I still love H.E.R.

I used to love H.E.R. by Common is the number one hip-hop song by Complex Magazine.

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I used to love H.E.R. by Common is the number one hip-hop song by Complex Magazine.

Matthew Norwood, Staff Reporter

A little over a year ago Complex Magazine made a consensus list of the greatest hip hop songs of all time. Coming in first was “I Used to Love H.E.R.” by Chicago rapper Common.

Common rapped over a classic beat where he spent three verses talking about a girl he grew up loving, and how over time she changed to the point where she was barely recognizable to him. He never gave up on her, but couldn’t stand to see what she had become, as a result of the people she surrounded herself with.

The very last long of the song goes “Imma take her back hoping that this s— stop, ‘cause who I’m talking ‘bout y’all is hip hop”. It isn’t until the end that the song’s meaning shifts from a nostalgic love song to a social commentary on the state of rap.

Rap gets a bad rep. Rap can sometimes be seen as the lowest form of music, an expression which requires no musical talent and very little lyrical content. Common provides a timeline for what happened to rap, and why you have to go a little deeper than the mainstream to find the best the genre has to offer.

Rap began as a local competition and form of expression. Early rap primarily originated in Brooklyn, where themes focused on the struggles associated with the ghetto lifestyle and a celebration of the few good things they had. Rap was strewn with social commentary both about personal lives and overarching concepts such as black plight at the hands of an exploitative white government.

Early examples of popular rap include “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, a song about the struggle to survive without losing your head in poverty, “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy, a song about the struggle against the powers that be, and “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang, a song about the fun of rap and the positive influence the genre has on their lives.

Gangster rap was popularized by the NWA, which made explicit lyrics mainstream and braggadacio rather than struggle the main goal of commentary on the ghetto lifestyle. The group rapped about the people they had killed and drugs they had partaken in as if it was a positive influence on their lives, and their rebellious nature gained them many fans amongst youth in a troubled economic time of the late ‘80s.

This line of thinking was further progressed when Snoop Dogg became a major hit, a rapper who primarily relied on flow rather than lyrical content. Tupac Shakur provided a turn away from gangster rap in the mid-90s, with many of his songs reverting back to a tone of conciliation and unity in the black community. He was shot, but his social impact was enough to maintain him a reputation until this day.

Nevertheless the trend continued throughout the late ‘90s and 2000s. Over the past few years the most popular rappers have been Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Iggy Azalea, Nicki Minaj, and Lil B. There are, however, artists such as Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, and Kanye West who provide more than your average rapper. These are mainstream artists who carry on powerful rap.

When I hear people complain that rap is “sex, money, drugs” I try to point out some of these rappers who provide more. I point out Eminem’s “Stan”, a song about a fan of Eminem who went so far as to kill himself after the stress of rejection by Eminem drove him crazy. Or I tell them about Kendrick’s “Sing About Me”, a song about the inconsequentiality of human life in the tale of a gang violence victim. Or I could show them Kanye’s “All Falls Down”, about the self-consciousness everyone feels inside and the effect it has on people.

Then you could head a little less mainstream and discover there is a plethora of songs which prove relevant to modern society, not just the super-rich who feign crime for props. Rap is simply poetry over an instrumental, and finding the best it has to offer is just like rooting through any other form of art realizing not everyone will be great.

Rap provides the basis for theme on a scale unlike any other in music. Rap can represent a personal story, a single event, or the feeling of a generation. There is no music in which topics vary more broadly or which allows the in depth analysis that the many bars of an extensive rap song allows.

So before you credit the next radio hit as a representation of the club music that is hip hop, remember that what sells is not always what’s best.