When it comes to rap music, abysmal record sales often start with abysmal records. Though a few bright spots do exist (Kanye, we see you), a barrage of bling-obsessed studio thugs has made the rap landscape look mighty bleak.
A return to the golden age may be a rap purist’s pipe dream, but the state of hip-hop affairs can certainly be improved.
With that in mind, we present The Top 10 Things Every Rapper Should Do Before They Start Rapping:
1. Read the dictionary. That doesn’t necessarily mean emulating Malcolm X and going cover-to-cover with it. Necessarily. But some time invested in expanding your vocabulary will be well-spent. This way you won’t end up rhyming “handle” with “weather” and “hood” with “hood,” or “new shit” with “new shit” and “sun” with “hundred.” At the very least, consider setting up a word of the day alert at Dictionary.com.
2. Perform at least 60 hours of community service, ideally in a drug rehabilitation facility or center for crack-addicted babies, to learn the value of serving others and see the effects of addiction first-hand. Hopefully after your experience you’ll reconsider that “Thugs-N-Drugs” mixtape you’ve been working on.
3. Travel outside the country to experience at least one other culture, preferably an impoverished one that makes life in the ghetto look like a vacation. If this is not financially feasible, travel to at least three non-contiguous states and spend time speaking to people from all walks of life. Ask questions and listen intently. Listen more than you speak. This way, you’ll have something to talk about besides your ‘hood and the five-mile radius surrounding it.
4. Study black history. Extensively. The “Autobiography of Malcolm X” is required reading. An audio book is acceptable. You should also read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and watch his “I Have a Dream” speech on video. You will also need to view the multi-part series “Eyes On The Prize” in its entirety. Listening to the Ras Kass song “Nature of The Threat” as well as a complete Public Enemy album would also fall under this requirement. This way, you will better understand that the struggle extends far beyond your own personal paper chase. Perhaps you’ll even think twice about that single you were set to release, “Nigga I’ll Kill You Pt. 2.”
5. Read as many books as you can get your hands on, in as many genres as possible. This will help to expand your vocabulary as well as your mind, and give you something to talk about besides making it rain in the club. Audio books are not acceptable.
6. Visit the segregation unit of a prison, preferably not as an inmate. We know you’ve been to jail to visit your homies, but this is different. The segregation unit is the prison within a prison, where inmates spend 23 hours a day inside their cells and receive an hour a day of “exercise” in a fenced-in cage. Realize that more black men are in prison than in college. Realize that many of those black men are in segregation units all across the country, right now. Record accordingly.
7. Visit at least five different museums. This will give you something to talk about besides making it rain in the club.
8. Study the rap classics. Just as you have no business rapping without knowing the history of the race that spawned your art form, you have no business rapping without knowing the history of the art form itself. Google “rap classics” or “classic rap albums” and you’ll have a good idea of where to start. But let’s just say this: If you haven’t listened to “Illmatic” and/or you consider Birdman your personal rap hero, put the microphone down.
9. Listen to at least 25 non-rap albums. At least 10 of these albums should have been released prior to 1980. You don’t necessarily need to like other forms of music, but as a musician, being aware of the existence of other genres is helpful.
10. Study the history of minstrel shows. Watch a minstrel show. Look at pictures of at least 10 popular rappers. Notice the similarities. Watch a rap video on TV. Recall what you learned from watching minstrel shows. Draw your own conclusions.
Congratulations! You’re now ready to begin a career in rap music. While there’s no guarantee of stardom, you’ve certainly built a solid foundation on which to succeed. We look forward to hearing you rap about making it rain in the club.