I can still recall the first hip hop album I listened to. It was Reasonable Doubt by Jay Z. I remember how I instantly fell in love with the lyrics. I hadn’t heard anything like it before, primarily because I only listened to R and some watered down rap music. The lyrics were hard hitting. They meant something.
I could his hunger through the speakers as he rapped his song entitled “Can I Live” which said “Well we hustle out of a sense of, hopelessness/Sort of a desperation/Through that aspiration, we ‘come addicted/Sorts like the fiends we accustomed to serving” (3-6). I also remember how my older brother looked at me like I was an idiot because I was listening to an album that had come out in 1996, in 2001. He didn’t quite understand the difference between rap and hip hop music; but saw the difference right away. Hip hop means something. Rap Is just a good beat to dance to.
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On that day, I fell In love with hip hop. It seems as if I was introduced into the entire hip hop culture at the same time. I began to listen too lot more of the music and pay a lot more attention to the fashion and history of this culture. It was like the music was the gateway to the culture. That’s why when Nas said that hip hop was dead, I totally understood what he meant. The lyrics of one of Ana’s singles say “Everybody sound the same, commercialism the game / Reminiscent’ when it wasn’t all business / They forgot where It started / So we all gather here for the dearly departed. Nas took the statement even further by naming his entire album “Hip Hop Is Dead”. This small statement stirred up a lot of controversy. Although his claim was long awaited by mom, it had come as a surprise to others. Some perceived it as Just another one of the many shots to the up and coming (more specifically southern) rappers. Others took it as a warning to the entire Industry. However, a few people took the statement literally and were in total agreement. No matter what the perception or stand on the debate, everyone agrees that today’s rap music lacks the substance that It used to.
We are all in agreement that most of the music has become nothing more than a testimony to how much money you have, how many women you’ve had sex with, how any kilos of coke you’ve sold, and how many people you’ve killed in the process. Even with hip hop in such a predicament, some people still feel that hip hop is alive and very well. Michael Eric Tyson for one thinks that the statement was made with the sole purpose of Jump starting the culture. In an article by Charlatans Margin, Tyson was quoted saying, “If he thought it was literally dead, [Nas] couldn’t be making a hip hop album. (Christian, 55). In his article entitled, “Hip Hop is Alive… And Vital” Tyson argues that hip hop is indeed alive. He says that “The most powerful sign hat hip-hop culture is alive, [is the] withering critique from within about the industry. What is meant Is that hip hop isn’t dead because they, as artists, are able to see and understand what the problem Is and make changes to better the situation moved from the mean streets of the South Bronx to the dirt roads of the south. Ludicrous wore a t-shirt to a recent award show saying “Hip Hop didn’t die it moved to the south”.
Southern rappers have always been the underdogs, overlooked and disrespected. They have also always been the face of change. In the early sass’s it was Outcast and Surface, now it Ludicrous and T. . These southern rappers which also include artists like Soul Boy Teller and Webb feel as if their music is Just as good as Nas and Jay Z, and should be respected as such. On the other hand, there are those who do believe that hip hop has died. Kevin Powell states in his article, titled “Hip Hop Culture Has Been Murdered” that “Hip Hop culture has been assassinated by hip hop industry desire to make money by any means necessary. (61) Some rappers today don’t have the love for the music anymore. Hip hop has become Just another side hustle. As a result the music has been stripped of TTS substance. Now all that is left is what the record companies think they can market: money, sex and drugs. In the article, Kevin Powell stresses that it isn’t only the rappers’ and record labels’ faults. Hip Hop’s blood is also on the hands of the media, including television, radio and magazines because they “push these images with no conscience whatsoever” (61).
Kevin Powell and people who stand behind this viewpoint feel that it is okay to rap about your hardships. If you sold drugs and have been to Jail, that’s your experience. They feel that it’s okay to write about that. However, when the experiences you speak about becomes “commercialese for global consumption, without any balance, nor any conceptualization. ” problems arise because these experiences are now being glorified as if selling drugs and going to Jail is cool rather than being a last resort for some people who have no choice but to live that life (61).
My opinion falls in the middle of these two extremes. No, hip hop isn’t dead. We still have a few hip hop artists that continue to hold hip hop together. Masc. like Kenya West, Common, Taliban Swell, and Lope Fiasco are still the epitome of the hip hop culture, from their swag to their rhymes. They are still very conscious rappers. Although they rap about a few of the same things that their counterparts speak about, they still rap about things that people need to hear.
For example, in one of Kenya West’s most recent songs he discusses how some people make murder look and sound like it’s okay, saying “Chicago had over 600 caskets/man, killings some wacko sit/oh, I forgot, ‘kept for when enigma’s is rapping” (8-10). However, before we can say that hip hop is alive and “vital” we must look at the most popular rappers in hip hop right now. Rappers like Boogie and Webb are stabbing hip hop to death. Rappers like them think that they can say whatever they want, Just as long as the beat in the background is good.
The chorus of one Webbing’s song says nothing but these three words: “Come here bitchy”; however because the beat behind the music is, honestly, awesome, females may even listen to the song. This means although some of the fault lies with the rappers a lot lies with the consumers of hip hop music. Rappers make what the fans want to hear. So, consumers have as much say so as the artists, the record labels, and the media. If they don’t listen to the music, rappers and record labels would have no choice but to reduce different types of songs.
In turn the media will have no choice but to push I see hip hop today like a person with cancer, but in the early stages. The up and coming rappers, the record label, and the media are all like the abnormal blood cells. They’re the cause of the problem. They are the reason hip hop is “ill” (and not in a good way). True hip hop lovers and true hip hop artists are the treatment. It seems like right now, we don’t have enough “treatment” for hip hop to survive. The masses have become accustomed, almost addicted, to this unhealthy form of rap music. The music needs to change and fast.