I’m thinking of writing a post about music in general, but that is a much longer post and I keep procrastinating. It’s easier if I just opine about Rap/Hip Hop. Seems suitable since Snoop Doggy Dogg’s ‘Doggystyle’ album was the first album I remember listening to. I think it was due to the cartoon-like cover, that I was drawn to it.
Anyway, I would like to assess why has Rap music has become so unbearable. What I mean by that is, why is crap hip hop music becoming more popular than good hip hop? …
Rap music, when it first started out as a culture had a purpose. It was something new that was never done before. Instead of just being a genre, it became a new culture. It was that big. Instead of singing on a song (which undoubtedly is the norm) people could recite poetry and rhythmically align their rhymes to the ‘music’. (I was very inclined to say ‘beat’ instead of ‘music’, but that word has taken a very different meaning nowadays; it’s more than just a fruit http://bit.ly/Z1SbGm or a definition of a sound when a drum instrument is struck; now it’s a headphone line as well).
It spawned a whole new category of artists that could express themselves very creatively. I mean, why not? Poetry can be, and for everyone but fans of it, really boring. It takes too much effort and energy to read poetry. You have to concentrate, read carefully, and (I don’t mind admitting it) even look up those rare words that are used. Only then are you immersed in what the author was feeling, and can truly appreciate what he/she wrote. I can’t blame poets, because writing poetry is difficult. You have to say stuff within the confines of the rules, and also make it rhyme. No wonder there are so many synonyms of words. Probably poets needed a rhyme, and invented a word. 😛
Then came the African-American community and modernised the hell out of poetry. Fused it with music. Also, because of political reasons that everyone knows about their neglected rights, that particular community did not have the same opportunity to education as literary great poets had. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have the talent. They wrote very beautifully crafted lyrics in an understandable vocabulary. How could it not become popular?
Language as a form of communication allows us (the superior species) to communicate the same thing in a plethora of ways. That’s the beauty of rap music. Poetically and beautifully conveying thoughts, accompanied by music.
As it is commonly known or speculated, rap music started out by looping percussive solos of funk music (at that time, by using 2 copies of the same record) and artists rapping, rather freestyling on top of that. However, the nature of content, is I think best described in this Wikipedia sentence: ‘an outlet and a “voice” for the disenfranchised youth of low-economic areas, as the culture reflected the social, economic and political realities of their lives.’
That seems logical, because it has been studied that conflict and tension enable creativity. (http://bit.ly/Xrrxso). At the time when Hip Hop started, it was the early 70s, and there was friction between the Black community in the US, and those in power. They were fighting for the equality of their rights. Yes, today that seems absurd, however only 40 years ago, there was heavy discrimination in the ‘most democratic country’ in the world. So, instead of the usual suspect in music (a.k.a. love) hip hop music contained a lot of talk about fundamental rights.
I’m not saying that it was only that, but my argument is, that the problems the blacks had with their community is what sparked the hip hop culture. Having every song with a political nature can be monotonous, therefore Hip Hop immediately increased in breadth, and it included all sorts of topics.
Fast forward to today, and the problem with Hip Hop music.
Famous, or rather ‘popular’ hip hop songs, used to be poetic, and followed by good funky music. In other words, it was true to its roots. The songs involved storytelling. You could easily get immersed in the song, and connect with the artist. A prime example would be the universal hit of Grandmaster Flash – The message (http://bit.ly/15W1JJA). Although a long song, by that time’s standards, it touched on a whole range of difficult subjects. Another newer example would be Run DMC – It’s like that (http://bit.ly/Z6kcxS).
Since black people are the creators and propagators of Blues music, this is the kind of thing that was to be expected. Now, the above songs, although grim in the meaning of their lyrics, they are very dancy and uplifting. The same with blues. Very sad and heartbreaking themes that are masterpieces. This nature is not that dissimilar to that of the Kosovar people (maybe that’s why Hip Hop is popular here). Those songs, and their like, were immediate and huge hits when they came out. Very good reception from the public.
Now, because we live in a capitalist democracy, the way that we have chosen to regulate our society is with rewards corresponding to our contributions, this in turn spawned even more talented rappers.
Easily classified as the best rapper in history, Tupac cemented the concept of hip hop music (by which I mean to be truly poetic in verse, and follow that with good music). Even in the beginning of his career he could say very much with very little:
Now I clown around when I hang around with the Underground
Girls use to frown, say I’m down, when I come around
Gas me and when they pass me they use to diss me
Harass me, but now they ask me if they can kiss me
Isn’t that the point of poetry? Say a lot with very little? Evoke a myriad of emotions with a single verse?
True hip hop lovers (by that I mean people that have listened to songs and can, without thinking too hard, name at least 10 songs from the Golden age of hip hop (http://bit.ly/YOjVSg)) know this, and right now are nodding their heads agreeing with this blog post.
