Open mind is key when interpreting music

One of my favorite college pastimes is eavesdropping on conversations I probably shouldn’t while in lecture. Last week, however, I overheard a conversation that was much more infuriating than entertaining.

While the subjects of these class-time talks usually revolve around a scandalous hookup or who got the most drunk at KAM’S on Friday, this particular conversation seemed to focus on something much more close to home: music.

Music is something that presumably every college student utilizes. I can almost guarantee that if you went to the personal Facebook page of almost any student on campus, he or she would say they have a passion for music, or at least list a couple of bands that he or she likes.

Thus, when I overheard the woman behind me in my history lecture talking about how an entire genre of music is “terrible” and “shouldn’t be considered art,” I took issue with the things she was saying. The genre she was talking about was rap. More specifically, she was referring to music from artists like Chief Keef and King Louie, otherwise known as “Trap.”

Trap music is the exact type of stereotypical rap that you’ve heard about. Often times, the lyrics in this genre revolve around guns, money and drugs. While trap music is admittedly vulgar, violent and repetitive, to write it off entirely is both obscene and, quite frankly, incorrect.

I’m what some would consider an avid hip-hop fan (or a “hip-hop head,” as it is more commonly known).

I’ve spent countless hours waiting up late and waking up early for releases from my favorite artists. I write for a hip-hop blog, and I constantly attend shows and events that support the art. I’ve even filled up at least a couple of hard drives with mix-tapes from unknown artists.

While I’m not a huge fan of trap songs, I can accept them for what they are and the fact that they are a product of their environment, which is a fact often overlooked by critics.

For someone to write off a certain genre (or even a sub-genre, in this case) just based on its subject matter is rash and ignorant. Yes, Chief Keef raps about murder and crime, but we must analyze his art based on where he came from.

Keef was born in Chicago’s “East Side,” but also grew up around Washington Park, two areas where shootings are eerily common. Just over the past month alone there have been five homicides in the Englewood neighborhood, and three in the small Washington Park neighborhood. And those are only two neighborhoods in the entire city of Chicago.

These experiences, which may have been less prevalent in the life of the girl sitting behind me in history lecture, are perhaps more common occurrences in Keef’s community.

Art is just a reflection of our community. Just because someone comes from a community different from the one you or I come from, doesn’t mean what they produce is not art. Such a claim is plainly incorrect. Perhaps we cannot relate, but those who can seem to appreciate the art form.

Art is somewhat of a coping mechanism, and thus both the positive and negative parts of the artist’s society seem to shine through in the given art, in this case, music.

To write off an entire musical genre just because someone is rapping about a way of life you know nothing about doesn’t make that genre trash, but rather renders that judgmental person’s perception of understanding useless. Perhaps the girl behind me in lecture has never had any of her peers victimized, and thus Chief Keef’s lines about that are lost to her. Instead of seeing a tale of day-to-day life, the uninformed listener instead sees a depiction of useless violence. This is easily cured by utilizing just the slightest bit of understanding.

I’m not saying that violence is good, or even that the glorification of it is a positive thing, but rather that listeners should be more informed about the issues at hand before they start criticizing them.

Art is done with consideration.

Whether it be conscious hip-hop like Lupe Fiasco, Common or Chance the Rapper, or trap hip-hop like Chief Keef, all types of music are forms of art. They depict the society in which they are placed and use this depiction as an outlet for creative activity.

Just because we don’t understand this facet of society doesn’t give us a legitimate reason to criticize it. Rather, it should drive us even further to try and understand the problems facing people who are different from us.

I think that often times students get caught up in this academic and campus-wide bubble where it seems like everyone is just as well off as the other, and thus, lives the same way that we do. It pays to take a step back every once in a while and perhaps use some kind of understanding.

Maybe if we all approached art with an open mind we would better be able to interpret it.

Boswell is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]