With Hip Hop + Politics, Form Follows Function
By Jaylin Paschal
A stressed principle of design is "form follows function." The look and feel, or general aesthetic of something, is directly based on what that something is meant to do. You can't decide what a chair looks like until you decide what it's supposed to do--how much weight it should support, whether or not it should recline, etc. Form follows function.
The same principle is true in Hip Hop.
J Cole, the butt of many, many jokes in the rap community, is currently being taunted on Twitter for using his verse of Miguel's smooth single "Come Through and Chill," to rap about politics. Now, y'all know I love a good political verse. And I love Cole's verse. But there's a time and a place for everything. This was neither the time, nor the place.
The verse makes me think of Kendrick's contribution to Future's "Mask Off" remix. It was oddly serious for a song that is strictly for vibes. The tone of "How y'all let the braids on tv?/ How y'all let the hood at the table?" did not, despite my love for those lines, match the tone of "Percocets/Molly, percocets."
The content and overall tone of a rap verse (i.e. the form), should follow the intention of the song (i.e. the function). If the intention is to inspire, or to inform, or to mobilize, or even just to express--like a lot of Hip Hop is--these loaded rhymes are acceptable. But when the intent is just to provide listeners with a certain vibe, or background music, or lighthearted entertainment, or a turn up soundtrack--being political is just awkward. It feels forced.
Like Big Sean's random mention of smoking weed with Rosa Parks while enjoying (?) being "black in the back" on the "Who's Stopping Me?" track. You went from nodding your head to thinking, "What are you talking about, dude?"
Being the girl who had to learn not to bring up the Paris Agreement and gerrymandering at light social events, I understand how hard it must be to stifle a politically-charged message when it doesn't fit the mood. But it's necessary. Build the chair for its intended purpose.