What We Talk About When We Talk About Haters


Let’s talk about rap.

I love it. And, I increasingly love the movement towards the open, accessible, and creatively diverse mainstream that’s been created. Even if rap isn’t your favorite genre of music, by now it’s seeped into our popular culture so much as to become inseparable.

And, from there, comes the notion of the haters.

Ah yes; the shadowy, mysterious haters. We’ll get to them, but first: the why of their emergence.

When rap was more narrow, gritty, and based in fact, goals were tangible and the lyrical antagonists were the simple facts that prevented those successes from emerging. Systematic racism, for example, or poverty.

A simple A:B plot emerges in those songs. If the goal in Fuck The Police is, to, ahem, “Fuck The Police” then the B, or the antagonist, is the police themselves.

Real simple stuff, yeah? Some songs didn’t even have a B: they just had an A, or goal, from which the B, or antagonist, would be implicit. Boasting about riches? The implied B is the situation which was created to keep you down. Boasting about girls? The implied B is to those poor unfortunate souls without them.

But when the A, or goal, becomes more complex, the B, or antagonist, becomes hazier too.

Currently, the aspirational appeal of rap is increasingly less about the money or the signifiers of wealth as it is about the emotional validation those things represent. And, at the opposite end of the spectrum, haters represent the emotional doubts we encounter on the way towards our goals.

This is also why pop culture has geared heavily up to meet imagined haters. I say imagined because, let’s be honest, nobody cares as much about you as you do. You do not have haters. Maybe you have people who dislike you some, but that’s a rare maybe; they certainly aren’t defined by this. They aren’t your comic-book villain, shaking their fist at you.

So if haters don’t really exist, why are we all so interested?

It’s simple. We’re intrigued because haters exist inside us all, and, finally, when transferred to the external, we have a fair chance to acknowledge and fight them.

Think about it. When you have your own doubts inside you, they burrow inside your psyche. They can be hard to even consciously notice, let alone dig out and fight. But, in the culture of finding haters, it’s easy. What do you imagine the haters talking about? That’s your own insecurity. And, in digging that out and fighting it on the road to self improvement, you’ve just found a simple psychological trick towards being better.

It’s pretty cool.


There’s a trend among some people to dismiss rap as a lesser genre, as though being easy to understand and feel is somehow a negative rather than a positive. But if we’re a culture that divides on concepts of self-love and ego on such topics as the selfie, let’s talk about the role rap culture plays. Because, especially in the modern golden age of emotionally open rap (Kanye and Drake, for example) nothing is off limits.

Think about Kanye for a moment. Kanye graciously created an ego so large that we can borrow it by proxy. We can turn on a song, a playlist and a sneer and say why not us.

“Why not us” is the ultimate message of rap, and that’s what pushes our haters to the outside. Even the boasts are about personal fulfillment now. Yeah, sure, money and girls, great; but man, those are signifiers for goals and self-completion. It’s about being the best. Snarl and flex, smirk and stunt; show yourself as worthy, to that being worthy will follow.

That is what rap encapsulates. That ability to transcend your weakness and your fear and to actually mean it. How many of us can sound like Drake to our anxieties? Can you imagine the savory, gorgeous freedom from fear and self that it takes to sneer at criticism and mean it? I can’t. Because every slight, real or imagined, glows inside me with the recognition inside me that it’s true.

And that’s what we’re trying to fight when we talk about haters.

We know our weaknesses and our buttons. We know exactly what we’d love to boast about, and what we’d love to be true. But to deliver that outward into the world means we’d have to believe it, and we don’t. Wanting something doesn’t make it so; in fact, wanting something often indicates how far away it is from our grasp. We only want the impossible, and that’s why defeating the haters is so culturally important. They are invented, ghostly, and impossible to conquer. Haters reside in our souls, universally crafted to be resilient and powerful within us.

To transcend the haters then, isn’t some teenage egotistic dream so much as a worthy hope. It’s about a nirvana, a peace and unity of self that, in this case, extends to the universally enjoyable world of joyful, sneering success.

I mean, what more could you ask for? It’s a combination of the emotionally resonant and the gleefully obvious. It turns emotions into video-game enemies to be conquered. And, while that loses some resonance in translation, I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make some sense.