From humble roots in the South Bronx in the late 1970s to dominating as the United States' most consumed genre in 2018, hip hop as a culture continues to evolve at an exponential and unprecedented rate.
As exemplified by the charts, the timeline, the onslaught of new releases and whichever other cultural barometer of ones choosing makes sense; 2018 was a banner year for rap. However, as we look to tie the year into a nice, neat bow and reflect on the hundreds of releases that shaped the narrative before welcoming 2019 with an open mind; it is also worth noting that hip hop is approaching a crossroads. One where old tendencies are being challenged and cyclical perspectives are being interrupted.
As Tarana Burke's #MeToo Movement became amplified with support from Hollywood and rose to the forefront of a national conversation surrounding accountability when it comes to taking sexual misconduct allegations seriously, countless have wondered aloud if, when and how such a call-to-action will successfully infiltrate the music industry, specifically hip hop. Unfortunately, such a thought feels increasingly distant from reality. A handful of complicated factors contribute to how such a battle is overwhelmingly uphill and dishearteningly far from reach. But, we must find a way to push through.
For the most part, hip hop has remained grossly unaffected by the #MeToo Movement. From rampant misogyny being ingrained in every facet of the industry to accused abusers thriving amidst allegations -- let alone being held to task for them -- hip hop at large continues to turn a bewilderingly infuriating blind eye to the multilayered work surrounding, acknowledging and validating claims of sexual harassment; assault and abuse, as well as to examining the process of restorative justice and how to improve as a society moving forward.
While it is much easier to scrutinize hip hop's missing willingness to participate in a reckoning movement such as #MeToo than it is to provide effective entry-level solutions, the problems are not going away anytime soon. Therefore, in 2019, the work must continue. The same can also be said when it comes to artists opening up about their mental health -- something we've seen an influx of in this past year, as well as spending time in their communities to advocate for positive, tangible change.
With an optimistic eye on 2019, let's take a look at three ways hip hop can, should and hopefully will continue to evolve as it enters its 46th year.
Rap has long been censored for its explicit content, hardened images, and derogatory language towards women, references of drugs and violence. Other topics have also presented supporters of the genre with varying degrees of internal conflict, especially for female fans. In 2018, we saw rappers such as Fabolous and Nas be publicly accused of domestic violence with the Brooklyn rapper being indicted on four felony charges of domestic violence, possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes and two counts of making terroristic threats.
While Fab's criminal case will move forward and go to trial, Nas, on the other hand, merely addressed the allegations in a series of posts on Instagram, explaining how it would be "the first and last time" he'd be talking about the situation. He referred to the claims as being a "sad fictitious story," going on to allude that Kelis fabricated the allegations of "mental and physical abuse." Much like Nas' note, that was pretty much the last we heard about the tension between the formerly married couple. Nas went on to release his Kanye West-produced Nasir album, promote the project without resistance and continue onward. Business as usual.
2018 saw artists such as XXXTentacion, 6ix9ine and Kodak Black dominate the airwaves and streaming platforms, alike; despite making headlines for accusations of sexual abuse. XXXTentacion's tragic murder forced fans to question what his legacy should be, while multiple facts remain. Yes, he was a talented artist whose life was taken at the hands of gun violence and yes, he was facing very serious charges of aggravated battery against a pregnant woman and domestic battery by strangulation, among other charges. The duality behind his divisiveness forces fans to evaluate their own moral compasses, something that many just pushed to the side because it is easier to make the dated "keep the art separate from the artist" argument.
Each of these instances remind us that when it comes to accountability, hip hop can and should do better. From Russell Simmons taking the accusations against him seriously, while also denying all claims and stepping down from his businesses in an attempt to be respectful to the #MeToo Movement's purpose, to Kool A.D. -- formerly of Das Racist -- issuing a series of statements that address allegations of sexual assault while acknowledging his wrongdoing; it is possible that hip hop can begin to do the necessary work. While none of these examples are linear or perfect when it comes to addressing allegations of sexual assault or misconduct, these two men are a minuscule but important part of what it will take for hip hop to begin to change the direction of its narrative.
MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS
This year also saw an increase in celebrities using their platforms and their art to de-stigmatize mental health. This is a topic of discussion that must carry over into the new year, as countless artists are beginning to see the importance of reinforcing the notion that the subject simply cannot afford to be swept under the rug for any longer. There is a constant pressure on people in society, particularly those belonging to minority communities, to keep quiet about what they are going through and this perpetuated notion is beginning to be immensely deconstructed.
It is refreshing to see artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Logic, Kid Cudi, Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, J. Cole, and JAY-Z, among countless others, vocalizing their own struggles with mental health -- from their music to their messaging. However, as Kanye West is reminding us nearly daily on Twitter, the topic is one that must be treaded upon lightly. While he has emerged as one of the most vocal advocacies of mental health awareness in recent memory, his attempts to break the stigmas surrounding the subject are being overshadowed by his relationship with disparity. From being diagnosed with bipolar disorder to subconsciously encouraging others to go off their meds to rebuking his own diagnosis, many feel as though the rapper is weaponizing his mental health in a way that is as dangerous as it is problematic.
Hopefully in the new year, hip hop's leading influencers will find a balance between cultivating a safe environment for there to be a comprehensive discussion about mental health and still remaining transparent about what it is they are going through. Considering 1 in 5 adults in the United States suffer from mental illness, hip hop's conscious shift to open up about the topic is one to be applauded and encouraged.
This year saw the need for communities to band together more than ever. From our current political climate to our nation being plagued by gun violence, police brutality, social injustice and other heartbreaking realities; the time to join forces to make a positive impact has never been greater. Hip hop artists across the board stepped up this year in monumental ways, a trend that has hopefully become a cornerstone of the culture. After all, like Master P said, "We all we got."
To highlight a brief handful of impactful examples, artists gave back in major ways this year, ranging from education initiatives to activism efforts. Rihanna, JAY-Z and Beyoncé have each used their platforms to fundraise actions and influence making a difference; call on the global community to support women's rights, increase access to education and fight HIV/AIDs through their efforts with Global Citizen. From Akon helping to provide electricity to over 600 million people in Africa, French Montana and Lil Jon opening up schools in Morocco and Ghana, respectively, and Sean "Diddy" Combs pledging $1 million to Capital Preparatory Schools; education has become a major focus for philanthropy with these artists dedicated to setting up the next generation to succeed as best as they can.
Notably, Drake turned the budget for his "God's Plan" video shoot into an opportunity to donate $1 million to various causes in Florida, ranging from donating to a local homeless shelter to surprising students at the University of Miami. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper continued to step up to the plate, orchestrating various charitable efforts that ranged from Vic Mensa's SaveMoneySaveLife non-profit to Chance's work through his youth empowerment organization, SocialWorks.
Back on the east coast, Meek Mill has been tirelessly working to fight for prison reform, advocating on behalf of those unfairly caught up in the system. His impassioned purpose to use his platform to call attention to the atrocities millions face when it comes up to the criminal justice system has been nothing short of inspiring and commendable. His ability to draw from his own story to resonate with others and offer informed solutions to those in power has helped him to become a voice of our generation.
While there have been ample ways artists have given back to their communities this year, the need to keep doing so is one area in which hip hop can continue to lead the way and inspire others to get involved.