I’ve been listening to hip-hop/rap music for nearly 20 years. Without revealing how old that makes me, I can assure you, it was a year or so prior to the start of my teens that I started skating to Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony’s “First of the month” at my hometown’s local skating rink while chasing girls on a Friday night. Though my first introduction to the genre was the wholesome sound of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, it didn’t take long before I purchased “The Dangerous Minds” Soundtrack for my love of Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise as well as several other classic gems on that album that I still remember reciting lyrics from to this day.
My love and adoration for the genre only intensified when I first heard 2Pac’s “Me Against the World” on the Bad Boys movie soundtrack as well as the first time my ears were blessed by Notorious B.I.G’s “Juicy” and “Big Poppa.” Over the next several years I immersed myself in the culture by duplicating the attitude and self-assured independence the music gave me. As a somewhat troubled youth that defied authority, the message in the music coincided with my outlook of the world I was growing up in with a certain degree of rebelliousness. Because, lets be honest, from N.W.A to 2Pac, Eminem and Kanye West, rebellion was a centerpiece to what Hip-Hop/Rap music was all about.
For anyone who’s actually been paying attention to the change in Hip-Hop/Rap music in the last twenty something years there has been a shift in the way the music is produced, recorded, and delivered to the public. There seems to be a world of difference between those of us who were young, rebellious fans in the mid-nineties and early 00’s and the fans that have steered the direction of the music in the past ten years or so. As technology has changed how we consume music it has also changed how we socialize with one another thus shifting the message being shared amidst the music and the relevance that message has today.
It has been nearly a decade since Nas released the album “Hip-Hop is Dead.” The title itself stirred more controversy than album sales and to this day that argument can still be heard amongst tastemakers and fans both young and old alike. Whether Nas’ album was meant to be seen as foreshadowing of what was to come or whether he was just voicing his personal opinion on the matter as a pioneer in the industry it seems those of us who have witnessed the metamorphosis of the music over time still have held on to a glimmer of hope that one day it would all turn around and this would all be one giant bad dream fully equipped with a soundtrack of music with bad auto-tuning and an overabundance of trap beats.
Rap music today has completely changed in its appearance in all aspects. From the sound, to the image and demographic of its listeners it is now shadow of its former self. Some of the most popular young artists today aren’t gender or ethnic specific, and don’t have to have to have even a remotely relative array of lyrical talent that once ruled Soundscan lists less than two decades ago. Not that this is a good or a bad thing but for those of us who were more used to something more substantive and inspiring its just a tough pill to swallow. To be honest we had our fair share of questionable taste in music with little no substance or cultural value but even then the quality of the composition and production of the work gave it understandable value. But over time, that value was diminished and broken down to the point that what we have left is merely small remnants of what the music once was.
In the past five years alone we’ve seen a drop in not only the quality of work of the artists on a general scale but also the lack of motivation artists have to create a product that has longevity of more than a few months and ample numbers of clicks on the internet. Since music for the most part doesn’t sell outside core fanbase purchases and typical digital sales of radio signals from time to time there’s not much incentive to spend more than what’s necessary to create a complete body of work. As long as the beat is listenable, the lyrics can be easily remembered and recited, and there’s a quality HD video camera lying around for an all but compelling music video worthy of a popular blog post, it seems that’s really all you need. Although there is still a vast abundance of quality music out there floating around the internet, it just doesn’t have the buying power for major labels or even indies to bother with wasting their precious time and money in promoting. This has left us with a select few artists to listen to in regular rotation on both FM and internet radio spins, that just keep recycling over and over with little room for any newcomer that hasn’t achieved and immeasurable amount of popularity on the internet.
Its this reason why some of the most popular artists amongst today’s core hip-hop fans go by names like Fetty Wap and Migos, that most people can hardly pronounce and create music like Young Thug with lyrics that hardly anybody can even understand. Of course once again, since the entire behavioral norm of the average teen today has shifted to the point of new extremes, its not like the listeners care about what’s being said anyway. To be quite honest if you spend even a formidable amount of time doing market research on social media, you’ll come to the realization most of the fans aren’t sober enough to pay any attention what’s going on in the outside world for at least 80% of the time they’re awake and conscious so it doesn’t really matter to them. Which is why the music sounds the way it does today.
Now I know tastemakers hate this conversation. I understand their frustration with listeners who have just a tad few years on them is. It is the same old discussion that has been recycled for the past 50 years or so. Its the Mom & Dad’s taste in music versus the children’s argument, or so they would claim. However, that’s not the case from my point of view. That’s a cop-out to negate the fact that the quality of the music has diminished to an unrecognizable form and what’s popular today is simply accepted and shared without debate in order to not upset those who still control airwaves and to not rock the boat the audience is sitting in, idly just following the crowd instead of forming an astute opinion or observation of their own merit. Regardless of how one can view the issue at hand, its safe to say Lupe Fiasco was right back in 2007 when he released the song “Dumb it Down” on one of his most commercially successful albums, “The Cool.”
But its like they always say, “If its broke, the don’t fix it, right?!” Fact of the matter is, this is the music that is selling and is starting to be seen repeatedly atop the BillBoard Charts as if that’s all that really matters. And those who work behind a desks at some of the most renown labels that still exist today won’t bother to delve deeper in this discussion, nor will the Radio DJ’s that are employed by the most popular Hip-hop stations around the country, as they have jobs they would like to keep and don’t want to compromise for the sake of the art-form or the culture. So where does that leave us? Well, as it always has, its in the hands of the artists and the fans from this point on out if they want to see not only Hip-Hop/Rap music return to its former glory in any shape, way or form, but also all forms of popular music change in the artists we’re force-fed continuously by the mainstream media outlets. Because lets be honest, its no longer about the music or the art, I don’t know if it ever really was. It may be about what has always been about, the money. Maybe The Wu-Tang Clan was right when they chanted the timeless phrase, “Cash Rules Everything Around Me.” As much as I hate to admit it, they were probably on to something, even back then.