What Community Responsibilities Do Rappers Have?

Some rappers happen to be thoughtful, intelligent people. Every Monday or thereabouts, Rocks Off will have some of them here discussing issues relevant to their culture.

"Don't nobody care about how much your watch cost"

Knights-of-the-Rap-Table mar1.jpg
Photo illustration by John Seaborn Gray
This Week's Panel: Z-Ro, Paul Wall, Bun B, D-Risha, Delo, Renzo, Kyle Hubbard, John Dew, Lil Flip

Not Invited: James Franco. Because he's gotta win something, right?

This Week's Prompt: Hey, everyone. So here's one for you. This ended up in our inbox this week. It's a backhanded diss song aimed at Z-Ro called "Letter To Z-Ro" [Ed. Note: The video has since been removed from YouTube] and takes issue with him and his secular ways, pointing out perceived contradictions in his music.

Now, this is something that came up at the recent Bun B Rap/Religion discussion, so we'll just continue that discussion here.

Here's the question: How much responsibility does a rapper have to his community when he's making music? Let's say someone wants to write a song called "I Love Tits, Weed and Murder." Is he bound by any sort of moral restriction or obligation? Or is artistic expression free from that?

Z-Ro: It depends on that individual. True artists do it because they have love for their craft, and to take care of their family.

Paul Wall: Nobody's making diss songs about Ozzy Osborne or Metallica, so why Z-Ro? The King of the Ghetto does enough for our community by motivating us to be real and providing us with a soundtrack to our struggles. There is no moral obligation but to provide for your family and make the best music you can make.

Bun B: Not necessarily, but they had better be able to explain themselves when asked about them.

D-Risha: To answer this question best, I think it is a good choice to have morals in the music because the community that you represent will back you. But we (the artist) deal in free speech, so to be honest, it's up to the person. I'll give an example. You have a group like Odd Future, who pretty much says the first* thing that comes to mind, and they are doing well.

I like the music but I don't agree with all the subject matter. I really think they're gonna piss a lot of old folks off and I like that, because name an artist who has done it since Eminem? Then you have artists like the aforementioned Z-Ro. This guy speaks to the community, and I would say more than half of his success is due to that community, because I feel he directly speaks to them with every song that he creates.

*We would argue otherwise here. Everything Odd Future face Tyler, The Creator says seems like a shrewd, calculated move.

Renzo: My obligation to my community is to pay my taxes without jeopardizing their safety and try not to sleep with their wives. I don't owe my community an apology for creating a song. It's my personal experience that I decided to share with the people in the form of entertainment.

I would have no problem sitting down with my community and talking to them about the inspiration for my songs while receiving their honest feedback. However, the songs that I write are from my personal experiences so what would be the benefit of me asking permission to express myself or apologizing for having them.

People are multidimensional and when people can respect that, they'll go further in life. The guy who made the Z-Ro diss expressed himself, and now he can go back to finding a way to write a gospel song without so much anger in it that they have to silence 25 percent* of it. I applaud him for representing a population, but don't think any artist should be censored. To make it more blunt:

Songs don't fuck up a community, people who depend on everyone else to raise their kids, and turtlenecks, do.

*This is indeed a curious situation.

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"artist create an artificial reality within the world that they create," be it fiction or rap. Truth is truth, and art is a way to show truth which has not yet been observed. Sometimes characters are exaggerated to highlight one particular truth about a particular mindset. So therefore, an artist only responsibility, is to seek truth and tell truth, even if he has to make up a fictionalized story to relate said truth.

Gary Packwood
Gary Packwood

Good question to ask IMO.

American Rappers should be like everyone else here in the U.S.A. and have as their goal financial success - AKA Sales - unless they are running a charitable organization.

If people want to pay to attend their concerts and pay to buy their song/message they 'rap' about... so be it.

But first of all, 'Rap Artists' need to figure out how big their potential market is for fans who actually pay cash for Rap concerts or music.

I don't think the market is that big unless the 'Rap' message is changed to draw in more fans.

Eminem seems to being doing just fine with that strategy.


Here’s the real issue. I’m a black man, I've gone to college, I have good credit, no criminal record and even purchased a home as part of the American dream; seemingly to do all of the things I can to be a good American citizen. The problem arises when, the “general public” hears this music, the lyrics—a sees one black man wearing a pair of baggy jeans and some sunglasses and begins stereotype and generalize and associate certain behaviors as innate to the entire race. In white minds, all black people are prone to rap, crime, drinking, drugs and sexual promiscuity. And where did they get that idea from? The music and the videos!Image is everything! And no matter, how many degrees I obtain, how big my house is, how many BMWs I have, or $2900 Nordstroms suits I buy, White people make no distinction in this behavior and so we all get painted with the same paint brush. So yes, what you do and say, does affect me!


Oddly enough, one can easily throw a penny in an average rap music collection and hit an emcee who says "I'm doing it for the streets" in a song. Maybe that guy is obligated... If an artist wants to publize their views by all means let them, but at the same time its fair game for the public to question those views back on the artist.

Capt. Obvious
Capt. Obvious

Funny you actually believe all white people think of all blacks that way. How hypocritical. Think about it.

Gary Packwood
Gary Packwood

I work with a black guy who is a graduate of The Ohio State University.

He has a picture of the stereotypical rapper in his billfold which he whips out occasionally and with good eye contact ...says clear as a bell ...This Is Not Me!

It works.

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