inequality

[OPINION] ‘Music of the lower class’: In defense of rap music and BLKD

Brandon Parrenas
[OPINION] ‘Music of the lower class’: In defense of rap music and BLKD
'Rap is a misunderstood and underestimated genre'

I never thought in my whole career as a public school teacher that I would be defending rap music during my online English class. 

It all happened very quickly. My topic was about “making textual connections” or, in higher literary criticism, “intertextuality.” As an introductory part of my lesson, I asked my Grade 9 students about the movie, television show, artwork, song, or book that created a huge impact in their lives. I intended to draw from these the possibility of relationships between texts. One student said that she loved watching Pinoy Big Brother. I suggested that she should try to read George Orwell’s novel 1984. Another student said that he was fascinated with the dark paintings of Francisco Goya. Specifically, he mentioned the painting “Saturn Devouring His Son.” I told the student to research about Roman mythology or watch Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth

The online discussion went smoothly as planned until I called the last student. He shared with the class his growing interest in watching Pinoy rap battle leagues such as FlipTop, especially the ones featuring BLKD (pronounced as “balakid”). When I was about to suggest another text which might enrich his interest about the Pinoy rapper, one student wrote in the chat box: “music of the lower class.”

I was appalled by this comment. Honestly, it should have been an easy decision to ignore the comment and to proceed to the next part of my online lesson. But no, I could not leave it that way. The comment was offensive for two reasons. One, it was a hasty generalization that only those who come from the lower-class like rap music. The comment also implied that liking rap music was tantamount to having bad taste. Two, it reeked of condescension and privilege. Ironically, she was not even an economically privileged person to start with. This made her stance even more insulting. Still, I attempted to address the comment without making it seem like I was personally attacking her.

Well, I did what I had to do. As a teacher, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I initially asked the student commenter, “Why did you say that?” There was a long, deafening silence. She gave no response. I asked her another question: “Are you familiar with BLKD?” There was another long, deafening silence, until she wrote in the chat box, “No.” I followed that up with another question: “Who are you familiar with?” She immediately responded, “Andrew E.” This answer triggered me. As a result, the online discussion which should have been about “intertextuality” became an online sermon about “rap music.” I offered three compelling points to outline my discussion.

Rap is a misunderstood and underestimated genre. My first point: The reason many people perceive rap music as the music of the lower class is because of the established negative stereotype about it. I admit that rap music has an embedded history of urban stereotyping, exploitation, and misogynist nihilism. Scholars like Robin Kelley and Theodore Adorno supported this claim. In his book entitled Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class, Robin Kelley said that rap had an openly hostile attitude towards women which, in the end, related itself as part of the oppressive dominant culture. Robin Kelley emphasized that rap music reinforced the urban stereotype of violence and vulgarity, which can be perceived in rap culture’s fashion and gestures. Theodor Adorno even insisted that, since popular music like rap is part of the popular culture, this music genre has become connected to capital production and consumption, which ultimately exploit workers and abuse consumers. 

Andrew E. contributed to the establishment of this negative stereotype about rap music and culture since he had been a popular force in local mainstream media. Yes, I consider his rap lyrics misogynist. The rap culture that he projected is exploitative to young, innocent minds. Worst, he is an enabler of the atrocities and incompetence of the Duterte administration. To establish Andrew E. as the representation of Pinoy rap culture is simply dangerous. To compare Andrew E. with other Pinoy rap artists is hilarious. Hence, I mentioned to my online class, “Andrew E. is not the only rapper in the country. Andrew E. is not the face and will never be the face of Pinoy rap culture. We have GLOC-9, Abra, and Shanti Dope. The revolutionary legacy left by Francis Magalona lives within us.” 

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Though rap music may have been a commoditized, exploited, sexist, and materialist popular cultural form, it can also be a consciousness-raising, politically progressive, and emancipating medium. My second point: Rap music is changing for the better. Many people do not realize that rap music is continuously destroying the negative stereotypes associated with it. Modern rap artists are trying their best to reconstruct the social function of rap music. Rap music has evolved from “gangsta” to “conscious.” Rap is “conscious” when it contains liberating meanings, when it decries violence, discrimination, and other illnesses in our society, and, when it is used as a political tool to express people’s resistance. 

The foreign and local music industries have produced remarkable conscious rappers throughout history. The likes of Tupac Shakur, Lauren Hill, Kendrick Lamar, GLOC-9, and Francis Magalona have left an influential mark on our consciousness by making rap music a platform of discourse for political issues such as corruption in the government, gender-based violence, racial discrimination, unemployment, and inequality. These rappers offered to address the plight of the marginalized and serve as the conduit of protest for the oppressed. 

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This was where I introduced BLKD to my online class. I wished to provide them with some insights about his work to make them appreciate his contribution. BLKD, unlike Andrew E., is an artist who dedicated his career to the noble advocacy of conscious rapping. By drawing inspiration from the poverty, powerlessness, and arbitrary injustices perpetuated by the Duterte administration through the “war on drugs,” BLKD, together with SANDATA, launched the album Kolateral, which chronicled the devastating effects of Duterte’s “shoot them dead” orders. 

Since I mentioned Duterte’s “war on drugs,” I asked my students this question: “Who are the easy target of Duterte’s drug war policy?” I did not wait for their answer. I answered my own question by saying, “The poor. The vulnerable. The marginalized. The voiceless. THE LOWER CLASS.” Therefore, the opinion of my student about rap music as the “music of the lower class” was technically correct.

My last point: Rap music is indeed the “music of the lower class” because it gave voice to the poor. It is a medium that the poor use in exposing the harsh realities which are evident in their immediate society, and in delivering their frustration towards policies that oppress them. Rap music is the “music of the lower class” because, as seen from Philippine history, the poor had turn to rap music to speak out their anger at policies that ruin the lives of their loved ones and that topple their inherent communities. – Rappler.com