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Rap: Modern Day Philosophy?

December 1, 2010

Is Wale the modern day Socrates? Maybe not entirely. However the up and coming rapper holds similar beliefs to the Socratic assertion that the unexamined life is not worth living. This is most easily identifiable in his freestyle “Aston Martin Music” in which he raps about his lifestyle that he has worked for and is grateful for. Perhaps the most telling line of the song comes in Wale’s first verse in which he sings, “life without dreamin’ is a life without meanin’.” It is easy to listen to a song and enjoy it without catching its message, but when examined one can see that Wale is actually delivering a philosophical message.  In fact the introduction of the same song opens with more, similar thoughts:

In life, I think our aspirations should guide us
Even if there’s thing we could never provide or
Be beside, Lord, just give the right to desire or admire such
The finer things you know
To dream is to live life’s full potential
So whatever I’m into, I get it in too.

Through the rap industry Wale, and other rappers, are able to spread their beliefs. It is incredibly difficult for the average person to legitimately get a message out to the people, however artists who want to spread a message are able to use their musical and lyrical talents to gain a nation wide, or even worldwide audience whom will listen.

Another artist who portrays a message in his lyrics is Trey Songz. On his newest mixtape Trey sings his “Triggamix” version of “Runaway.” The message he portrays is that life is to be appreciated, whether someone is a multimillionaire rapper living a lavish life like he is, or an average person with an “average” life. He sings:

Momma said there will be better days
But when better days came
I knew there were better thangs
I hated me, you telling me this is everything
Now quit playing man where’s everything?
The women are amazing, the liquors always tasteful, the party off the chain
But emptiness remains,

Tell me where’s the love that I’m missing?
From every day kitchen, or a girl thats really down cause I know she’s been around
I feel like something wrong, but everything’s right
Hand quotes in the air read left right
I ain’t trying to b-tch I’m living the blessed life
Would I trade it in? Motherf-cker, yeah right.

Trey tries to bring people to the realization that not everything is positive about his life. He is missing out on a home in which he can return to at the end of the day to a loving family. Trey’s philosophical message is that the average person has things that they take for granted. That, yes, being famous is great, but so is living a “normal” life. This song will be listened to by millions of people, as will Trey’s message. Again, because he has gained an audience through his talents, Trey is able to spread his thoughts. In fact, Trey actually compares himself to Socrates at the end of the song, saying that people listen to him speak the truth.

Wale and Trey Songz are just two of many examples of rappers who use their songs to portray a philosophical message. Others, such as Lupe Fiasco and the ever colorful Kanye West are two others who like to speak their minds and ideas in their lyrics. Will rappers be known as the philosophers of our time? Who knows. Like many they have a message, but unlike many they have an audience who will always listen.

  1. Sara Mitchell permalink
    December 1, 2010 10:34 PM

    I really enjoyed this post because of the great references to the lyrics. I completely agree that the lyrics directly relate to Socrates’ message that an unexamined life is not worth living. Both Wale and Trey deliver messages about how life needs to be appreciated and not taken for granted. It becomes too easy for people to get caught up in the drama of daily life that they don’t stop for a minute and think about what they have and how lucky they are to have what they have. Both sets of lyrics contain philosophical messages that people can really take in and learn from. If rap music didn’t have so many sexual references and offensive language, I think rappers would become the philosophers of our time. Because of the explicit content, I don’t think someone like Kanye West will become known as a philosopher. However, I guess anything is possible in this day and age.

  2. Andrew Clark permalink
    December 2, 2010 12:08 AM

    I like what you have to say! Your message is even more true when you delve further into the underground scene – Saul Williams, Atmosphere, Eyedea & Abilities all put great hits while writing poetry about trials, tribulations and life. Their message takes a lot of getting into – but it certainly can tap into a lot of what political theorists have to say!

  3. mikeking0717 permalink
    December 2, 2010 3:25 AM

    I think Mill would also appreciate this. These rappers are getting out a message has the potential to invoke philosophically meaningful thought. The concepts of glorifying extreme aspirations and taking the time to appreciate what we have may be two different societal ideals, but society can use them to strengthen itself.

  4. Jorge Rodriguez-Larrain permalink
    December 2, 2010 3:23 PM

    Great post! A lot of music hold deep philosophical lyrics. Music is a form of art but of expression as well. I enjoyed the fact that you provide the lyrics and a connection to the specific political ideal. It is important to notice this, because many times the lyrics in music are overlooked, but in fact they are ideas, many times very important ones.

