Lupe Fiasco And Talib Kweli Engage In An Awesome Twitter Debate On The Effects Of Negative Rap Lyrics


Sigh, I love a good debate! And this one is even more fun because each debater was limited to 40 characters per argument, lol. Lupe Fiasco has been known to inspire some pretty intense hip-hop related thoughts on Twitter. He had Kanye West re-thinking the word bitch a while back and he recently got into it (in a friendly, intellectual way) with fellow rapper Talib Kweli. Lupe’s been using his Twitter account recently to address violence in pop culture and hip-hop, and Talib joined in on the discussion as well. Click inside to learn more.

Ultimately, I’d break the two sides of the debate down like this: Talib argues that violence in hip-hop is a reflection of violence in the community, which is a reflection of violence in society. He doesn’t see hip-hop as responsible for creating a violent mentality in young people; he really feels like violent lyrics are merely a symptom of a violence that already exists, and that coming after rap artists about their lyrics is sort of counterproductive.

Contrarily, Lupe absolutely believes rappers should be held responsible for participating in– and perpetuating– a certain glorification of violence. Peep the tweets! The whole convo got started when someone asked Talib how he can teach respect for women to his young kids who listen to Rick Ross (Rick just came under fire for some lyrics that basically say it’s cool to have sex with a woman when she’s unconscious AKA to rape her):

And the debate rages on! Complex has the rest of the tweets HERE. Asking about violence and/in hip-hop is sort of like the chicken v. egg question; it’s difficult to determine which comes first. Obviously, violence in communities has existed since looooong before hip-hop, but it’d be foolish to deny the specific relationship between the two now.

I can see where both Talib and Lupe are coming from, but I’m probably more likely to side with Lupe’s argument. At this point, rappers aren’t just painting portraits of their hoods. Our biggest rappers aren’t even in the hoods anymore and while it’s perfectly fine to reminisce and remember where you came from, we can’t pretend that glorification isn’t an issue. Violence is definitely cool in hip-hop– and yes, in lots of other artistic mediums. I don’t think anyone ever listens to a rap song with violent lyrics and then decides to commit a crime. However, I’d also argue that it can’t help to have the violence in one’s community sensationalized on wax. But here’s where personal responsibility and parental responsibility come in. I’d sooner ask parents to do a better job at parenting than I’d ask rappers to clean up their lyrics.

What do y’all think? Who makes the stronger argument, in your opinion– Talib or Lupe? It’s also just nice to see the conversation happening in a public forum.


  • Emily

    Ooh Shannon, this is awesome. Talib is one of my fav MCs and he has incredibly positive lyrics. I also love Lupe’s intellectualism. That said, I’m Team Lupe here. (Sorry Talib, I will always love you.) I see what Talib is saying, that the lyrics are just a reflection of what’s going on (Omg, Reflection Eternal – best Talib album) but I’m with Lupe that the music glorifies the violence and therefore perpetuates it. I also agree with Shannon that many of these artists don’t live in the neighborhoods anymore and that could be a problem. Ultimately it seems we’re talking about causation vs correlation here.
    Bottom line – less violence and more love is needed – start with the lyrics and see how it affects the neighborhoods. Team Intellect.

  • Ashen

    Both have very poignant points however, I’m going to have to side with team Talib on the root causes being what’s problematic here. Rap is just a form of music, technically speaking. Rap doesn’t require “violence and death” to be considered Rap music. Rap requires spoken poetic language over music.

    If you take it back to it’s origins the music was about either having a good time (ie: block parties) or about the problems in society. The addition of artists such as NWA and Ice T brought forth a new, albeit negative, vibe to the music. However, as they have said in countless interviews they were just rapping about what they knew about, the streets.

    Sure you can say the music glorifies violence but is it truly in a way no other form of music glorifies violence? I beg to differ. (Sorry Lupe, you’re my boy and all but you need to expand your musical knowledge.) So let me go ahead an expand your knowledge.

    You can start with the obvious Genre, Metal and it’s sub genres heave/death/black/satanic/etc. All of which have consistent lyrics of violence, death, and misogyny but we don’t pay attention to it because society doesn’t think it’s not mainstream enough to have an affect, well, unless there is a school shooting.

