Why hip-hop died (and who’s here to revive it)
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 23:09
As Tupac’s death anniversary passes once again, the world celebrates his legacy. What remains of him are songs, gems that, 16 years later, still amaze me. The remnants we have of Tupac Amaru are musical artwork: messages of tolerance, expressions of struggle and a guide for the future. When one contemplates these lyrical treasures, they may find comfort and inspiration. But 16 years later, the industry has changed. What happened to rap?
The golden age of 90’s hip-hop has withered away and mainstream corporate-produced rap has taken its place, creating a genre many regard simply as “trash.” Although huge record labels deserve much of the blame for suppressing creative control, it seems that most mainstream rappers today are simply not on their game.
Once upon a time, rap had substance. Profanity was placed more gracefully, meant to serve a purpose and not just fill gaps in songs. Expressed were feelings of racial tension, inner-city struggle, the pressures of youth and poverty. The concepts now seem lost and have been replaced with nothing but popping bottles, getting stacks and easy women. Lyrics are vacuous and repetitive, voices are auto-tuned and creativity is overshadowed by the need to make money and get radio play. There is no apparent desire to be different musically, lyrically or socially. Hip-hop heads cling to throwbacks like A Tribe Called Quest, Big L and Wu-Tang, not because they’re stuck in a loop…but because pickings are slim.
But alas, we have Lil Wayne to enlighten us. From his hottest mixtape yet, “Dedication 4,” he tells us, “We smoke so much that Smokey The Bear have to bear with us”…or on a deeper note, “We got that work so come and get if we don’t know you, you pay tax. I put a hole in your apple, what that is? Apple Jacks.” Although one may very well apply these thoughtful words to his or her life, something suggests that Lil Wayne and others are doing it wrong.
Hip-hop is dying…or dead, rather. But the good news is there are some people dedicating their efforts to revive it. Little known to most, MC’s like Talib Kweli, Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Logic rhyme meaningfully and with grace. Other great artists who have maintained the quality in hip-hop are XV, Hopsin, Danny Brown, Curren$y, Jay Electronica and Sol. Considered to have one of the most unique flows within the underground rap scene, 25-year-old Compton native Kendrick Lamar speaks on relationships and the dynamics of young people, family, and the music industry. In the song “Dumb It Down,” Kendrick spits lines like “I spaz out ‘til I pass out, there’s clarity in my vulgarity for a sass-mouth; your parody’s not funny, apparently you ain’t nothing but industry crash dummies,” addressing the money-hungry nature of the music industry. Hopsin raps angrily about our directionless generation: “but still you out in these streets, thinking you as hot as can be; without the knowledge to lead, so you just follow the sheep.” 22-year-old Logic from Maryland is astounding, blowing listeners away with a lightning fast flow and incredibly intellectual word choice. His song “Shine On” represents this: “I replied I died inside, resurrected a beast; leave ‘em deceased, music’s in my genes like a crease.” Through lines like “with that predator state of mind, I’m set to detonate, stack my bread and watch the paper escalate.” Logic proves that confidence and intelligence are not mutually exclusive.
There is an incredible amount of talent right now; it’s just not on the radio. The good news about underground rap artists is that you can count on raw talent. Those who are tired of spoon-fed messages and pre-packaged, passionless music will seek something better. Listeners no longer have Biggie and Tupac, but the artists mentioned here can re-affirm faith in hip-hop. So spread the word, broaden your musical horizons, and help resurrect rap.