose Yourself circa 2000? Also known as one of the best pregame songs to get yourself hyped up to before any debate tournament.

 “Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted. one moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?”

Point being, there are always exceptions to the rule, and before we make sweeping generalizations it’s important to recognize that kind of faulty thinking. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that rappers are artists because of the mature content they tend to use. It happens. Still, this year’s Grammys demonstrated the shift in the positive potency of hip hop. Things are changing, and it’s exciting to watch hardworking hip hop artists hit the mainstream and become more widely accepted!

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