  5. Max Miller permalink
    December 2, 2010 5:00 PM

    I think you bring up an interesting point here, but I think its a little misguided. First off, I’m a hip-hop fanatic, and while I think a lot of newer artists are ruining rap with auto-tune and poorly produced beats, I think the biggest crime is rappers who preach the philosophy that you brought up. Let’s look at Drake for example. In “I wanna be successful” Drake continuously reprises the line, “I just wanna be, I just wanna be successful.” Wow, Drake, that’s quite a revelation. Beyond that he almost says nothing. How can we compare this, the shallowest of lines to the likes of socrates and other great philosophers. And messages like this are seen everywhere in today’s hip-hop, although usually (read: hopefully) they are carried out with a little more creativity and poetry.
    If you really want to hear something other than a repackaged rags to riches story, you have to look a little lower, into the underground, or in the past. Artists like De La Soul, and Blue Scholars don’t rap about making money or their tortured pasts, they rap about changes they want to see in the world, and how to make society better. But beyond this digression I have to admit, when it comes to down it, I don’t want to hear a message in my rap. I want to hear some creative rhymes and wordplay, an original beat, and good production quality. To me personally, the message is secondary and I think thats true of most artists as well. I think rappers, and most musicians for that matter, should be taken for what they are – entertainers. Likening them to philosophers in nothing be disrespectful to philosophers.

  6. mbhilton permalink
    December 2, 2010 5:23 PM

    I have to say that I’m glad someone else actually listens to the songs they hear. There are many times when I’ll change the radio when a song with poor lyrics comes on. No matter how good the beat or rhythm is I don’t want to listen to a song about shooting people in the face. And as others have said, while some of these artists can be a bit colorful with their language, their overall message actually has a meaning if you will just listen

  7. emilywiho permalink
    December 2, 2010 6:46 PM

    I certainly agree with you that the media is a way that people use to express their philosophy. Just like movies, music is also a medium that is used. Although nowadays we usually associate popular music with song with catchy beats, or about love stories, there are still many artists out their who talk about their views. I would say that this is not only seen through rap, but also other genres. For example, Jason Mraz’ “Live High” shows his views on life:

    I try to picture a girl
    Through a looking glass
    See her as a carbon atom
    See her eyes and stare back at them
    See that girl
    As her own new world
    Though a home is on the surface, she is still a universe

    Glory God, oh God is peeking through the blinds
    Are we all here standing naked
    Taking guesses at the actual date and time
    Oh my, justifying reasons why
    Is an absolutely insane resolution to live by

    Live high
    Live mighty
    Live righteously
    Taking it easy
    Live high, live mighty
    Live righteously

    Try to picture the man
    To always have an open hand
    See him as a giving tree
    See him as matter
    Matter fact he’s not a beast
    No not the devil either
    Always a good deed doer
    And it’s laughter that we’re making after all

    The call of the wild is still an ordination why
    And the order of the primates
    All our politics are too late
    Oh my, the congregation in my mind
    Is this assembly singing gratitude
    Practicing their loving for you

    Just take it easy
    And celebrate the malleable reality
    Nothing is ever as it seems
    This life is but a dream

  8. jaclburr permalink
    December 5, 2010 1:08 PM

    I definitely think rap, as well as music in general, can be regarded as modern philosophy, especially for younger people. Music is easy to listen to and understand. These rappers often just make songs that may seem trivial, but at times, songs have a much deeper meaning. People are heavily influenced by these songs, and sometimes they can bring about changes of mind and society.

  9. Mycki Kujacznski permalink
    December 5, 2010 4:29 PM

    I definitely agree with you that there are a lot of rappers who use their songs to portray a philosophical message. I think one good example of a rapper that does that is Tupac. Unlike many modern rappers, a lot of songs such as “Changes” and “Dear Mama” portray positive messages. When you said that about some rappers having the same belief as Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living, it made me think of these couple lines from “Changes.”

    I see no changes, wake up in the morning and I asked myself
    Is life worth livin, should I blast myself?

    • dylstop permalink
      December 5, 2010 11:12 PM

      Also its cool to think that maybe songs like these did aid in change. If you remember in that song, when referring to things that are wrong in society, Tupac says that we as a nation are not ready for a colored president, and look how far we have come since then.

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