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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Hip-Pop

 

Rappers and lyricists

 

Although I can’t recall the specific details, I remember once hearing an interview that addressed newer rappers versus old school hip hop (often stylized as “hip-hop”) lyricists. The general consensus among many people is that modern rappers lack lyricism.

 

To understand this critique, one may need to know the distinction between rappers and lyricists. A rapper is merely a person who performs rap music. As an example, from my perspective, hip hop artist Drake is a rapper.

 

He’s quite famous, draws large crowds, is skillful with punchlines, and Drake undoubtedly can rap. Whether or not most rap fans appreciate his artistry, Drake is a competent rapper by my subjective standard.

 

Then there are lyricists who also rap though whose rhyme schemes are more complex, their subject matter has more depth, and their legacy as masterful wordsmiths may be studied by hip hop culture aficionados worldwide. As an example, I consider hip hop artist Yasiin Bey (also known as Mos Def) to be a lyricist.

 

I once saw him perform live in San Diego, California and Bey conducted a freestyle about the Global War on Terror. For what seemed like 10 minutes of a meaningful critique on the sociopolitical ramifications related to meddling in the affairs of other nations, it was truly a unique experience about which I contemplated for days afterwards.

 

Although it may be tempting to surmise that rhyming one word with another gives credence to any person who merely identifies as a lyricist to claim this title, matters aren’t that simple. Addressing this issue, one source deconstructs rhyme patterns to where even the untrained individual can understand the complexity of lyricism.

 

Depending on whom one asks there are many subjective interpretations about what constitutes a hip hop rapper, lyricist, emcee (MC), poet, or artist. This was essentially the point of the aforementioned interview from years ago.

 

A hip, hop, the hippie to the hip hip hop-a

 

In the aforementioned interview, a popular old school rap artist was asked about what he thought of SoundCloud rappers, mumble rappers, drill rappers, and others who aren’t particularly skillful with lyrical delivery. His answer surprised me, because I’d not previously thought of his perspective.

 

He noted that The Sugarhill Gang produced the first rap single to become a top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 list with “Rapper’s Delight” (1979). The interviewed rapper reminded me that lyrics to the song included:

 

I said-a hip, hop, the hippie, the hippie

To the hip hip hop-a you don’t stop the rock

It to the bang-bang boogie, say up jump the boogie

To the rhythm of the boogie, the beat

 

Those weren’t particularly meaningful lyrics, though they’re part of hip hop history. I recall frequently listening to the song as a child and it didn’t matter to me that “Rapper’s Delight” wasn’t worth deep contemplation.

 

The interviewed rapper said that the same may be said of newer rappers who may not be broadly perceived as skillful in rhyme complexity or delivery. I don’t disagree.

 

Of course, members of hip hop culture—and I’m not speaking of the tourists who visit for the musical aspect while going through a phase in life—have always been fractured into diverse factions. Old school versus new school, male rappers on one hand and female rappers on the other, and so forth and so on.

 

Yasiin Bey bodied Drake

 

Recently, I was reminded of division within the culture to which I’ve belonged since a child when Yasiin Bey appeared on The Cutting Room Floor podcast and stated of Drake:

 

“Drake is pop to me,” “In the sense like, if I was at Target in Houston, and I heard a Drake song, so it feels like a lot of his music is compatible with shopping,” and, “Buying and selling, where’s the message that I can use? You know? What’s in it for your audience, apart from being, like banging the pompoms?”

 

Make no mistake about it, dear reader, this was no sneak diss. Bey bodied Drake in the interview. Not only was Drake classified as a rapper by a lyricist, Bey invoked the division between hip-hop and hip-pop.

 

Hip-hop versus hip-pop—an REBT examination

 

On their album Masters of the Universe (2000), hip hop duo Binary Star—consisting of lyricists Senim Silla and One Be Lo—featured a song called “Honest Expression.” It outlined a compelling case for a separation between hip-hop and hip-pop, as the interlude states:

 

You got hip-hop, then you got hip-pop

Hip-pop? (hip-pop)

Alright, (but a lot of cats want pop)

Yes (know what I’m sayin’)

It used to be real hip

You got the top 40 version of hip-hop

 

The outline for separate categories is established in the interlude. Per “Honest Expression,” there are rappers who perform top 40 pop music (hip-pop)—for which Drake presumably qualifies—and then there are lyricists and others who appeal to hip-hop as a culture. One Be Lo concludes:

 

How many cats you know speak the ill-legit rhyme after rhyme, diligent?

85 percent represent ignorant

Either you innocent or guilty

Some of my favorite emcees fell off

It damn near killed me

Looking at the kids that was true hip-hop

Nowadays, them cats don’t even do hip-hop

Rap got ‘em brainwashed with cats that don’t last

And five minutes of fame, that’s when it’s a shame

Seeing real emcees trying to imitate rappers

If you ask me, they going out ass backwards

Trading in respect to push a fat Lex

Puff rhyming on the remix, what’s next?

