WHAT IS WRONG WITH HIP HOP?
It starts with a love of Hip Hop. The great atmospheres of the ‘Golden Era’ producers of the early nineties, coupled with the grit and realism of artists who really meant what they were saying. Aged fourteen, there was nothing better to listen to, but just as it was about to come into its own, it disappeared.
The remnants of this era still exist in the form of ‘traditional’ producers, using the same late seventies and eighties equipment that forged the dusty and gritty sound that could capture the ear, but as in any other case, it’s just not the same.
Everything around us moves and changes. The problem is having a passion for a genre of music which has already had its day, or so we think. To keep the traditional, simple, but effective sound is almost denying this basic rule of evolution. The difficulty is picking up the flow where it left off. The difficultly, we feel, is that in general Hip Hop artists have no idea how to get back to the path of atmosphere, rhythm, flow, content, and character.
Capitalism will capitalize. Nothing is safe. It has laid its sinewy fingers on all aspects of our lives, inner and outer, and will not cease to do so unless we sacrifice comfort for clarity. To assume that a niche genre of music would be exempt from this fact is at best wishful thinking. Its card came up, and now we are witnessing the effects upon the music which once had something different. It had never been touched.
The most insidious aspect of the manipulation of Hip Hop is that it is very difficult to blame. In the painful creations that we watch on our televisions (watching music?) there is also a tale which touches the heart. As the music has failed, it has sprung a very real road to very real success for people, not all, but most, who have lived with the worst side of nothing to believe in.
My first major blow came when I discovered that Rawkus Records, a U.S. bastion of underground Hip Hop, was owned and run by James Murdoch, son of the infamous Rupert Murdoch, media tycoon and right wing political thinker. His son had set up the label while at university in the U.S., and it had blossomed into one of the finest bases for good, solid, and content rich material in the world.
Rawkus was infused with radical thinkers, poets, and ‘movers’ who provided some of the best tracks made, in my humble. Aside from this, one of the most interesting aspects of this suspicious arrangement was that many of the artists were Muslim, and motivated with strong opinions and angles for Islam in the modern west, something that for anyone who knows the doctrine of the Murdoch dynasty, is a stark contradiction.
The label began to slump after 2000, with many of the artists on its roster moving on or frankly completely stagnating (Eminem made a brief appearance on its books) but for some it was the starting block for a profound change in tack.
‘Common’, formerly ‘Common Sense’, was a well spoken, conscious, and heartfelt artist with mild Islamic views and an eye for change. In his video for ‘The Truth’ he is pictured leading a revolutionary riot through the streets of an unknown city. Recently I was flicking through a copy of GQ magazine, when my advertising battered vision came to rest on yours truly modeling jumpers for GAP. All well and good (sort of) until you realize that GAP have an especially fruity track record with outsourcing production to third world countries. He has since gone on to acting and still has a record deal, albeit with all his former revolutionary rhetoric conveniently nipped and tucked.
The list goes on. Mos Def, once a spokesman for black intelligence and advancement, has managed to play the role of a nearly retarded criminal in ‘13 Blocks’, and to be honest, the same character in ‘Be Kind Rewind’. All well and good, but he spent ten years in music trying to enlighten his listeners to be something more than being retarded criminals.
So the dilemma is based around the fact that as many Hip hop artists are rewarded with the spoils of fame and success, the music which brought them to where they are increasingly suffers. So what can be done? Should we accept that a genre with so much potential for development has had its day and the great stories and atmospheres of the nineties were a brief stop on the way towards Hip Hop’s true destiny? The answer is no.
The basic elements of rap music are essentially free. There are no boundaries or limitations upon the content of the rhyming prose delivered over backing beats. The limitations exist within the mind of the writer. There are no limitations upon the sound of the backing beats, bar the limitations of the producer. Hip Hop is essentially free, yet exists in a state of absolute confinement.
To elaborate further inevitably leads towards the mixing of the genres and on to philosophical blabbering about the essentials which formulate music.
The point is that if you really think about it, as ‘K-OS’ puts it; ‘Hip Hop is not dead, it’s just the mind of the MC’.
It all needs to be rethought. We need to forget about the stigmas most commonly associated with Hip Hop, and let it be what it needs to be. Lay aside the black thing, the ghetto thing, the tuff thing, and the aggressive natures and reservations towards each other. Let it be beats and rhymes and freedom to say what you want to say. The music is not developing because the people involved in it are not developing in themselves.
The potential is huge. The basic premise of a story or descriptive scene fused with rhythm and flow, plus a heartfelt and solid delivery is one which opens the genre to limitless possibilities. You could cover literally anything you wished, from the movement of the cosmos to the basics of building a computer. It is waiting to be done, untapped, and may well be one of the last big movements in music.
Artists need to read and research, producers need to learn and expand. The reason, time after time, that types of music stay underground is because they lack the content to survive on the surface. Great music carries itself, it speaks and connects, and with that energy, people speak and connect when listening or referring to that music. When this energy is packaged and marketed, it invariably loses its essence.
It needs real people with real things to say, who are creatively inspired and who understand themselves and the world around them, who write and practice to develop their abilities, and who read and pay attention to their acquisition of beneficial knowledge. If the boundaries can begin to dissolve, artists will begin to feel more at liberty to express their creativity, without the pressures of a failing scene bearing down on them. There is no other form of music which can evoke imagery like Hip Hop, it is now one of the most popular genres on the planet, yet it is so far from meeting its potential.