    Remember how cool hair bands were in the 80’s, well at least until bands like Nirvana popped up. Kurt Cobain was rather obsessed with death and while very poetic sometimes rather violent. Or how about Alice in Chains? Death runs all through Alice in Chains music. Is their music just good ol’ rock music? Perhaps it is until someone commits suicide and then it’s suicide music. Weren’t schools on suicide watch when Kurt Cobain committed suicide?

    Not good enough? How about good ol’ fashioned, God fearin’, Country music?

    “That I dug my key into the side
    of his pretty little souped up 4 wheel drive,
    carved my name into his leather seats…
    I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights,
    slashed a hole in all 4 tires…
    Maybe next time he’ll think before he cheats.”

    I think I’ve seen a few episodes of Cops that began this way!

    I couldn’t go anywhere without hearing this song or hearing people rave about it but doesn’t it sound like someone needs a time out?

    I mean, that’s pretty violent. If someone totally vandalized your car you wouldn’t think it was cute or your new favorite anthem. You’d be extremely upset and maybe even scared that the crazy person that did that would soon be coming for your head, but hey, it’s just plain ol’ country music sang by the cutest little thang that ever was. She don’t mean no harm.

    Seriously, vandalism is no joke. I’ve known people who have had this happen to them and were very scared for their lives. Still people were singing Carrie Underwood at the top of their lungs every time their significant other began to step out of line, kind of a veiled threat if you ask me.

    I ain’t gonna lie, that song is catchy as hell! I still have never heard it all the way through, but if people start singing it, I’m probably gonna be right there with the rest of them!

    I suppose though, that this is not the violence in music you are looking for, eh Lupe? Guys who weren’t even born back in ,what was it, ’93 still cringe at the mention of “Bobbitt” and those old enough to remember just checked to make sure theirs were still attached.

    The Violence/death/drugs/misogyny/domestic abuse/etc. can be found in a lot of musical genres if you open yourself up to listen to them. The problem lies within society. Don’t we have this same conversation about movies and video games? Unfortunately, Rap/Hip hop music get’s the brunt of the blame because of how the artist conduct and express themselves. We should really be asking ourselves what is it that creates all this negativity and how can we work together to make it better?

    • Karen

      Such an interesting response! You make some compelling points.

      One difference I see between the power of the Carrie Underwood song vs. songs by male rappers is the prevalence of male violence against women rather than the reverse, and widespread misogyny in general. Given that social context, a song glorifying violence by a woman against a man *is* different. If we’re just talking about violence as a concept, then they are the same, but I think we all agree that context matters.

      That said, I hope someone does (or has done) a sociological study of violence in music lyrics across genres, gender, and race and ethnicity. It would be fascinating.

      Your point about heavy metal lyrics is well-taken, as is the point that people only become concerned about it periodically when there’s a school shooting. That makes me think about another social context issue — the prevalence of violence among those who listen to a particular type of music. For example, I’m guessing that whatever music skinheads listen to legitimizes their viewpoints and violent acts.

      I’m not sure about “which came first” in the violence lyrics vs. violent culture debate, as I think both sides have really strong arguments. But I think it’s clear that music helps define culture while also reflecting it. And young people look to music to help them make sense of the world and their feelings, as they lack the knowledge and insights that can only come with time. So I can see music would be an influential component — it could offer an alternative perspective or it could reinforce the status quo.

    • Ashen

      @Karen very well said. However, I have to disagree that

      “Carrie Underwood song vs. songs by male rappers is the prevalence of male violence against women rather than the reverse, and widespread misogyny in general. Given that social context, a song glorifying violence by a woman against a man *is* different”

      That’s a bit of a double standard.

      I picked that song because I know if I know the song without ever listening to it than I’m sure a lot of people know it as well. A song from Rap artist normally has the range to affect it’s target demographic. Yet I haven’t really listened to any Country music since the mid-late 90s when Faith hill came out. Somehow I know lyrics to a song that isn’t within my normal musical repertoire. I don’t own it, I don’t have it on my iPod I don’t have a Pandora/Spotify/ Channel that plays it yet this song about a person in full on rage mode reached me and is something I know despite never hearing the actual song.

      If it were a rap artist rapping about destroying his “baby mama” car would then be the same as Carrie Underwood? Or would we be talking about how violent the rapper was and his lack of respect for others peoples property? Would it only be the same if Azelia Banks or Nicki Minaj rapped about it? Or would we be talking about how violent these ladies are?

