3 Rappers Who Profit from Positivity and Authenticity
Conceived in the club and raised in the streets, rap has always been a protest against whitewashing and political correctness. Over the years, the genre has been in a near-constant state of flux, with content ranging from violent battle cries and blinged out boastings to introspective musings. But throughout this evolution, one underlying theme has always anchored the genre: the interplay of power and masculinity. Life is a battle for the top. Only the strong survive. In a culture of shock and awe, vulnerability was the only taboo.
But rap does not exist in a vacuum, and the world we inhabit has changed drastically in just the last few years. As audiences, we are increasingly connected, informed, and conscious of a vast range of intersecting social and cultural issues. The elite within today’s rap scene are taking note. Three artists in particular, all who have very different brands and audiences, are replacing the old-school subject matter with demonstrations of vulnerability, inclusion, and positivity — reaping industry recognition and financial rewards in the process.
The release of Jay Z’s 4:44 was his first studio album in 4 years, and quite possibly his most personal album ever. The world was shocked by the marital details and themes exposed in Beyonce’s 2016 album Lemonade, but no one expected such a response from the untouchable supreme hustler that has led a career with the mantra, “I will not lose.”
The song “4:44” is the “crux” of the album, and in Jay’s opinion “one of the best songs I’ve ever written.” An open letter to Beyonce, the song apologizes for his failures as a husband and partner, his past disrespect of women, and possible acts of infidelity. The lyrics even go so far as to admit that the couple suffered multiple miscarriages while trying to conceive, and to reference their newborn twins, which wasn’t officially confirmed by Beyonce or Jay Z before the song’s release. No I.D., the sole producer of the song, said “He recorded it at his house with nobody around—on Beyoncé’s mic.”
For a man who canceled the release of a memoir because it revealed “too much,” this album was personal. It let audiences in to the vulnerable and authentic side of Jigga that has never been unveiled in such detail. The record was a huge success, going platinum in less than a week.
Tyler the Creator
When you talk about controversy in music, Tyler The Creator’s name pops up almost instantly. From being arrested for inciting a riot at South by Southwest, to responding to criticism of his lyrics by pop stars Tegan and Sara by tweeting, “If Tegan and Sara need some hard d#$%, hit me up!” Tyler The Creator has been said to be an even more controversial rap figure than Eminem.
Fans were thoroughly shocked when the rapper released his new album Flower Boy in July 2017. Taking a near 180° turn, Tyler successfully ditched the marginalizing, homophobic, and misogynistic themes that have been so central to his brand. Instead, the album’s content was a self re-evaluation of the deepest and most honest pieces of Tyler, and it let fans closer than they had ever been before.
The project moved 106,000 copies in the first week and hit #2 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, making it the highest charting debut of Tyler’s career.
Logic, the rapid-fire rapper whose mantra is “peace, love and positivity,” has always made authenticity a significant aspect of who he is as an artist — not just a rags to riches rapper with a past riddled with violence and drugs, but also a nerdy sci-fi buff who can solve a Rubik’s cube faster than most of us can say Rubik’s cube.
“Logic has a very brave, courageous honesty and integrity that surrounds everything he does. He has an amazing connection with his fans. Sometimes the exclusivity of that relationship between fan and artist is just as important as ‘mainstream success.’ There’s a very intense consumer response,” said Def Jam Recordings CEO Steve Bartels.
“1–800–273–8255” is one of two singles from his latest album Everybody, and was named after the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. The touching song spreads awareness of depression and suicide, and shares the message that everyone deserves to live.
When explaining the purpose behind the song, Logic told Genius, “[Fans would say] things like, ‘Your music has saved my life. You’ve saved my life.’ And — I was like, ‘Man I wasn’t even trying to save nobody’s life.’ And then it hit me, the power that I have as an artist with a voice. I wasn’t even trying to save your life. Now, what can happen if I actually did?”
On the day Logic released “1–800–273–8255,” the National Suicide Prevention Hotline reported that its call volume increased by 27%, and online searches have remained at a new baseline: 25% higher than before. After Logic performed the song at the 2017 VMAs, it was reported that calls to the Suicide Prevention hotline shot up by 50%.
“Everybody” hit #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, a first for the Maryland-born rapper, and had the highest first-week sales of any of his prior releases.
“I think [my fans] buy my albums because they want me to be successful and they want me to be a voice. Maybe they feel I represent their voice,” Logic told the LA Times.
The success of artists who’ve shifted toward vulnerable self-awareness and inclusive positivity shows a lot about audiences today. When Michael Jackson sang “I’m bad,” it translated to “I’m cool” because of its non-conformist tone and disregard for the rules. It was all about “me.” Now, Kendrick Lamar raps, “Be humble,” but is praised with similar enthusiasm and attention.
The internet and social media have forced inconvenient truths of our not-so-modern society into the spotlight. A younger generation is pushing against the malicious and invisible foundations of traditional structures. More and more however, the tools of their resistance are understanding and acceptance, positivity and support. Through a hard reckoning, this generation has chosen the messages and issues they want to see reflected: it’s more about “we” than “me.”
The primitive appeal of controversy and posturing won’t disappear from rap music, or American culture, overnight. But increasingly, the voices that succeed with this new audience will be those who project a strong, unifying sense of purpose behind their efforts.