Hip-hop has been around for nearly thirty years now. However, its still feels very young at its core. Whiles many emcees have graduated to have success some are just college dropouts with no plan for what’s next. In a genre of music that has no set rules it also seems to be void of maturity in the process. The idea of hip-hop and “growing up” feels like something of an oxymoron when you look at the current music landscape and its future. Very few emcees are willing to take that music past frivolous beefs/feuding, actually becoming successful as artists and making music that doesn’t compromise who they are. In hip-hop for some reason that feels unrealistic? Music is supposed to inspire, how come we ain’t getting no higher? © Lauryn Hill
I’m all for competitiveness in hip-hop but seeing grown men bickering at each other in the media is immature. I can comfortably say we haven’t had any great music created as a result of beefs or competition since 2001 when Jay-Z and Nas went toe to toe. Think about it, that’s nearly ten years? Actual beef has been replaced by deliberate marketing plans. It’s the sonic equivalent to WWE wrestling. Rappers start petty feuds with other rappers to generate interest in their music. The ‘fake’ beef marketing plan has been consistent since 50 Cent provided the blueprint in 2003. There was a time where these public feuds stayed on wax.
The music created in the spirit of competitiveness was better and the back story was secondary. With access to so much information through technology all we have is the back story and/or gossip. Diss records never used to come with interviews, but that’s precisely where we are now; ie. Beanie Sigel releases “Average Cat” a diss record about Jay-Z followed by an interview a day later giving us a play-by-play. It’s become a lot like high school in my opinion. While Sigel laments the loss of the R.O.C. and his strained relationship with Jay-Z, 50 Cent swoops in to capitalize on the media coverage (as he always does) so he can generate interest in his upcoming album; Before I Self Destruct. There’s something to be said about taking interviews and discussing everything but your album…lol But I digress.
It’s these types of public episodes of feuding where hip-hop on some level is reduced to a weekly celeb gossip magazine. Where is the music? Beanie Sigel’s biggest problem is his inability to make good decisions. Having one foot in the street and another trying to succeed as an artist just doesn’t work. His criminal record over the years has proven that. The irony in his situation is that he’s a talented emcee, but his continuous efforts to “keep it real” or play the street card always halts his progression. As much as I hate fabricated beef, its this type of attention-seeking behavior within in hip-hop I hate even more. With record sales decreasing across the board, it really speaks to the desperate measures some rappers will go keep their name in the press. Ironically, creating good music would generate actual interest.
Another theme that is all too common in hip-hop is that; in order to be “real” you aren’t allowed to have success. Any type of success breeds jealousy and envy but in hip-hop if you become successful it also equates to selling out ? It’s weird to me that in a genre that is treated as a hustle (for many) when one does ascend other rappers try to discredit your character. It really presents a no-win situation doesn’t it ? So I can’t be successful and keep it real. That sucks. Not sure who made these rules but they’re not very practical. If I move up the corporate ladder at a company I hope the guys in the mail room aren’t saying; “oh, you think you’re too good for these envelopes“…lol To me it just screams the crabs in the barrel mentality which leads for statements like “you need to retire and make room for the newer generation“. Additionally, I think part of that rationale is that few artists have been successful in hip-hop for a sustained period of time. That is still something we’re all getting used to. As Mos Def put it; How come the industry build careers that don’t last? A good number artists most of us have near the top; Jay-Z, Nas, Snoop Dogg, Q-Tip, Eminem, etc. are all 35 plus (in terms of age) and still very relevant to the music. Younger artists probably do expect the gatekeepers to bow out gracefully at some point. At the same time, why should they have to make room for the new generation if there’s still an audience for their music?
If Rock N’ Roll, Country and Jazz musicians can make music well into their 60′s it should be no different for hip-hop. I recognize the industry model in hip-hop works against that reality for very obvious reasons, but the buying public does have a say in the matter; i.e. De La Soul – who’s been at it for 20 years and still going. In same breath, I don’t wanna see older artists making music that caters to a younger demographic. Artists grow as people and the subject matter in their music should reflect that change. Seeing artists pushing a street persona they longer live (50 Cent) or hopping on the ring-tone craze (Busta Rhymes) illustrates desperation and/or time for said artist to pursue another endeavor. Artists like Q-Tip, De La Soul, The Roots, Nas and even Jay-Z to a certain extent are all making good hip-hop without dumbing it down for their audience. That’s the sticking point for a lot of artists because historically the buying demographic has always been younger when it comes to this music. Hip-hop has always been categorized as a young man’s sport. The fact that the aforementioned artists still have a career proves otherwise. Artists grow musically as far as their content (unless you’re Eminem)* so its crazy to think that their fan base doesn’t mature also. Hopefully more artists recognize that and don’t feel compelled to compromise.
These are just some of things I see in hip-hop back right now. With the advancements in technology its hard to deny that music has become secondary on some level because of the reduced revenue in it. However, artists have to work harder at putting music back in the forefront if they want to continue to see it grow. Right now underground artists are definitely carrying the torch and making great music without all the immaturity prevalent in the mainstream. As a whole we have to remember, that anything that isn’t growing is dead, so we better be changing © Lauryn Hill