      All that aside County music is riddled with singers singing about domestic violence ie Dixie Chicks “Goodbye Earl”, Garth Brooks “Thunder Rolls”, Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder and Lead” Sure they all tell the sad story but in the end the women are the heroes as they take their guns and kill off the man.

      These messages are just as harmful and glorify/Justify taking a life. Isn’t there a case that happened recently of a woman who shot her boyfriend? I bet no one out there is asking what kind of music Jodi Arias listens to. Ike beat Tina regularly, everyone knew. That happened before rap music was invented.

      If we are going to place blame on rap music for violently hitting women then is it safe to say that people who hit women are listening to rap music? Sure, maybe some but not all, the true question is, is it the cause of the problem?

      Not all people who listen to rap music beat women and not all people who beat women listen to rap music.

      Yet we as a society see it this way because it’s easy to justify without have to deal with the real issues. The problems are difficult to deal with and at times preventative measures are costly. As a society we HATE spending money so it’s easier to place blame on the easiest thing to get rid of or demonize.

      Just watch the news and you can see it first hand. The boy who was shot for wearing a hoodie. That’s what people remember. Not that he was shot because of someones paranoia. Not that he was shot because of the Crazy laws in Fl that allowed the guy to feel not only confident but also as though he were in the right to do so because he “felt threatened”. That guy ignored the dispatcher, he basically stalked the kid.

      How about the girl who was raped by the lacrosse team? Well everyone said she was raped because she was asking for it by how she was dressed. Where were the reports on the guys and what made them think they had such a right? What in their lives pushed them to do it? How were these kids raised? What went to wrong that these “Promising athletes” made a choice to rape the girl who was “asking for it” Still this young lady will be known throughout history and in every Law class as “The girl who was asking for it.” and the boys will forever be the “Promising Athletes”.

      It’s far to easy to place blame on something that has very little to do with the situation than to get right down in the dirt and try to figure out how to make it stop. Nowadays I have to make sure that my clothes aren’t too seductive and that I don’t use the hood on my hoodies because some crazy person may try and attack me and people are just going to think it’s my own fault instead of, you know, trying to help people make a better life for themselves and helping to make sure they have the education they need to succeed in life and helping people get the sustained psychological help they need to deal with their issues as opposed to taking their problems out on others.

      No one, male or female, has the right to physically assault another person. It would still be just as wrong and horrifying if Rhianna beat Chris.

  • James

    I feel as though arguments that blame society rather than the artist are just sort avoiding having to act responsible as public figures. I mean, musicians are incredibly influential, but many like to think they have no accountability to behave in a way that encourages a better world. Whether having lyrics that condone violence harm society or have no effect, does it matter? What is the benefit to saying that it’s cool to get in fights or kill or rape? There is a difference between rapping about what you know and encouraging degenerate behavior. What is the benefit to saying that there’s absolutely no way that it could have a positive effect to stop rapping about these criminal acts, and just continue the status quo? If there is any way that we could reduce violence in this society, I think it’s sad when some of those most effected by it are the most reluctant to make the attempt. At the very least it would better the public perception of rap music, which I think would help the genre receive more of the critical acclaim it deserves. Like Kanye said, he’s never won a Grammy in any category outside of rap/hip-hop. Maybe this could be the beginning of a solution.

  • Matthew

    In an interview with Tavis Smiley, Viola Davis was asked what she thought of the criticism from the African American community that she was taking on a “mammie” role when she agreed to star in The Help. She responded that it’s the purpose of art to reveal the truth, and though some black people might sigh over the fact that a black woman is playing a maid in 2102, it was still a truth.

    So Talib is correct in that it’s his responsibility as an artist to sing about what is going on, what has gone on, and what could go on. If that includes violence, then so be it. The thing is that art– whether in the form a novel, a play, a movie, or a song– is rarely objective and detached. Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Talib forgets that it’s not just his responsibility to sing about what is going on, but to offer his own perspective on it.

    So it’s OK to sing about, write about, or act out violence. It’s OK, because that is a part of life. But an artist is never just depicting something, they are usually making their own commentary as well. And that’s the part artists need to be particularly careful with.

    You can show a rape scene in a movie, but what does the movie have to say about that? You can sing about gang violence, but what does the song have to say about it? You can write a novel about a serial killer, but what does the novel have to say about murderers?

    I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not the actual violence depicted in rap that is the problem, rather the issue is that the commentary from the rappers is that this is a good thing.