POSTED ON NOVEMBER 21, 2012:
What Happened to Hip Hop?1. No respect for the pioneers.2. Ageism is a real problem.3. More money, less originality.4. No one has anything to say anymore.
One fan's view on the decline of a genre
I am a diehard hip hop fan and I have been for a very long time. The timelines of my generation and hip hop have the same trajectory, from its infancy in the '70s and '80s to its assumed maturity now, which probably explains why I cannot recall a time when I wasn't immersed in hip hop culture.
The criticism you are about to read does not come from some elitist whose only exposure to this genre is through the microcosm of mainstream media, but from someone who has lived and breathed not just the music, but the culture as well. I also do not want anyone to get the idea that because I am 40 years old that I have become the proverbial old man sitting on the porch with his overabundant gut, wearing knee-high black socks and house shoes, and yelling at kids to stay off the grass. In other words, I am not out to trash the younger folks who have become the face of hip hop.
However, there a few things that I have seen in the last few years that I am a little concerned about in regards to the future of hip hop. Basically, hip hop as a genre of music is not evolving. It is in suspended animation and I have four reasons why that is so.
In other genres of music, including rock, country, even rhythm and blues, the artists that are hot today routinely pay homage to those that came before them. A young rhythm and blues artist would jump at the chance to perform onstage or work in the studio with greats like Prince or Aretha Franklin. The same goes for any rocker who would be ecstatic to work with icons like The Rolling Stones or Bruce Springsteen. However, those men and women who paved the way for Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and Drake are relegated to "old school" status, which carries a definite negative connotation. Old school hip hop artists are unceremoniously discarded as has-beens and are rarely celebrated.
Because hip hop is a fairly young genre of music, it hasn't quite embraced the possibility of actually maturing, which explains why many in its inner circle consider the genre a young man's game. Once you reach the age of thirty, you run the risk of not being relevant. That means that if your music doesn't appeal to teenagers, your career is pretty much done. It's almost as if the genre itself wants to stay forever young.
The problem with that scenario is that eventually those teenagers grow up. What happens at that point? Do you turn your hip hop card into the proper authorities once you hit thirty? Hip hop is the only genre of music that does not allow its artists to experience growth, which in turn stunts the creativity of the music as a whole.
In its humble beginnings, hip hop's approach to music and culture took on a do-it-yourself attitude with most of its buzz originating from word of mouth. As the music began to make its ascent to mainstream acceptance, something strange happened. Money showed up. Once record companies and corporations realized that this music could bring in tons of money, they pounced on the opportunity. For every original hip hop artist, there are twenty copycat artists flooded into the market by rival record companies to make a quick buck.
Most hip hop music today is crass, misogynistic, materialistic, profane, and just all-around bad. There has always been hip hop music that fits this criteria, but the difference is that in the past, there were other expressions and styles -- some political, some funny, some romantic, some with a party vibe -- that were also part of hip hop. There was diversity and the average fan had choices. The direction of the genre is now determined by record sales, corporate-owned radio stations, and the incessant marketing to the lowest common denominator. That explains why the typical hip hop video is littered with half-naked girls, expensive cars, and piles of money. It boils down to economics versus good taste, and unfortunately economics is winning the battle.
Chuck D., legendary rapper from the group Public Enemy, once referred to hip hop as the CNN of the streets. People who had never set foot in the inner city could learn all there was to know about urban culture simply by listening to the music. In return, the music gave a voice to the voiceless. An entire culture was given the platform to express their struggles, dreams, and frustrations with the world system. Many of the artists from this culture rose to the occasion.
Now, most hip hop artists offer a cartoonish, ultra-violent, and hyper-sexualized version of what was once a legitimate tool for self-expression. Many rappers make more money than their predecessors, but they are content simply to be hedonistic and wallow in their excesses rather than say something important.
One might think that I am a little bitter about the current state of hip hop. Actually, there are a few artists that are still keeping the original spirit of the genre alive. When he is not being annoyingly narcissistic, Kanye West is one of the most talented hip hop artists today. Jay-Z has become an elder statesman of sorts, and he has been successful at effortlessly navigating both the music and the business world without losing his relevance. Lupe Fiasco is an unbelievable rapper whose high-caliber subject matter puts him way above his peers. A number of "underground" rappers well below the mainstream's radar reflect signs of hope for the genre.
If the powers that be continue to flood the market with the mindless, stereotypical hip hop, then at the very least there needs to be a healthy balance of the thought provoking, intelligent, and powerful version in the market as well. Hip hop should challenge its fans to think bigger, not pacify them into a catatonic mental state.
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