Three years ago I attempted to explain the difference between Hip Hop and Rap. I don’t know if I did a great job, but I do know that received quite a bit of feedback.
But here we are three years later and Hip Hop has an even smaller presence in the musical landscape. Furthermore Nelly begat Mike Jones who begat Dem Franchize Boys who in turn begat Young Loc. The current state of Rap is really making it hard to be a fan of Hip Hop.
I tried to get optimistic about Busta’s latest offering, but all that did was make me even more sad. Y’see I had some kind of high hopes for Busta’s album, despite having heard the singles. Foolishly I expected some growth from the guy. I mean, this is the same MC who rhymed about attending and cutting classes back in Leaders of the New School, so I was hoping that Busta would continue to grow as an artist.
I listened to the album and it was an adequate album, but nothing to really rave about. Sure, some of the songs are hot, but it’s pretty much a “paint by numbers” effort. But then something clicked in my head.
“Mathan, stop being hard on Busta. The guy is a decade and a half deep into the game and he’s still viable as an artist. How many artists can say that? Let him do him.” And I can’t really argue with that, plus I hate to argue with myself. So I dropped it. However a brand new can of worms was opened.
Y’see at this point I began to ponder “Why do Hip Hop acts tend to have short careers?”
Quick answer; because they keep getting shot.
(Bad joke, I know. But I wanted to take away the ammo from the numerous people who would no doubt think that were being clever as they fired a similar remark in my direction via email. Sorry to rain on your parade.)
I think that there are numerous factors involved into the fact that Hip Hop acts tend to not have that much longevity.
First off, Hip Hop is uber youth oriented. In fact I’d say that it’s second only to Pop in terms of being the sound of youth. Both genres tend to be catchy and hooky. Advertising companies have been using Hip Hop to sell “cool” products for well over a decade. Hip Hop is the epitome of “cool” and there are few things quite as uncool as “ageing” and “growth.” Thus once a Hip Hop act gets too old it faces from relevancy.
Another factor, sadly is the lack of creativity in terms of content for most artists. This has come about because of once Hip Hop became marketable, the record companies tried to find the perfect formula for a successful record. L.L. Cool J introduced the concept of a “song for the ladies” and Bad Boy created the “club jam.” Other notable types of songs that are deemed requisite for a Hip Hop album are the “Down South Track”, the “Song for the Streets” and the “Introspective/Autobiographical Cut.”
So the more requisite songs you have the less opportunity the artist has to create a cohesive sounding album, the more you have an album that’s just a collection of songs. And lets be real; how many Hip Hop artists on major labels are making actual albums? One could argue that Common and Kanye make albums. Mos and the Roots could equally be charged with that. Little Brother has made two great (and incredibly slept on) albums.
But seriously, I challenge anyone to tell me the last Hip Hop album in the top ten that was an actual “album.”
However, it’s not just the artists, it’s also the audiences who bear some responsibility for the lack of longevity of artists. Audiences don’t respond to Hip Hop songs that are too complex, be in wordplay or confusing videos that don’t feature a) the ‘hood b) scantily clad (Black) women c) visible wealth or d) scenes of crime. Unless Hip Hop is easy to digest, audiences tune out (see also; Brother, Little.) Now if audiences were more accepting of Black folks rhyming about varied subjects in varied settings perhaps some progress could be made, but I don’t expect that to change any time soon.
(We really are experiencing a modern day Minstrel Show. Are the images of iced grills in ‘hood rich mouths any less offensive than Amos n Andy cooning it up for white audiences? Not really. Both feed into the same persistent stereotypes and both connect with more audiences than their more positive contemporaries.
Sure, Young Jeezy may just be rhyming about his ordeals, but he’s also glorifying it. And if you think that I’m wrong, then compare any of Jeezy’s songs to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” One is clearly painting a sobering portrait of how difficult life is in certain areas of the country and the other is just exploitative.)
Finally the current state of Hip Hop is really isn’t conducive for longevity. Its all about the “next big thing” or “the next movement.” The Wu Tang Clan solidified it as a trend, with No Limit and Cash Money following in it’s footsteps. St. Louis and Houston made it into a geographical trend and Hyphy has turned it into a local scene thing. However it should be noted that “the next big thing” is actually Carpenter Rap, which is easy listening Rap in the vein of The Carpenters.
So Hip Hop’s current climate is all about “now” and not really about building artists with any sort of longevity. And really it’s the whole industry, with so much emphasis on “first week numbers” across the board, you’re lucky to even have a career if you’re debut week isn’t impressive.
So there you have it. Hip Hop just isn’t set up for artists to have long careers and I can’t see it changing any time soon.
But the real question is why wasn’t the remix for Touch It on the album?
Man, writing this really depressed me.
God, I don’t know what I’d do if I had to focus entirely on Hip Hop for everything that I wrote.
Tom breaks down Slayer.
Shawn puts the industry on blast!
Kyle exposes the evil of Youtube.
Aaron attempts to atone for past sins.
Gloomchen illustrates how arbitrary decisions about music can sometimes alienate people.
Phil details Little Brother’s adventures in blogging and various other newsworthy items.
Five 2006 Albums That I’ve Got to Find Time to Listen to Again
1. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Stadium Arcadium
2. Tha Alkaholiks – Firewater
3. She Wants Revenge – She Wants Revenge
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones
5. The Strokes – First Impressions of Earth