THE RAP MOVEMENT. A MORAL PERSPECTIVE.
Since 1994 heretofore, year 2020, I have been in one way or another linked to hip-hop, understood in a wide sense. When I and my friends were only thirteen years old, we started hearing rap music, painting graffiti and singing rap. It was great. In that time, hip-hop was, like today, one of the social fashions that captivate youngsters. I have been united to hip-hop besides, in a narrower way, because from 1997 and especially from 2003 I have frequently practiced break dance, which is considered one of the parts of hip-hop movement. Break dance has a long distance relationship with rap. Breakers use rap music for dancing, but also other music genders. Breakers usually know the rappers of their town, and vice versa. Graffiti artists share with rap and breaking also some kind of unity. I gave rap up circa the year 2002, but it has been for me a world in which, as part of hip-hop and my biography, I have meditated. I was never good in painting so my personal tour along graffiti depends on my knowledge of some graffiti artists, old friends of mine. The article speaks mainly about rap, because is something I left for reasons the reader will guess. What I will say today concerning rap probably does not fit everybody, but is attached to experience and to the reflection over it. A handful of the conclusions concerning rap can be applied, also, to the life that graffiti artists and breakers lead.
First of all, let me bring a general framework for the whole. Hip-hop movement, taken as a unity, can be classified in the art phenomenon or art production. Instrumental music, sang lyric, paint and dance are the four elemental components of hip-hop. To perform each of the four, you need creativity, skill and training, the same components that govern the art production. How many times I have heard that hip-hop is art! Art has a close relationship with aesthetic. Aesthetic is something, good by itself. In hip-hop, musical creation, rap lyrics, graffiti and dancing, exist real master works. However, the source of good and evil, of moral behavior depends on two components of the free action: the intention of the action, the finality for which the action is performed; and the object or the action per se. Only the action performed with good intention and that is good by its object, can be called morally valid. For instance: you can lie to say something beautiful. The intention, say something beautiful, is good, but the act by which you get it, the lie, is not. Morally, the outcome is a not valid action. Hip-hop and everything in life responds to the same criterium. What is your intention when you perform what you do? And what do you do to get what you want to? Only the actions with right intention and good moral object can be universalized.
The categorical imperative of Immanuel Kant (Act in a way that your action can be taken as a rule for all the other people) and the golden rule of Christ (Do others what you want others do with you) contain the same principle. The other actions, in which one of the two, intention or action per se fails, can’t be universalized as a moral criterium. Are ambiguous actions from an objective perspective: good in one sense, and simultaneously bad in another, good for one person or for one group, and bad for other person or for another group. If somebody thinks that intention justifies the medium or that the morality of an action depends on the opinion, he is over the subjective ground and no universal ethic can be constructed. Even if somebody proves that his behavior or understanding is unique, -something we can surely doubt-, his corporal nature, neurological, psychological and spiritual, is common to the rest of human beings.
The starting point in education is not the same as in friendship. When somebody depends on you, on your expected superior criteria, view or advice, be children or students, the proposal of unambiguous referents is a debt. Parents should know that rap is characterized by some good things, but that also, is from the beginning associated to risk behaviors and to a particular view of the life and of oneself. Rap music allows the expression of verbal creativity, no doubt, but at the same time, a not very elevate philosophy dominates the lettering of many rap groups because it is usually put under the service of a situational point of view and not under a universal ideal or model with universal validity. Rap reinforces the personality because it’s ethnocentric: “me and my group”, "my situation and my experience", is the message, or one of the mains of this kind of music. This is very attractive to youngsters, because their personality is not totally formed and they get strenght from the concrete situation they are living, and goes with the natural polarity between my group and the rest of the world symptomatic of adolescence and youth.
