Home » Heroes and Villains: Is Hip-Hop a Cancer or a Cure?: Lecrae at TEDxNashville (Full Transcript)

Heroes and Villains: Is Hip-Hop a Cancer or a Cure?: Lecrae at TEDxNashville (Full Transcript)

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What an introduction! It’s good to know, man. How are we feeling, how are we doing? All right. Well, today I want to talk about heroes and villains: Is hip-hop a cancer or is it a cure? In every story, there’s a protagonist. The protagonist is agonizing to make wrong things right. And there’s an antagonist who’s fighting against what everybody’s agonizing for.

In simpler terms, in every story, there are heroes, and there are villains. The thing is, in today’s society, the true versions of these stories often go untold or they’re told from a limited vantage point. You look at the wide spectrum of things, and you’ll notice that sometimes, our heroes are actually more villainous than we think, and sometimes, our villains are far more heroic than we give them credit for. You can look at the endorsement of slavery from our nation’s Founding Fathers to our own fascination with murderous mobsters like Al Capone. Western society tends to change narratives for the sake of pride or prostitute tales of murder and misogyny for the sake of entertainment.

From our gangster movies to our murderous, misogynistic music, we do tend to paint villainous ideas as heroic. Let’s be honest, I mean, I’m sure we’ve all paraded around on Halloween as a hockey-masked serial killer. And weren’t we all rooting for John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson in “Pulp Fiction”? And I know I’m not the only one who’s been out on a Saturday night reciting every line to Ginuwine’s song “Pony.” And I’m sure that song has nothing to do with baby horses.

But we can all agree that my favorite art form, hip-hop, is completely innocent of painting villainous ideas as heroic. OK, it’s not true. Truthfully, hip-hop is one of this generation’s biggest perpetrators, but I think I can show you how that happened and how it’s an art form that can turn the ship around. But to truly understand this, we’ve got to understand our own interpretations of heroes and villains.

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So what’s a hero? Well, to the Greeks, Odysseus was a hero. It derives from this ancient word, the term for ‘protector.’ It embodied Greek virtues and values, it demonstrated the model that they wanted society to emulate. Heroes are brave, they’re courageous, they’re capable of leading others, they address the issues that afflict the society, and finally, more importantly, heroes are risk-takers, huge risk-takers.

Professor Frank Farley from the Temple University, School of Psychology, says that most heroic figures like Franklin D Roosevelt or Martin Luther King are what you call T-type personalities or habitual risk-takers, people who will risk everything, put everything on the line, including their lives, in order to accomplish a goal. Most of us are not big risk takers; we admire this trait in others and tend to want to follow him or her. Thus, they become our heroes.

So what about a villain, what makes a villain? Villain comes from the Latin term “villanus,” which means farmhand or a worker of a plantation or a villa. It became to be known as anyone who was less than knightly status-wise, and they were seen as unnoble. So essentially, being poor, disenfranchised, and not a noble was synonymous with being a villain.

So technically speaking, when society creates subjective standards, anyone who upholds these standards, represents these standards, fights for these standards, is looked upon as a hero. Anyone who fights against these standards or opposes them is looked upon as a villain. So for example, in the 1700s, society agreed on legalized slavery. Anyone who opposed that was looked upon as a villain. It wasn’t until after society agreed on the outlawing of slavery, that abolitionists were looked upon as heroes and no longer villains.

English scholar, Dr Katherine Blakeney, says that it’s tempting to classify characters into these groups. It’s severely misleading, it’s subjective, it’s variable. And when you use terms like hero, villain, anti-hero, anti-villain, it’s important to consider what circumstances affected these people’s actions, what society and culture these people come from, and finally, how our own associations, our principles, our prejudices affect our interpretations, affect our perspectives.

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What really does make a hero or a villain? And how much of that is based off of mere interpretation? Come on, let’s be honest, there’s no public figure of the past or the present that’s without their fair share of biases, skeletons, and more failures.

There’s no spotless leaders, none of us in here are morally unstained characters in life’s grand story. So it’s wrong to just discard those labeled as villains as these forces of darkness that the hero should come and defeat. Think about Frankenstein or Frankenstein’s creation – we’re going to be technical. Frankenstein’s creation, this big bad collage of a man thing, with the bolts in his head I feel bad for this guy because no one ever took into consideration that he was sewn together from the bodies of dead criminals.

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