Check the Lyrics: Not Just the Beat
Check the Lyrics: Not Just the BeatBy AKIL PARKER
As a high school teacher in Philadelphia, upon observing my students listening to music on their various electronic devices, I would query, “What is that rapper teaching you right now?” My students would often look perplexed and baffled by the question as they consider the music to only be a leisurely escape from reality or pure entertainment and not an entire curriculum in and of itself. The commercial rap music that the youth are fed by the corporate power structure provides a blueprint, a worldview, a system of ethics and values for them to follow without them even realizing it. The fact that most do not even realize what it is providing them is what makes it so insidious. This circumstance also places the uncritical listener at the mercy of those who control the music distribution and its content. When I say “check the lyrics” I am applying the type of approach that health-conscious eaters apply in doing their due diligence and being critical consumers of food they digest. Similarly for their health and survival, our youth need to apply the same approach to the music that they digest on a regular basis. Commercial rap music specifically needs to be critically analyzed and responsible elders need to teach the youth how to do this critical analysis for themselves. As a community, we should promote the idea of confronting this music instead of censoring the music. When not at censorship, we cannot guarantee that our children are not exposed to the music because as parents we have no control over what they are consuming when not under our direct supervision.
By confronting this music head-on, we will be able to expose it for the neocolonial propaganda that it is and raise contradictions within the music so the youth themselves will ultimately be less attracted to it. The commercial rap music is neocolonial propaganda which serves a political purpose of maintaining western imperialism and euro-centrism at the expense of African youth on the continent and throughout the Diaspora. We need only examine the lyrics line by line and word for word in order to confirm this. The practice of misogyny and misandry which keeps African men and women disunited are normalized within the music; thus aiding in neocolonialism's longevity. Hyperconsumerism and the promotion of luxury brands as a vehicle of European nationalism is also heavily promoted and detrimental to our people as this fuels the neo-colonialism that we suffer from in all aspects of our existence. And the deleterious aspects are not limited to these. While analyzing the commercial rap music, we can use it as a means to provide the youth with more appropriate exemplars and role models that are liberatory and life-affirming as opposed to those African caricatures mimicking Eurocentric values they are fed by the music industry as exemplars.
There are many teachable moments such as this that we should take more advantage of. For the sake of our youth and our larger community, we must begin to check the lyrics so we will know what we are up against
“Akil Parker is an adjunct professor in the education department at LaSalle University, writer, speaker, founder of All This Math, LLC and a father of three children."