As with everything in our world, Hip Hop started to evolve. It started to branch out. Everyone remembers the 90s East-West hip hop war, with the culmination of the deaths of the two of the greatest rappers of history. The two styles of hip hop that spawned in the early 90s was the west side (Dr. Dre influenced) hip hop which relied heavily on funk music, and East side hip hop which relied more on a simple beat and more emphasis on the lyrics. Although funk is inherent in all hip hop, the style that was from the west (mainly California) was more (for lack of a better word) Funky; it contained more samples from Funk legends (e.g. Almost every song on Funkadelic was sampled by Dr. Dre). This was probably due to the producers’ love for Funk music which was probably what they grew up listening to. Whereas on the East side, mainly New York, music was darker, and not that intricate, compared to its counterpart. Maybe it’s because of the weather?
Yes, I know I’m giving the appearance of a lazy armchair sociologist, but I believe my reasoning is quite sound 🙂
That was the golden age. Every artist that is still alive, and has made an album during that era, however hard they try, they can never replicate that success. You can name all of the big ones: Dr Dre – The Chronic; Snoop Doggy Dogg – Doggystyle; Jay Z – Reasonable Doubt; Nas – Illmatic; De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising; A Tribe Called Quest – Low end Theory; This list can go on and on. By ‘success’ I don’t mean album sales, I am talking about the increase in their reach and influence.
The lyrics were more intricate, the music was purer, and overall it seems that they as artists put much more effort into their albums. Nowadays, rarely do you hear any lines such as:
– I ain’t a killer, but don’t push me!
– It’s a Must that I fuck with you
– We used to fuss when the landlord dissed us; No heat, wonder why Christmas missed us
Back then, this was the norm.
Ok, before you protest, about 4 lines above I wrote ‘rarely do you HEAR any lines…’. I’m not saying they’re not written, or not produced. That’s the point I’m getting at.
Then hip hop went through a phase of experimentation, which borne the style of hip hop from the southern part of the US, as well as a style with a relationship with Rock music (this was always touched, but never went mainstream), and hip hop using a live band instead of a pre-recorded/manufactured instrumental.
What happened to hip hop in the early and the rest of the 2000s was the same thing that happened to the rest of the music world. Above I mentioned capitalism, and now, I would like to return to that. Today, music has evolved, and with it, so have the record companies, producers, and music promoters evolved. With their polling and testing of various forms of music, it seems that these income generating cogs of this huge industry have found the perfect formula to reach the highest number of people in a genre. A perfect example would be Justin Bieber. He is the perfect formula of the kind of music that needs to be produced in order to be sold the most.
So, because people’s livelihoods are dependent on the amount of income they generate, it’s only natural that they seek to maximise their income. In this organisation of society artists try to make the most sellable music, instead of the best music. In case of hip hop, it’s difficult to sell music that moves you, with meaningful poetic lyrics. Therefore, we have reached a point where generic lyrics are laid upon a good ‘beat’ and it’s an instant hit. Why bother yourself with writing good stuff, when the less thoughful, the repetitive same shit sells a whole lot more? (e.g. Jay Z – I dumb down for my audience; And double my dollars)
Thus, we have come to this state of hip hop. Where every popular hip hop song you hear today is about money, bitches, cars, guns, gold chains, gold teeth, more bitches, and drugs.
Why aren’t lyrically courageous hip hop artists as popular as these sellouts that you hear everywhere? (Sometimes that line is blurred with people like Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, etc). By just taking a very small step in the underground hip hop scene you can very well see that the art of hip hop still lives on. However, according to the music industry ‘that shit don’t sell!’. Referencing these big artists’ earlier albums, you can clearly see that they have talent. They just opt not to use it, because they risk moving into irrelevance. Today, all you need is a ‘phat beat’ to bob your head to, and some catchy chorus lines. Fuck ‘lines’, that’s so last decade, today you only need a catchy word (e.g. Clique, clique, clique, clique… – http://bit.ly/105jnq8).
The argument from fans of today’s hip hop, is that today, rapping is not about saying something, but about word play. How many ways can you play with the words of the above mentioned themes (money, bitches, cars, helicopters, etc)? I would very much like to argue that it’s possible to say something meaningful in a creative word-play-y way! Or, you can just straight out start joking and have fun on an album (e.g. Method Man & Redman – Blackout). Hip hop artists have been word playing since the beginning of this genre. Why should it be the main theme now? Here’s some word play from 1979 (http://bit.ly/Zp346D). Word play doesn’t get any better than that! In other words, these new hits are not bringing anything new to the genre. They’re just the same repetitive stuff, manufactured in such a way to reach the widest audience, and generate the most income.
So, next time you want to listen to a hip hop song, try something different; something not popular, it probably has good lyrics.
I would like to leave you with my favorite hip hop song: http://bit.ly/13ENFVq