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How with ‘They Not Like Us’, Kendrick Lamar reminds us that Cultural Appreciation and Cultural Appropriation Are Part of the Sustainability Conversation

How Culture, Appreciation, and Appropriation Are Part of the Sustainability Conversation

The concepts of culture, appreciation, and appropriation play critical roles in the sustainability conversation, particularly within the music, fashion, and entertainment industries. Cultural appropriation involves adopting elements of a culture without understanding or respecting their significance, often perpetuating stereotypes and causing disrespect. In contrast, cultural appreciation involves respectful engagement and understanding. Both concepts are integral to sustainability, especially in the music, fashion, and entertainment industries.

Julien Tromeur

Cultural Appreciation vs. Appropriation

Cultural Appreciation involves respectful appreciation that promotes understanding, inclusivity, and preservation of cultural heritage for future generations. When we engage with cultures respectfully, we contribute to social cohesion and the maintenance of cultural diversity. For example, the UNESCO World Heritage List includes sites of cultural significance, promoting the preservation and appreciation of diverse cultural heritage. By learning from different cultures and respecting their practices, we can foster a more inclusive society. This understanding helps break down cultural barriers and promotes mutual respect and empathy.

Cultural Appropriation, on the other hand, undermines social sustainability by perpetuating stereotypes, disrespecting communities, and commodifying sacred practices. It often results in the trivialisation of cultural elements, stripping them of their original meaning and significance. Cultural appropriation often leads to economic and social exploitation, where the benefits are not shared with the original culture. This can exacerbate existing inequalities and hinder the development of the appropriated culture. For example, the fashion industry has faced criticism for appropriating Indigenous headdresses and sacred symbols, turning them into mere fashion accessories devoid of their cultural significance.

Kendrick Lamar vs. Drake: A Battle Beyond Music

Through his infamous battle record, “They Not Like Us,” Kendrick Lamar’s issue with Drake transcends music, igniting debates about cultural authenticity in hip-hop. Lamar’s critique addresses broader concerns about the commodification of hip-hop and the disconnect between its popularity and its roots in Black American experiences.

This controversy brings to light the importance of cultural sustainability in the music industry and beyond. Cultural sustainability involves preserving the authentic roots of a culture, maintaining artistic integrity, promoting social equity, ensuring economic sustainability, and shaping the long-term viability of the genre respectfully.

Kendrick Lamar’s battle with Drake in “They Not Like Us” is not just a musical rivalry; it is a significant discourse on cultural authenticity in hip-hop. This debate underscores the necessity of cultural sustainability, urging us to preserve the authentic roots of hip-hop, maintain artistic integrity, promote social equity, ensure economic sustainability, and shape the genre’s evolution respectfully.

This requires:

Cultural Preservation: Maintaining Authentic Roots

Hip-hop originated from the struggles and experiences of Black Americans, serving as a voice for marginalized communities. Maintaining the authentic roots of hip-hop involves preserving its original messages and values, ensuring that the culture remains true to its origins rather than being diluted or misrepresented for commercial gain.

Artistic Integrity: Creating Lasting Cultural Impact

Artistic integrity in hip-hop means creating music that resonates with its cultural roots, thereby ensuring a lasting impact. Artists like Kendrick Lamar emphasize the importance of staying true to the genre’s essence, promoting messages that reflect the realities and experiences of the communities from which hip-hop originated.

Social Equity: Questioning Industry Representation

The battle between Kendrick Lamar and Drake also highlights the issue of representation within the industry. Authentic representation is crucial for social equity, ensuring that those who created and nurtured the genre are the ones who benefit from its success. This involves questioning who gets to profit from hip-hop and ensuring that the original creators and communities are not marginalized.

Economic Sustainability: Defining Success and Distribution

Economic sustainability in hip-hop involves ensuring that success is measured and distributed fairly. This means that the profits generated by the genre should benefit the communities that birthed it, rather than being siphoned off by those who appropriate its elements without understanding or respecting their significance.

Long-Term Viability: Shaping Genre Evolution Respectfully

For hip-hop to remain viable in the long term, it must evolve respectfully. This involves embracing new influences and changes while staying true to its core values and roots. Artists must navigate this evolution carefully to ensure that the genre’s future is both innovative and respectful of its origins.

Cultural Appreciation versus Appropriation Across Creative Industries

Music Industry

In the music industry, cultural appropriation occurs when sacred musical elements or styles are used disrespectfully or without understanding their meaning. This often involves claiming ownership or profiting from genres and styles of music without proper attribution or compensation, which perpetuates stereotypes or misrepresentations through musical depictions. On the other hand, music appreciation involves collaborating with and fairly compensating musicians for their artistry and knowledge. It also means learning about the cultural significance and history of diverse musical styles and instruments, and supporting initiatives that preserve and promote cultural and indigenous music heritage.

Fashion Industry

Cultural appropriation in the fashion industry often manifests as the commodification of sacred clothing or adornments for commercial gain without consent. This includes copying traditional designs without crediting or compensating the cultural sources, and using cultural dress or styles in disrespectful or stereotypical ways. Conversely, fashion appreciation involves ethically sourcing traditional textiles and materials, and equitably remunerating artisan communities. It also includes gaining permission through respectful design, ensuring community representation and participation, and promoting fair trade practices and equitable economic opportunities for cultural communities.

Entertainment Industry

In the entertainment industry, cultural appropriation includes depicting cultures inaccurately or through harmful stereotypes and caricatures. It also involves using sacred cultural elements or practices as mere set dressings or backdrops and failing to credit or compensate communities for the use of their cultural intellectual property. Entertainment appreciation, on the other hand, involves hiring cultural advisors and ensuring authentic representation in films and shows. It also includes amplifying voices of creators from diverse cultural backgrounds, and educating audiences about cultural histories and contexts through storytelling.

Engaging Respectfully with Cultures

To ensure cultural appreciation rather than appropriation, individuals and industries can adopt the following practices:

1. Do Your Research: Understand the history and significance of cultural elements. This knowledge helps in appreciating the culture respectfully. For example, understanding the cultural significance of Dia de los Muertos can help prevent its misrepresentation as a mere Halloween theme. Consult credible sources and local cultural leaders. Engaging with authentic sources ensures accurate understanding.

2. Be Mindful of Context: Avoid trivialising sacred symbols or practices. Sacred elements should be treated with the utmost respect. Ensure cultural elements are used appropriately. Context matters in how cultural elements are perceived and respected.

3. Give Credit and Support: Credit the source culture properly. Acknowledging the origin of cultural elements shows respect and appreciation. Support cultural artists and businesses. Economic support helps sustain cultural practices and communities.

4. Listen and Learn: Be open to feedback from cultural communities. Listening to those from the culture ensures respectful engagement. Apologise and correct mistakes sincerely. Acknowledging and rectifying mistakes shows genuine respect.

5. Appreciate, Don’t Appropriate: Appreciate from a respectful distance. Not all cultural practices are meant to be adopted by outsiders. Avoid commodifying sacred cultural elements. Treat sacred items and practices with the reverence they deserve.

6. Amplify Authentic Voices: Share and promote works by cultural creators. Supporting original creators helps maintain cultural integrity. Collaborate with cultural members for projects. Collaboration ensures that cultural elements are used respectfully and accurately.


By integrating these principles, the music, fashion, and entertainment industries can engage with cultures and cultural expressions in ways that honour their significance and contributions. Doing so can ensure that we create a more sustainable and equitable world that values and respects the rich diversity of human cultures.

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Francis Mendy

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