• Ike Okwerekwu

Is Overcoming Adversity Necessary To Create Classic Hip Hop Music?

Hip Hop Adversity

On a lazy Sunday evening, my college friend and I were having a philosophical debate on the question, “Is struggle necessary to achieve greatness?” I was arguing that adversity is merely a beneficial experience that you learn and grow from.

However, my friend who grew up in India, raising cattle for a living had a much different perspective. When he moved to America, his father kicked him out the house and left him homeless for months. As someone with a rough childhood, he made the interesting argument that adversity is a necessity to become successful.

At the time, he blew my mind by bringing up several examples of mutual friends who lacked the ambition to succeed because they never faced real adversity. He also strengthened his argument by detailing several examples of influential men who overcame adversity such as Albert Einstein, Elon Musk, and Martin Luther King. Once I started applying his argument to hip hop artists with rough upbringings, I recognized a similar trend and was convinced that he may be right.

In this article, I intend to tackle his argument by bringing up several cases of hip hop artists who achieved great commercial success and strongly influenced today’s culture with timeless hip hop music. A great example of an iconic song that couldn’t have been created without facing adversity is Tupac’s track, “Changes.”

On this epic track, Tupac talks about the hardship of being African American referring to the war on drugs, poverty, and police brutality. He immediately begins the song with the lyrics, “I see no changes, wake up in the morning and I ask myself. Is life worth living? Should I blast myself? I’m tired of bein’ poor and, even worse, I’m black.” Without the emotional and financial struggle of being a young black male, Tupac could not have created this iconic track that reached the lives of millions of people across the world.

Another track that validates my friend’s argument is “Juicy” by Biggie Smalls. Biggie starts the track with vivid memories of naysayers: “Yeah, this album is dedicated to all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothing. To all the people lived above the buildings that I was hustlin’ in font of and called the police on me when I was just tryin’ to make some money to feed my daughter.” Without the negative critiques and forces acting against him, Biggie Small would not have delivered arguably the most memorable introduction to a rap song.

What makes Jay Z’s “The Blueprint” album so legendary was his ability to rap about personal experiences that holds dear to him. In the track, “Song Cry”, Jay Z emotionally speaks about how his relationship with an ex-girlfriend ended due to his pride and busy schedule as a rapper: “I can understand why you want a divorce now. Though I can’t let you know it, pride won’t let me show it. Pretend to be heroic, that’s just one to grow with, but deep inside a nigga so sick.” If Jay Z did not struggle with his past relationship with women, the Brooklyn rapper could not have been able to reflect on this experience with this introspective track.

These tracks are only a select few of songs out of thousands of influential hip hop music that speaks about some form of struggle. Although I cannot absolutely claim that all classic hip hop music deals with some form of adversity, it feels like the best memorable tracks derive from a personal experience of struggle. So many stories of adversity have provided rappers with great lyrical content to make masterpiece albums like “Good Kid M.A.A.D City” by Kendrick Lamar, “Forest Hill Drive” by J Cole, and “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” by Lauryn Hill.

Many prominent artists from today’s culture have battled through adversity to become widely accepted and beloved. Whether it be Jay Z dealing drugs, Cardi B stripping for years, or 21 Savage getting shot at multiple times. People often root for the artist and celebrity figures with the underdog story because overcoming such adversity gives people hope that they too can triumph over similar struggles burdening them.

Experience with adversity builds exemplary character and a spirit of resilience that allows artists to deliver great music. Their personal story provides them with original ideas and profound insight to rap or sing about, creating a relatable feeling of vulnerability that fans emotionally connect with.

So next time you’re struggling with an issue, instead of pondering “why me?” or “this isn’t fair.”, I encourage you to think positively with thoughts like “When I overcome this problem, it will become a valuable story that I can use to influence and inspire other people.” If you’re struggling to evoke positive thought and may be feeling hopeless, listen to the tracks mentioned above or play songs that inspire you. Remember the greater your struggle is, the sweeter your success will be.

“There’s beauty in the struggle”

J Cole


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