The world is changing. Rapidly. The year 2017 has been full of fear, shifting attitudes, and outrage. Not necessarily in that order. The way in which people are approaching many topics, like gender, sex and race, and the language with which we describe them has come under scrutiny. It may take a while to identify any sweeping and lasting changes to the music industry, but rap, the genre of lyricism, has been a steadfast holdout.
Levi Rowan’s new video for his single ‘What Happened’ is, comparatively, standing on some relatively safe ground. At it’s core is a tale of post-breakup debauchery as catharsis, but at least it’s largely self-inflicted. The undeniably talented Rowan possesses a self-awareness that sets the song apart as a layered act of self-destruction—a modern day Romeo meets Macbeth. So, we asked him where the genre was headed.
“To be honest, rap works like this: you have the best in the game that always stay at the top: Kendrick, J. Cole and Chance, etc.,” explains Rowan. “These people are at the top because their music has real deep meaning. The new wave are still great artists but those rappers that are surface level only—talking about drugs and stuff—don’t really last.”
At this point it seems redundant to point out that sex, drugs, and alcohol have been a staple to every modern genre of music. They are practically the very foundation of rock and roll. Culturally ubiquitous, they have provided the inspiration, the justification, the cause and the cure. Some genres are simply more brazen about it.
“I think that sex and drugs and alcohol have been part of rap since the beginning and it’s there to stay, because they don’t give a fuck. Rap is about talking about real shit, uncensored and untrained on what makes someone a pop star. Realistically, no rapper should be famous because, realistically, parents and society don’t want people to love bad shit. But people love bad shit and want to hear about it. ‘Bad’ meaning the drugs and sex, etc… Not to mention, any good rapper can make songs not involving that stuff and be amazing, like Kendrick.”
Rowan says that he has thus far avoided criticism for his own work. ‘What Happened’ might be an inherently debaucherous song of hazily-recalled misdeeds, but Rowan delivers it from a perspective or someone getting past the pain of romantic loss in what ultimately becomes a period of personal growth.
“It’s about breakups. Not about the sappy ‘I want you back,’ ‘I miss you’ shit (which I tackle in other songs), but about the reality that afterwards things are bleak. You feel like shit, you hate everything and all you want to do is give in to temptation in every form.”
“Those things definitely put you in a different headspace and I think the abruptness of this track portrays that. The chorus kind of shows the cockiness that comes along with the indulgence which ultimately leads to self-evaluation when things take a bad turn.”
“People really haven’t shit on me about my less-than-appropriate lyrics because I think they realize I’m just writing about what I know, what I think or experiences I’ve thought were funny,” says Rowan, “which is not too appropriate for some, but I love it.”