The ten biggest tropes in rap music
Rap is not the homogeneous radio-whoring genre that people make it out to be...most of the time. But the rest of the time, you have to admit that rap can be just as formulaic and predictable as its detractors claim. If you're looking to find a new appreciation for one of America's greatest musical creations, stop reading. Otherwise, continue on for the ten biggest tropes in rap music.
See also: The ten biggest tropes in country music
THE STREETS Ah, yes, the streets. The vast and nameless streets. Which streets? Doesn't matter, as long as they're unforgiving. Most of us were born on a street, but that doesn't mean we're from the streets. Beverly Hills, Cherry Hills, pretty much any hills -- technically, these places all have streets. But South Central, Compton, Harlem, Detroit -- those are the streets we're talking about. Why are we talking about them? Because that's where the shit happens.
DRUGS Whether they're slangin', inhalin' or drankin' them, drugs are on the tip of most every rapper's tongue, literally and figuratively. Rap stars may not be hurling TVs out their hotel windows, but the rap lifestyle is at least as entwined with drugs as the rock lifestyle. The best rap songs about drugs don't simply glorify them, though; they detail a much more realistic love/hate relationship with them: "I Feel Like Dying," by Lil Wayne, or "Drug Ballad," by Eminem, for example.
GUNS Why, oh, why do "chrome" and "dome" have to rhyme? If guns were all lined with, I don't know, manganese instead, rappers and their admirers might be shooting tangerines instead of each other. Such senseless violence.
BITCHES We're not going to argue semantics about the difference between women and bitches in rap because it doesn't matter for the sake of this point. A large percentage of rap songs have something to do with bitches. Even songs that portend to not be about bitches -- "99 Problems," for example -- are actually about bitches. If Sigmund Freud was a rapper, you know he would be talking about bitches. That's the nature of the game, for now, at least. If the ubiquity of this trope offends you, it should. But that doesn't make it any less true.
HATERS What is a rapper without haters? It's an interesting philosophical question. The rapper is rebellious in nature, so if he has nothing to rebel against, he becomes rather pointless and redundant. That's what has made N.W.A., Eminem, Ice-T and 2Pac so legendary. These dudes all had serious haters, and they rose above the hate to keep on making music the way they wanted, and that's why we give them serious props.
MONEY Got $5,000 and a video camera? You've got a viral rap video. You don't even have to spend the money; just drop it from above the view of the camera on a supple lady's body. Instant classic. The best part about money as a status symbol in rap is that you don't even need to have money to talk about having money. In fact, the vast majority of rappers talking about they paper stacks have a very limited amount of paper to stack. But any economist will tell you: It's not how much money you have, it's how much money other people think you have.
RAPPING SKILLS Namely that the rapper in question has more than everybody else. It's an unspoken agreement among rappers that whatever you say about your own rapping skill does not have to be true; the mere fact that you are talking about how good you are at rapping, while rapping, is good enough. If honesty was as important as braggadocio, rap would be a pretty dull genre. Who wants to dance in the club to DJ Khaled yelling, "We do our best to win"?
THE GRIND So gritty. So real. In hoping to represent every detail of why it's so hard out here for a pimp, like all cliches, the grind ends up representing mostly nothing. But this hasn't discouraged the rappers who are out there doing their thing, living on the edge, like each day is their last. When the going gets tough, get on your grind, and soon you'll be on top of the world.
FASHION (chains, grills, sneakers, clothes) Oh, the curious intersection of street credit and high fashion. It may seem like rappers are selling out for a taste of the glamorous high life, but in actuality, street life has informed quite a bit of the culture that now seems so fashionable. Rappers didn't jump on the fashion ship; fashionistas jumped on the rap ship.
THE STATE OF HIP-HOP It's as if every MC considers themselves Mr. Rap President and it is their duty to provide the people with a State of Hip-hop address. Like the president, the aspiring rapper must convince the audience that the world would start falling apart at the seams without them. Ever since Nas so publicly declared hip-hop dead, rap zombies have been coming out of the woodwork, walking around like regular people. They don't see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead. How often do you see them? All the time. They're everywhere.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.