Defecating On A Hot Beat: The State Of “Hip-Hop” Today
Maybe I’m old school (or just old), but I often wonder how mainstream “hip-hop/rap” devolved to the b.s it is today.
In the past, it seemed MC’s were all about expanding the boundaries of the art for that was the only way one could further his/her career. They made progressions in the art of the rhyme as they went from rhyming:
the last words of consecutive lines to
the last syllable of consecutive lines to
the last two or three syllable words of consecutive
a combination of these “word forms” of consecutive
They also tinkered with line structure by going from ending their lines with regular phrases as in the sentences of a story to ending their lines with metaphoric phrases as in many forms of poetry. There was also an evolution in song subject matter as MC’s began to talk about their environment & struggles, their take on local & national events, love, the state of black people, etc in addition to the initial topics of partying, MC skills, and getting/impressing the opposite gender. They would offer a variation of these topics throughout their albums and they would often have a song about one topic but have individual lines or metaphors addressing different topics within the song.
DJ’s seemed to also be about expanding the boundaries of their art form back in the day. They progressed from simply playing records at a party to scratching & mixing records together. They elevated the scratching & mixing records element of DJ’ing to such a high level that it became an art form onto itself known as turntablism where turntablists are able to scratch, cut, & mix records in such a way that it seems one sentence or phrase is being said over a beat. DJ’s probably paved the way for R&B records to be played at a club or party by introducing the concept of blending R&B vocals over popular hip-hop beats. It wasn’t that R&B records weren’t popular back then, it was that their beats or production were too slow-tempo to be played and enjoyed in an uptempo atmosphere like a club or party setting. This blending provided a way for R&B lyrics to be enjoying in this setting which, most likely, lead to many R&B records having hop-hop or uptempo beats or production. There is a skill & talent involved with blending for one has to be able to match R&B lyrics to a hip-hop instrumental in such a way that they fit seamlessly together to such a point that those hearing the combination for the first time would think it is an actual record, not a blend or mixing of two different things.
Now it seems all one needs to be a successful & popular mainstream “rap-like artist” is a popular image. An artist doesn’t have to be an actual MC as it is now okay to employ a moderately skilled songwriter/rhyme-writer to write their “rhymes” for them or get by babbling incoherent or nonsensical phrases, as the pride of “just making the mother**kers up last night” is non-existent. These “rap-like artists” don’t have to prove their artistry or defend their standing via freestyle lyrical battles or sessions, they only have to pull a “hold up” to have adequate time for them to compile any of their previously ghostwritten rhymes to craft any “battle” or “session” responses. They only have to do the occasional freestyle recital of their previously written (or ghostwritten) lyrics or engage in an “image sideshow” battle with the other “rap-like artist”. To be successful & popular mainstream DJ, it seems all one has to do is to be able to play a MP3 playlist of popular songs or be affiliated with a popular “rap-like” performer. DJ battles today are even rarer than lyrical freestyle battles. Mainstream DJ’s today seem to be more akin to personalities who happen to occasionally play records rather than an actual disc jockey and all that it entails.
Being a first generational hip-hop national, I often wonder how such defecation of every aspect of our hip-hop culture on the mainstream level become so accepted & celebrated. The emergence of many hip-hop nationals in gatekeeping positions of authority & decision making in the music industry and their willingness to “accept & groom (on a mostly temporary basis) rap-like performers” based solely on their ability to copy the popular rich thug/hoodlum image (“bubble butt video chick image for the ladies) of the moment at the behest of their bosses who aren’t of the hip-hop nation. MC’s who are actually talented & gifted at what they do are rejected because having actual MC skills in nowhere as important as being able to portray that popular image (they can recite someone else’s basic rhymes). It seems all DJ’s have to do to have mainstream success is to simply play the simplistic records that are popular now (can even use their MP3 playlists – no shuffle required), no DJ’ing or turntablist skills required.
While much of the blame for the dismal & depressing state of mainstream hip-hop culture & industry, on an artistic level, can be laid at the feet of those hip-hop nationals who serve as gatekeepers of the industry by limiting access to the industry only to those who can only pay the watered-down, diluted, buffoonish, & non-talented fare set by their non-national bosses whose only interest in “rap” is how much money it makes them, most of the blame falls on the shoulders of the hip-hop national fanbase of every generation for indicating this mainstream “rap” music is acceptable by their actions regarding it. The younger generation (born after 1985) seem to like & support these “rap-like performers & record players” for every & any reason except actually being good at their craft to such an extent that they are reaping temporary mainstream fame & success. It seems a combination of a successful “sucker MC” advertising campaign by the “hip-hop” industry & the absence of hip-hop national elders to educate them on what makes a truly talented & gifted MC who is truly worthy of any mainstream success & accolades has led to the younger hip-hop nationals believing that this devolved “hip-hop” represents what the culture actually has grown into. I haven’t overheard any conversation amongst young hip-hop nationals where they are passionately discussing actual talent levels & abilities (rhyming & lyrical ability) as young nationals of the late ‘70’s – late ‘90’s used to. Their discussions about “rappers” seem to be limited to their record sales, crew sizes, & TMZ gossip type tales surrounding them (all things that can be, & often are, fabricated and exaggerated).With the mainstream face of “hip-hop” being the talentless, buffoonish, ignorant, & narcissistic one backed by cool beats constantly on full display, the older hip-hop generation consider themselves as having outgrown “hip-hop”/hip-hop since they are far beyond the simplistic (bordering on idiotic) material that is current mainstream “hip-hop”. They are distancing themselves from this childish babble that is beneath them even though they know there are actual hip-hop artists (such as Common, Nas, & the majority of the underground MC’s) who are modern day examples of true MC’s (and, by extension, the lyrical aspect of hip-hop). The older generation can still educate the youth on what defines hip-hop (therefore our post-civil rights era generation) and what artists/MC’s, DJ’s, & other participants best fit this definition by having their ear to the underground hip-hop scene (the only current location & example of actual hip-hop culture. The older hip-hop generation showing support to the artists, DJ’s, and others with that pre-millennial hip-hop national mindset (by buying their work or supporting their shows)is the only way this defecation of our hip-hop culture & art form can be reversed.
The apparent dismissal of hip-hop music & culture (listening to some popular rap tracks doesn’t count) by a large portion of the elders of the hip-hop nation & leaving the them in the hands of a younger generation not fit or interested in carrying the torch of our culture is the reason for the continued defecation of our culture and nation by the youth and those not of our nation. This continued defecation will eventually lead to the extinction of our culture for there will be other & better ways for the disingenuous among us to get their hustle on.
My thanks to my brethren of the underground who continue to fight for the preservation & continued existence of our culture & art form by their actions and simply being an example of what true MC’s & DJ’s and, by extension, what true hip-hop is.
* originally written in 2013 (more true today!!) *