No matter how you look at it, the evolution of language can sometimes take us by surprise. What used to be derogatory can easily turn into popular slang.
For example, the now common use of the “N-word” is employed by kids as a term of endearment. Back in 2007, Russell Simmons was on Oprah to discuss the outbreak of the N-word, B*tch, and the like. He was fighting for a movement to stop the use of these terms without having to forego the First Amendment.
Three years later, is there much of a difference? Personally, I don’t think there is. And I believe that we should blame “rap gratitude” for this. To be fair, given historical African American oppression, rap’s flipping of these negative words on their head deserves some plaudits.
I understand the need to spin something to serve a better purpose. Transforming those heavily negative expressions into less demeaning vocabulary was a means of survival. However, the “new” use of these words has outgrown rap and has now taken on wider use, thanks to the media. Worldwide, people know these terms.
From Japan to Paris, these words are used free from their heavy legacy. People are, essentially, pretty much clueless to the roots of these words, and rely on popular culture for their meaning. But despite intentions, deep down these words, given their history, continue to foster a sense of degradation. It’s a little sad because it’s one of those “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” type of situations.
Rappers, who for some reason have massive power over international fans, can’t let go of all the cussing as they are afraid of losing supporters over street cred and therefore also losing the backing of record companies. If some rappers do have the guts to let go, though, they won’t be as influential in society. They will end up “underground” and hence not receive the international acclaim that they deserve.
I wish I had the answers as to how rap can lead society away from verbal negativity, but since I don’t, I’ll just watch closely and examine what I can do on my own to help. Sitting on the fence is pretty lame but until someone influential has the guts the stand up and redirect all this energy to a better path, I have no choice but to observe.