The problem isn’t hip-hop, the problem is in the conditions that younger artists are coming out of, and what the record labels will accept and promote …
I got lost in YouTube for a minute listening to rap songs from the 90s, then 80s, then I found myself back in the 70s somehow. Its all great fun. But as fun as the songs are, the ongoing drama between those that give the old songs a negative rating and those that love the old songs is amusing. People are entitled to their opinion. It isn’t always some kid from the 90s that gives the old songs a low rating. Sometimes it is people in our own generation that don’t like these songs because they aren’t as good as some other song.
I love hip-hop, rap music, and everything in between. I love all types of music. There were some great songs back in the day, and there were a lot of misses as well. The disc jockeys at the radio station had the power to promote the songs that they wnated to hear, so you didn’t hear too much garbage on the radio. However, if you went to a party, or if you actually bought the LP or cassette, there were plenty of undesirable songs on a record.
There also seems to be a lot of confusion about the evolution of hip-hop culture, and the evolution of rap music. Rap music continues to evolve, hip-hop culture, well it probably died a long time ago. All rap music is, are the beats that people speak, sing, or spit over. There are pundits that will tell you that partying and dancing has nothing to do with hip-hop culture. That is just silly, in every decade there have been dancers in music videos. In fact, dancing rarely had anything to do with the actual genre of rap music.
What would hip-hop be without dancing, and without party music? If you can’t enjoy yourself by dancing, why are you listening to hip-hop? Hip-hop is a universal scene that has something for everyone. Some people do not like to dance, some are intellectual, some are pseudo-intellectual, some are gangsters, some like to talk about sex, others want to talk about drugs. There is room for all of those points of view in rap music, and in hip-hop culture.
We like to say that the earlier artists did not glorify drugs and sex, but that simply is not true. If a female artist was not talking about sex, she was talking about relationships. Women talked about issues that were of interest to women, and didn’t care much what men thought about the topics they addressed because males were not promoting or supporting female artists back in the day. So women created hip-hop for themselves.
The only difference between older artists like MC Lyte, Yo-Yo, and Queen Latifah was that they found a way to empower women instead of exploit themselves sexually. By the time Lil’ Kim came on the scene, artists were no longer talking about contemporary issues and rap music began to exploit the conditions in the ghetto, rather than deliver creative solutions to those problems, so it was only natural that artists like Lil’ Kim and Miss Elliot use sex to sell records. White artists were doing so, and by that time rap had lost its identity and was another subgenre of the mainstream scene.
It shouldn’t be noted that the older artists had begun to change by that time as well. The 90s were an era of sexual experimentation, and that was reflected in the lyrics. Hip-hop songs were graphic in nature, but no one considered this to be selling out. But we can’t just sit here and say that sexual promiscuity, and drug use, were never topics in hip-hop.
The primary difference in rap from 20 years ago, and rap we listen to today, is that artists have made a point out of talking about topics, and do not know how to put words together. Wordplay is a lost art in hip-hop today. You have artists like Lil’ Wayne, that can give us a constant stream of one liners but are hard pressed to construct an actual metaphor over more than 2 bars. There is also an emphasis on stream of consciousness in hip-hop; this has always been an element in hip-hop, but the emphasis seems to be more on the fact that someone is thinking out loud, as opposed to the idea that the artist is truly saying something.
I have always felt that hip-hop would evolve to a point where people no longer cared about lyrics and would start to care about the charisma and determination of the artist. Younger kids talk about an artists swag, or in the case of Lil’ B, the idea of his state of mind. Philosophical considerations were always part of hip-hop though, De La Soul, Leaders of the New School, and Tribe Called Quest were more about expression than they were lyrics. They had lyrics, but the entire point of those groups, was the state of mind that was celebrated in the music. You may disagree, but I wasn’t listening to groups like KMD for the lyrics. I listened to them because their music spoke to my state of mind at that particular time.