Explosive and radical messages like those present in rap music reinforce inner power, social control over small situations and imaginary victory against possible enemies. In the virtual dimension of the rhymes, rap gives security to the teen or young heart and allows you to criticize the world of the adults, expressing free opinions forbidden in other contexts. This is good in some size, but rap movement lacks by itself of the tools to control or interpret correctly, afterwards, the result of these possibilities. A rapper would modulate his previous opinions or positions in the process of maturity, but often the resources he need to do it are found outside the hip-hop movement. Rap can be seen as a virtual platform for criticize the wrong things of the world and to create a philosophy. However, due to its strong ethnocentrism, is usually unable to provide tools to save a person, even more a young.
Social status is created through rap. The way rappers dress, with caps in their heads, for example, fulfills the function of social status, not to talk about tattoos or hairstyles with which rappers wants to be recognized. Tattoos are not bad by itself, but depend of the ethic finality they are submitted to, and in some degree, to the symbol, drawing and message of the tattoo. Many social movements used tattoos for different purposes. Very often, rappers and others, express through tattoos an intense felling, bond to an experience of life. Tattoos must not be condemned, but is true that if your inner life is based on universal values, it has a better structure, is solid, and then you don’t need to return again and again to your felling or experience to get happiness, the assertion that what you lived continues to be a central aspect of your history or of the history of others, emotional security or social approval. Universal values judges your experience with the correct ruler.
Rap was born in a low social status that from unjustly conditions fought to be, to survive. Young people from lower or medium economic levels opened to a social change, can easily identify with its message. At first, rap adds a plus of sense, beheading the corrupted powers of this world, which must be reduced and criticize. But in relation with its ethnocentric component, rap is rarely prepared to construct a better world because in order to achieve that, the first thing that must be displaced is the ego, my or our group's perspective. A better world only can arise from a sacrifice, a lost that could enrich others. Rap is too centered, as other social movements are, in self-victory and in the defeat of the rest. Rap gives you the feeling that you are different, and sometimes more than you are, like it is continuously said in the rhymes, and that the antagonist groups and institutions of society have no more domain over you.
Perhaps, in addition to musical aesthetic, one of the best values of rap is the authenticity. Authenticity is the consequence of enduring in the good convictions, ideals and experiences. Is the antagonist attitude of hypocrisy. A rapper that is authentic for his own world is called real. One of the topics of rap lyrics is the disapproving of hypocrisy. Not seldom, the reproving of hypocrisy comes from a young heart that needs to be filled up. Behind a rapper can dwell an empty heart, a depth that can’t be filled with what the world gives, but neither with what rap gives. My conversion from rap was, precisely due to this fact. I was fond to experiences that couldn’t satisfy me. I returned home sad, empty with the things I procured me. In that time, I usually went to a green-shop to buy sport bars and powder, and saw at the distance a section of spiritual books. One day I decided to buy one, and then a second… that spoke about God, the origin of the cosmos, the sense of death, the afterlife, the truth, love, faith, hope, the words that opens you to universal values and to the highest experiences of humankind. I found this, and very soon I was able to see my emptiness, to connect and hear what the bottom of my heart was saying to me. Nobody forced me to this change. My eyes were opened and in some months I could end a conversation with a Christian without covering the light he freely desired to communicate me.
Lastly, rap is associated to alcohol, joints and sex. They are not exclusive of rap and it is not always or immediate that a rapper tries them, but parents or educators should remember rap is not precisely the better environment to protect minors or youngs if they consider they are not enough resistant "to say no" to the offers of an uncontrolled ambient. It is possible to improve some personality dimensions within rap, but this doesn’t mean the goal has been reached. If the rest of dimensions of the personality of a young are protected, secured, rap can be afforded with less risks. Nevertheless and in most cases, when the balance of the personality is broken for one reason or another, the bad elements that are mixed in rap are amplified. Here the same conclusion as before can be applied. Experience rules in rap, more than reflection, so adults and educators must be watching now and then the persons entrusted to them, more than provoking or supporting experiences with quite percentage of ambiguity.
Pictures: 1) the author; 2) moral development.
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