A couple months ago back in 2017, Post Malone talked about how he doesn’t think hip hop is “deep.” He said “If you’re looking to think about life, don’t listen to hip hop.” This seemed pretty extreme given that the genre Post Malone is in is hip hop and the genre that has given him his fame and fortune is hip hop. A little while after, Nicki Minaj took to Instagram with a now deleted post of the current most popular songs on the charts. A large portion of them were hip hop songs from white rappers. Nicki Minaj went on to say: “It’s a great time to be a white rapper in America huh?”
Since these incidents, and even earlier back a couple years ago when Iggy Azalea was topping the charts with songs like “Fancy,” many have been talking about white rappers and whether or not they belong in the hip hop world. So the question is, what is white people’s place in hip hop?
To start off, white rappers have existed in every decade of hip hop since the beginning. In the 80’s you had Beastie Boys, 3rd Bass, Steinski, and Rick Rubin. Of course Vanilla Ice as well. In the 90’s there was House of Pain and Aesop Rock (who still makes music today). Going into the 2000’s you had El-P, The Streets from the UK, and of course Eminem. Eminem was the best selling artist of the 2000’s and he did it as a white rapper. Nowadays in the 2010’s we’ve gone through a number of different white rappers. Iggy Azalea, Macklemore, and Mac Miller are certainly some of the most popular. Nowadays you also see other non black people of color trying to find a place in hip hop with artists like Keith Ape, Rich Brian (formerly known as Rich Ch****), and Dumbfoundead to name a few.
The other thing to keep in mind is how much hip hop has grown since its beginning. When it first started it certainly wasn’t obscure but it definitely isn’t the huge powerhouse of the music industry that we see today. Hip hop is now considered the most popular genre of music of today and it has expanded to other parts of the world. You hear artists rapping in different languages in different countries nowadays. At this point, if someone hears an artist rhythmically rhyming a series of word together over an instrumental, most people are going to label that in their brains immediately as hip hop music.
So what’s the problem? Why do white rappers get so much hate? Shouldn’t it be about the music? If a person is talented should the fact that they’re white matter?
The short answer is yes, white rappers should be looked at with a certain scrutiny when it comes to coming into the hip hop genre. The reality is that hip hop as a music genre was created by black people for black people. Even today, black artists are still the majority in hip hop and have a lot more influence on the culture than any white rapper. A lot of hip hop’s birth owes itself to the fact that a lot of black people were frustrated and upset over the condition of living as a black person in America. Years of slavery followed by Jim Crow and segregation has created long lasting effects. This systemic racism is not a thing of the past, as we can see with the large number of police brutality incidents on black people.
Historically speaking, a lot of hip hop’s most iconic, most important, and most necessary albums and artists are ones that talk about these issues. Not every hip hop album from the 80’s, 90’s, and 2000’s talked about social issues but a significant portion of them did. Nas, Notorious BIG, Tupac, Outkast, N.W.A., and others all made hip hop music that was political in some way. The message of hip hop and the story of hip hop is a kind of grassroots movement. You can view these black artists making hip hop music in its early days as a kind of activism. This is why the culture of hip hop and the music of hip hop is so inseparable.
The reality is that if you are a white person, you have not experienced the same things that many black people have. You don’t have to worry about the police the same way black people have to. You and the people of your race that came before you were on top, you’re “struggle” comes from a very different context. So one of the important things to note if you are a white rapper, is that you need to realize and accept this. You aren’t the culture, you aren’t what made it great, and you need to come at hip hop from a very different angle. You need to take your influences and genuinely make the art you want to make instead of copying the black artists that have made the genre what it is today.
A lot of what Post Malone does and what Iggy Azalea has done has been to copy and rip off important artists from hip hop in order for them to get sales. There was a lot of controversy when people learned about what Iggy Azalea actually sounds like and discovered that she puts on a voice when she raps, which was labeled a “blaccent.” This is another problem with white rappers. In the hip hop genre, more than any other music genre, authenticity is extremely important. Fans and artists alike get into arguments when rappers lie about their experiences or use ghostwriters. When white rappers try to use the stereotypes of black artists and the tropes of hip hop, it makes it seem like they are trying to act, look, and sound black. A lot of times this tends to be the case because white artist and their producers/label know that this is what makes money.
I guess the most important thing to take away from this if you’re a white rapper or a white fan of hip hop is this: accept that a lot of this music wasn’t made for you and has a very important history, appreciate it for its differences, and do your own thing. Accept who you are and do what you want and quit trying to be something you’re not.