Rap Is Still Culturally Conservative To A Fault

Elijah C. Watson

Elijah Watson serves as Okayplayer’s News & Culture Editor. When…

DaBaby red hat rap conservativeDaBaby red hat rap conservative

DaBaby’s ignorant misunderstanding of how HIV and AIDS works, paired with his unnecessary remark on where men choose to engage sexually with each other, is indicative of how culturally conservative rap still is. Photo Credit: Rich Fury/Getty Images

Although the genre has made progress, the rap conservative is still dominate in contemporary music. DaBaby is a case study of this.

During his recent Rolling Loud performance, DaBaby took a moment to address the crowd with a declaration that seemed to come out of nowhere.

“If you didn’t show up today with HIV, AIDS, or any of them deadly sexually transmitted diseases that’ll make you die in two to three weeks, then put your cellphone lighter up… Fellas, if you ain’t sucking dick in the parking lot, put your cellphone lighter up,” he said.

As the backlash came, DaBaby apologized to those affected by HIV and AIDS or his “insensitive words,” while maintaining the rest of his comments were misinterpreted by critics. He then seemed to address the controversy again in his recently-released music video for his new song “Giving What It’s Supposed to Give,” which he shot prior to his Rolling Loud set. At the end of the video, a title card reads, “Don’t fight hate with hate,” with the words in rainbow colors — a nod to the rainbow flag being a symbol of LGBTQ pride — followed by this statement: “My apologies for being me the same way you want the freedom to be you.”

Whether DaBaby’s offensive Rolling Loud remarks were essentially promo for his new video — there’s a scene where he holds up a sign that says “AIDS” that’s accompanied with the line, “We like AIDS, I’m on your ass, we on your ass, bitch, we won’t go away” and, in his caption for posting the video on his Instagram account, he wrote that it “coincidentally” “touches on every controversial topic trending in the headlines” — is beside the point. DaBaby’s ignorant misunderstanding of how HIV and AIDS works, paired with his unnecessary remark on where men choose to engage sexually with each other, is indicative of how culturally conservative rap still is.

Although the genre has made noticeable progress in its inclusivity — from the countless women who are currently defining and redefining rap to a gay Black man being a chart-topping pop-rap star — hip-hop still dominated by straight Black men who, despite expressing an indifference in the sexual preference of others, seem to care more than they let on. Normally, the assumption is that this conservatism comes from figures of an older generation speaking on artists that embody a larger issue, whether that be feminism (Jermaine Dupri referring to the current crop of women rappers as “strippers rapping,” or Snoop Dogg criticizing Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” for being too explicit)  or sexual preference (Boosie Badazz’s recent homophobic rant directed at Lil Nas X). To see DaBaby not only say what he did, but see older figures like Boosie and T.I. come to his defense, highlights how prudent rap culture can still be, equating their own regressive views or words as their own freedom or truth.

Some rap figures also see this as defending and upholding “traditional” values in rap. In 2014, The New Yorker published a piece titled “Hip-Hop’s Alpha Conservative,” which was centered around Brand Nubian rapper Lord Jamar’s views on everything wrong with modern rap. Although there are valid points made by Jamar — specifically about white rappers and how much easier it is for them to enter the rap space, especially as more and more white people have become rap fans — he ultimately reveals the faulty ground that his traditionalism is based on: that rap culture is first and foremost a space for the Black alpha male, who acts in a way reflective of that.

“I think I represent the hip-hop conservatives,” Jamar said in the article. “And I use the word ‘conservative’ in the sense of conservation: I’m trying to conserve hip-hop and its essence.”

In the piece, Jamar also expressed what he views as “proclivities and sensibilities” that “are not at the core of true hip-hop,” referring to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ pro-gay-marriage single “Same Love.” Despite the song being made by a white rapper, that Jamar fails to see how its sentiment doesn’t reflect the core of true hip-hop — a genre made to give a voice to mistreated and oppressed people, specifically Black people, and that some of those Black people may also be queer in some way — shows how the life experience of the straight, Black alpha male is seen as the primary representation of being a rapper, and that any other representations that aren’t that are a detriment to the genre and its culture.

This minimizes the impact of contemporary rappers who aren’t of that representation, and are providing something that speaks to rap as a radical and revolutionary space. It’s a queer Black man and two Black women who’ve caused the two biggest music-related cultural upsets in recent history, with Lil Nas X, Megan Thee Stallion, and Cardi B fearlessly celebrating and owning their sexuality in a way that has riled up everyone from rap fans to right-wing politicians.

But hip-hop’s conservatism also speaks to a larger misunderstanding about Black people in America — that, because of the injustices and intolerances Black people face, we’re inherently liberal. Last year, FiveThirtyEight released a report by Bowdoin College professor Cheryl Laird and Duke University professor Ismail White — the two also wrote a book together titled Steadfast Democrat, that explores how Black Americans who identify as ideologically conservative also identify as Democrat — that highlights how a quarter of Black Americans identify as conservative (and 43 percent identify as moderate) despite overwhelmingly voting Democrat.

“We believe that Blacks have various opinions on many types of issues. In fact, as we’ll discuss more, I’m sure, is that black Americans tend to be fairly conservative, even, on lots of issues including some racial issues,” White said during an interview on the Niskanen Center’s The Science of Politics podcast. “How does that lead to democratic partisanship? What we argue in the book is that there’s a sense among Black Americans or a notion among Black Americans that group solidarity is important.”

The apprehension hip-hop still has toward gay people, as well as other queer people, is even reflective in this. In a 2020 report from the Pew Research Center about Black Democrats, the article highlighted how the issue of same-sex marriage is noticeably less supported by Black Democrats, reporting:

88% of white and 76% of Hispanic Democrats say legal same-sex marriage is a good thing for society, compared with a significantly smaller share of black Democrats (52%).

That rap is still culturally conservative isn’t only just a problem based in archaic ideas of what type of representation defines rap and ignorance masked as freedom of speech, but it’s indicative of Black people’s support — or lack thereof — on certain cultural issues as a whole. Despite the revolutionary reputation rap has, the genre is still very conservative in more ways than one.