You could never get a Lil’ Wayne or a Drake to create lyrics that we used to love back in the 80s and 90s because the times are different. The world has changed, and America has become an empty, shallow, simple place. People do not have the attention span that they used to. Consciousness is ridiculed. Deep thought is too abstract for most people. You can’t be abstract in hip-hop today, because people get confused and no one wants to put in the effort to figure out what an artist is saying.
When a new artist tries to be deep, it goes over their listeners heads. So then they put out yet another ignorant song. Younger artists also struggle in that they couldn’t be deep if they wanted to, to older listeners that are spoiled on artists that talked about serious issues back in the eighties and nineties. So when Soulja Boy or Lil’ B try to get deep, we laugh at them. We would rather hear Rakim, Chuck D or KRS-One.
The problem is not hip-hop. Hip-hop is a reflection of the times, always has been, always will be. The problem is the condition that younger kids are coming up in. Being smart is a liability, not an asset. In my generation, you didn’t brag about what you had, or what you were doing. In fact no one really wanted to hear anything about that; it was assumed that if you had yourself together access to money and women came with the territory. So you constructed songs that talked about how you would dismantle the career of the competition.
These days kids do not want to hear lyrics. They could care less about your skills as an artist, your lyrical prowess, or how capable you are as a rapper. They want to hear about your money. We live in an age where you are nothing without money. So it has become fashionable for artists to tell their haters to kill themselves if they aren’t making any money. Lyrics are taken for granted; everyone already knows what a good lyricist sounds like, and they aren’t entertained by lyrics, they are entertained by the beat.
Music was always a core component of hip-hop. One of the great things about hip-hop, is that a producer knew how to make a boring record sound interesting again. But music was never supposed to overpower the artist. I cannot tell you how many artists send me recommendations of their work on YouTube and Twitter that simply do not get it. Yeah your beat goes hard, but so does the next guy. In this day and age your great-grandmother has access to great beats. I need to know that your lyrics are as hard as the beats. Nine times out of ten they aren’t, and artists that get their videos voted down on YouTube still cannot fathom why people are hating on their work. No one is hating on anything; we love your music, but we do not care for your lyrics.
In fact one of the reasons why the music is as infectious as it has become is in part due to the fact that the lyrics are not that good. Producers have to make you sound a lot better than you really are. When the artists were creative, the beats did not overpower the song. I can still listen to those old beats because they weren’t as complex, stood the test of time, and were more accessible than the music today. Every producer seems stuck in the same key. Every producer appears to be stuck doing the same thing. Consumers are not sophisticated enough to know that certain sounds, like those in trap music, will always be pleasant to their ears because of the notes that are being used and the sounds that are originating from the synthesizer. There is an artificial nature to modern rap music that makes it difficult to ignore. Older hip-hop is like a cathode ray television, the picture isn’t that great and so the writers put in a lot of effort to deliver a compelling story. Newer hip-hop is a bit like high-definition television, the picture is great and you’ll watch someone defecating in a cereal bowl if there are 1,080 lines of resolution. Artists have picked up on this and have become lazy lyrically, because they know the record is going to sell anyway.
Older, sophisticated artists like Jay-Z are only putting in a fraction of the effort they used to when they were trying to come up. They have already made their money. So they can come up with something in 15 minutes and kill your entire career, and you worked a month on those lyrics, and you still aren’t going to get paid like they are and they do not even need to rap anymore. It sounds better than anything you hear on the radio, but it doesn’t sound as good as they used to sound when they hungry and determined to make it.
In order for hip-hop to change, the culture needs to change. Black people have to become conscious again. There are some aspects to life in the ghetto that are never going to change. There will always be drug abuse, prostitution, hustling, pimping and disenfranchisement in the ghetto. Those societal ills are woven in the fabric of life in an impoverished condition. People who would have been hip-hop artists 20 years ago, are off writing books or doing other things. They weren’t making any money in hip-hop, and realized they could reach a larger audience and have a greater impact elsewhere. These are the type of individuals that we need in hip-hop right now. If the record companies do not want to support these individuals we have to find some other way to get the word out on the streets. Hip-hop is just a symptom of what is going on in America. Don’t attack the artists, attack the conditions the artists come up in.