…On Being Socially Conscious With Your Music

The following guest blog was written by up and coming rapper Marco Pavé.

What does music mean to you? According to Huffington Post writer Selena May Santos and participants of her 2013 survey music is far more important than meets the eye, or better yet, the ear. One anonymous participant responded with, “Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand.“ For me, music is a means to discuss issues that you have experienced or have heard others experience. There’s always a lesson in every song, even if the writer wasn’t explicitly trying to teach that lesson. For example, the singer/songwriter, rapper, modern-day blues man—Future. Who recently was quoted saying,  “Yeah because I feel like that’s the number one thing everybody likes to talk about. It’s a catch,” after an interviewer asked him, why he portrays himself as a drug addict. For me as person who knows numerous people who have some form of drug addiction, this is jarring for me. Not because I think that he is making people want to do drugs (even though there are kids that are going to experiment with drugs because, future), but because drug addiction, or any addiction for that matter is a serious issue in communities around the country.

Artists need to be a bit more socially conscious, and no I am not saying that everyone needs to make a heal the world song, I’m just saying think about the message that you are sending and have a better fucking answer to why you’re sending said message than, “it’s a catch.” It’s not a catch when teens are being admitted into rehab for prescription pain medication overdoses. It’s not a catch when father pawns his kid’s bikes to get money for his next fix. It’s not a catch, period. Some may disagree, and say that it’s fine for it to be a catch, but the fact that we do have so many artists who have overdosed on drugs and who are currently addicted he walks a fine line between being a straight up sell out and a liar (maybe he is actually addicted and is trying to backtrack now that we are catching on).

To me being a socially conscious artist doesn’t take much, I believe 100 percent that Future’s music is already socially conscious. Okay, before you call me a hypocrite, let me finish. He is using his music and his brand as an artist to talk about all the problems of being a drug addict. He is also walking the line of having a shit load of survivor’s guilt– he made it from a crazy place and now he’s a multi-millionaire, it takes tremendous strength to handle all that emotionally. His music is very socially conscious it features everything from, drugs addiction, to hyper-sexuality, to misogyny, and the occasional person (groupie) with ulterior motives, these are all social issues. But what makes him not a socially conscious artists, is future outside the studio, in an interview where he can say, speaking someone’s truth is “a catch.” Even if he is playing a character, as any novice acting coach can tell you, “NEVER, break character.” When he stated that it was a catch, he stopped being a social conscious artist that is aware of people pains and is going through, or at least pretending to be going through similar pains, and became a sellout, because this means that he is only making music about drugs because it sells and not because he is thinking about the social effects of drugs and addiction.

In 2016, artists don’t have to make the next “We are the world,” they don’t have to enlist the help of all the neighborhood kids like Nas in, “I Know I Can,” they don’t even have to donate to charities and start foundations, they just need to be more aware of their messages and how they are socially affecting people. Jay-Z, one of the notorious know drug dealing rappers in hip-hop history once said “As a youngin, dumb and, gun in the waist / Sold crack to those who couldn’t take the pain and had to numb it with base.” But when asked about the repeated mention of drugs and crack in his music in 2013 by a reporter with Vanity Fair Jay-Z said, "There wasn’t any place you could go for isolation or a break. You go in the hallway; [there are] crackheads in the hallway. You look out in the puddles on the curbs—crack vials are littered in the side of the curbs. You could smell it in the hallways, that putrid smell; I can’t explain it, but it’s still in my mind when I think about it.” That’s socially conscious, we can tell that even through all the fucked up things that Jay-Z had to do he still has a heart and he fells pain just like any of us. Being a socially conscious artist doesn’t mean that you play holier than thou, it just means that you don’t make a mockery of people who are dealing with issues that you are rapping or singing about, even if it is just a catch.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.