Hip Hop is dead! We’ve all heard this before or something along the lines of music being in a general state of decline. Rarely is there any blame placed on factors such as an artist’s lack of talent or Hip Hop is just different now. Even with the proverbial sh*tty music out today, there are still great artists and tons of up and coming artists that are on the cusp of recognizable; but that’s another conversation. For now we’ll talk about this whole idea of Hip Hop and its “demise”.
Hip Hop can’t be dead and if it is dead, who is to blame? Do we look to the lack of quality we deal with every time we turn on the radio or television? There isn’t a concrete answer of the origin of who’s at fault; comparable to the chicken or the egg, similar to the plot in Bamboozled (is it the man at the head of the table behind the scenes, is it the artist themselves, or is it us as fans?). Altogether we do one hell of a job suppressing good music and uplifting the stereotype-filled and substance lacking crap, we are forced to digest by major labels and your “Hot 97’s everyday that’s my word!” (See what I did there). Which ultimately makes us (the consumers) the Prime Suspects.
Outside of the consumers being the prime suspects for the declining of Hip Hop, we also know the music labels play an integral role in suppressing good music. Labels have changed the game; there is less of an emphasis on the actual artists and more of an emphasis of having the next trendy, radio & club hit. It’s a political game; labels seek to reach the largest audiences by supporting shallow artists that lack skill and depth of thought. The deeper and harder you are to understand as an artist, the more likely you are to offend someone, and the less likely you are to make money for the label. With the help of social media and this generation’s 140 character limited attention span, good production and a dance (i.e. “Hot n****” and the Shmoney dance) seem to be more important than what messages are being delivered by the artist. Let’s be real, all of those songs have a place in Hip Hop, yes even Iggy Azalea (she sucks by the way). When we’re in the club, we don’t want to hear a reference to politics. We just need lyrics that are easy to digest and a dope beat in some situations. Which tells more about the fan-base wanting to escape reality than listening to soul shifting music (but let’s save that for another post). The labels are out to take our money, so obviously “we” are communicating a love for the music tearing down the Hip Hop culture. With the exception of those artist cosigned by the moguls, (Dr. Dre, Jay Z..etc) . It is no coincidence that Eminem, 50cent and Kendrick Lamar’s careers skyrocketed after their affiliation with Dre.The same can be said about Jay Z’s affiliates: Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, Wale and J. Cole. There is always the possibility that these immensely talented artists would blow up regardless, but it would be foolish to downplay the mogul’s impact on their careers. It’s the art of the co-sign; without one, the greatest lyricists can be another starving artist. Rappers are forced to sacrifice their artistic integrity to satisfy the label’s direction for them; what the consumer needs to hear. Well, unless you’re a Lupe fan. Some how Lupe fans were able to switch the label’s practice. Lasers, Lupe’s 3rd album (which was a flop), did not receive an album release date until fans protested outside of Atlantic’s headquarters. Talk about consumer power! There is the proof of the power that we (the consumers) choose not to exercise. Now the blame shifts on the artists.
There has always been horrible music, but with the advent of YouTube and other popular social media platforms, releasing music to the world is as easy as a click of a button. It is so simple to go viral recording a song and sending it to the masses. Back in the day, rappers had to get through a couple barriers; luckily for the artists now, they can skip all the middle men. It is hard to compete as a conscious artist since being trendy seems to be where the money is. Consequently, some artists sell out and follow suit. Did they forget that self-expression is the base of all music? This is why artists like Kanye, J. Cole, and Drake (the list goes on) continually succeed.They are being themselves and we all can relate or at least admire that. If Hip Hop is dead, it anti-climatically died from natural causes due to its unhealthy lifestyle. What a bummer! The rather complicated formula of commercialism, which embodies components of all three of the “prime suspects”, led Hip Hop to dig its own grave. Each component correlates with one another, but there is no true causal relationship. Rappers and labels attempt to appeal to fans; fans individually have the least amount of power and have to make due with what’s given. Each of these parts are interdependent to one another, being an integral piece to the overall process.
What can we do as fans? We have to form a united front and begin to demand more effort, authenticity, and overall higher quality music. On a local level, we must begin uplifting our artist with true potential and not be afraid of what the rest of the country may think. This is one reason why you have to respect the West Coast culture, they truly stand behind their artists like Blu a Los Angeles rapper who If you haven’t heard of his albums “Below the Heavens” and “Her Favorite Colo(u)r” please give them a listen. Through social media and famous Hip Hop blogs, we can voice our opinions on what we want and what we deem as great music. Pitchfork, a popular music website, is known for deleting or adjusting old reviews, once the artist’s work boosts in national recognition. Lastly, don’t fall for the hype. Make your own decisions, define what good music is, do not let the number of views and plays on a radio deter your integrity as a listener. We are Hip Hop’s pulse and need to begin to realize that. As long as we can identify good music and hold artists to our high standards, Hip Hop will be alive and well.
We at VSOP acknowledge the power and rarity of good music. However, In recent conversations on the topic,we’ve realized that the opinion of what good music is varies from individual to individual. Nonetheless, we feel confident that we know a classic when we hear it. We want to make sure that our take on music is not the typical thumbs up, thumbs down critique. Our vision is to break down how music makes us feel and what contribution it makes to our everyday life. Through our conversation of what good music is, we will find ourselves in classic debates about the musical talent of our time. Please feel free to comment and communicate with us as we examine music. Consider this your invitation the Save the Music!
By: J. Taylor