It hurts so bad, I wanna smack ‘em

My favorite crew members break up, turn around and join whack ones

This is dedicated to you hip-hop hypocrites

Driving whack songs like you don’t give a shit

I ain’t got nothing against nobody trying to make a decent living

It ain’t the money that’s the issue

Only if that’s the reason why these cats are making decent music

That’s when I got beef with you

And I’ma break it to you like never

Go ahead, call me player hater if it make you feel better

Try to jump my crew if you cats feel froggy

You need to wake up and smell the damn coffee

 

Examining One Be Lo’s lyrics through the lens of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), a few lines stand out. First, the lyricist states that the overwhelming majority of rap artists represent ignorance and he declares, “Either you[’re] innocent or guilty” of this claim.

 

Framing an argument in either-or terms represents a false dichotomy—an informal fallacy based on a premise that erroneously limits what options are available. When such limitation is imposed, the mind divides people into moralistic categories of good, bad, right, wrong, etc.

 

Lacking nuance, the mind then forms irrational beliefs regarding these rigidly divided categories. Based on his false dichotomous framing, One Be Lo concluded that “it damn near killed” him to witness some of his favorite emcees transfer from hip-hop to hip-pop.

 

In relation to REBT, the lyricist used low frustration tolerance (LFT) to reach his conclusion. Saying something like, “I can’t stand to see my favorite MC go pop,” is an example of this self-disturbing mechanism.

 

An antidote to upsetting oneself in such a manner is unconditional other-acceptance (UOA). One Be Lo could rationally reason, “Although I’d prefer that my favorite rap artists would adhere to hip-hop cultural norms, people sell out all the time and I refuse to upset myself over the behavior of others.”

 

Next, One Be Lo admits, “It hurts so bad, I wanna smack ‘em,” when his beloved hip-hop group members split up and join hip-pop collectives. LFT is present within this admission and UOA could be used to resolve the lyricist’s unpleasant response to his self-disturbing belief.

 

Still, his inflexible Belief-Consequence (B-C) connection is worth examining a little further. REBT uses the ABC Model to demonstrate that when an Activating event occurs, we Believe something unproductive about it, and our assumption is what results in an unpleasant Consequence.

 

As an example, suppose One Be Lo observes his favorite lyricist abandon hip-hop and begin performing with a pop music star in a commercial for credit cards (Action). Witnessing this event isn’t what results in hurt emotions and wanting to slap someone, forming an Action-Consequence (A-C) connection.

 

Rather, when One Be Lo sees the hip-pop crossover (Action), he Believes, “Real hip-hop artists shouldn’t sell out,” and because of this uncompromising assumption he becomes angry, feels his arms going numb, and wants to slap his favorite emcee (Consequence).

 

REBT advocates Disputation of unhelpful assumptions so that people can use more Effective new beliefs. As a formula, this process is:

 

Action + Belief  = Consequence ÷ Disputation = Effective new belief

 

or

 

A+B=C÷D=E

 

Lastly, One Be Lo announces, “I got beef with you,” concerning those artists who’ve transitioned from hip-hop to hip-pop. Underlying his grudge is the statement, “You need to wake up and smell the damn coffee.”

 

Here, the phrase “need to” is a form of demandingness. Like use of LFT, rigid beliefs taking the form of should, must, or ought-type statements are pillars of irrationality used by an inflexible mind.

 

Just as UOA could benefit One Be Lo with his false dichotomy framework, unconditionally accepting that other people are fallible human beings may help him to let go of an unnecessary grudge. “Unconditional” means that petty exceptions aren’t needed.

 

For instance, if the lyricist were to conclude, “I’ll accept emcees only if they never crossover,” this exception to UOA would defeat the purpose of tolerance and acceptance. Therefore, he could reason, “People are free to make the choices they want in hip-hop, even though I may disagree with their decisions.”

 

Conclusion

 

As far as I know, I’m the world’s first and foremost hip hop REBT psychotherapist. For the majority of my life, I’ve subscribed to the culture of hip hop and have dabbled in breakdancing, rapping, DJing, graffiti, and beatboxing—all five original elements of the culture.

 

Despite my old school hip hop allegiance, I enjoy unskilled rappers and hip-pop alike. This is because I reject the no true Scotsman fallacy of hip hop—declaring that no true hip-hop aficionado would appreciate anything other than lyricists.

 

Years ago, I heard an interview with a rapper who reminded me that in its inception rap wasn’t particularly eloquent or sophisticated. “Rapper’s Delight” wasn’t performed by lyricists, in my humble opinion.

 

Nevertheless, recent Yasiin Bey and Drake controversy reminded me of the cultural divisions within hip hop. More specifically, I recalled the difference between hip-hop and hip-pop, as outlined by Binary Star.

 

Examining this distinction through the lens of REBT, I’ve concluded that the irrationality of cultural purists isn’t entirely helpful. Therefore, to keep from disturbing oneself over petty differences, the ABC Model and unconditional other-acceptance may be used.

 

Ultimately, I embrace new and old hip-hop, syrupy sweet hip-pop, and rappers and lyricists alike. There’s value in diversity of the culture to which I belong. Besides, lyricist duo Dead Prez accurately stated in their song “Hip Hop,” “It’s bigger than hip hop!”

 

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

 

As the world’s foremost old school hip hop REBT psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

 

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

 

 

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW

 

 

References:

 

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