Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Alive And Well

Lamont's Lists - October 2008
The Top Ten Reasons Why Hip Hop Is Alive And Well
Every time I look up these days, I hear some lame music critic or glass-half-empty old timer mouthing off about how hip hop is dead. Albums don’t sell anymore, the music all sounds the same, there’s no real emcees, yada, yada, yada, the yammering never stops. Fear not, I say. Rap music is just fine and it will endure throughout the 21st century. Sure, the days of platinum plaques may be over, and the industry will indeed have to dream up some new ways to make money and break new artists, but there is just too much access to too much good music for me to believe the art form will simply dry up and go away. To prove my point, I offer you below, the "Top 10 Reasons Why Hip Hop Is Alive And Well". Enjoy the list and I hope you sleep a little easier tonight knowing that the future of our beloved culture is secure. As always, comments and concerns are welcome (as long as you agree with me J…just kidding). And look out for next month’s Lamont’s List “The Top 10 Reasons Why Hip Hop Is Dead”. Peace Out.

Lamont

1. With YouTube We’re All Almost Famous – Thanks to YouTube, vintage Run-DMC concert footage is just as accessible as the hot new T.I. video. So what, you say? Well, for starters, this absurdly powerful reference tool provides 24 hour inspiration for would be copy cats while schooling young and old on just about everything that’s ever been done in the world of hip hop. But it’s the irresistible pull of YouTube’s instant distribution outlet (“Look at Me…I’m on the internet”!) that really ensures that aspirating rappers of all shapes, sizes, colors and creeds will continue to try to show off their skills for years to come.

2. Generation X Is All Grown Up – Twenty years ago, as rap entered its golden age, most of Generation X was struggling through high-school in the crack-addled Reagan 80’s. Characterized as the “slacker” generation, this group has defied expectations and moved on to become perfectly well-adjusted cubicle-dwelling, child-rearing, SUV-driving grown-ups. What’s remarkable here is that hip hop never left this group’s blood, even as they’ve inherited a country to run and a planet to save. Gen X has kept rap with them as an important shaper of their world view and has passed along the cultural significance of this art form that they invented to their off-spring – ensuring that today’s youngsters know that there would be no Lil Wayne or Lupe Fiasco without Rakim and KRS1 to pave the way.

3. Lil Wayne Is Tupac For A New Generation – Lil Wayne is providing hip hop with something it desperately needs right now…a living, breathing Rock Star. Sure Jay-Z and Kanye are big icons, but Wayne is a whole different animal. Like Tupac in his prime, Wayne offers more than just talent and charisma. He brings with him an air of excitement and danger that leaves an indelible mark everywhere he goes. Plus his age makes him decidedly more relevant to young kids out there who are too young to remember when Biggie was the man and are just now starting to become hip hop junkies. In short, he represents our white hot present and our future.

4. Mix Tapes Are Cutting Out The Middle Man – As record sales continue to plummet and the last of the great record stores close up shop, it’s gotten increasingly difficult for an MC to make an honest living cranking out major label CD’s for mass distribution every two years. So what’s a big-mouthed rapper to do to keep his caddy on D’s? Take it back to the streets. Mix Tapes, a long-time staple of the industry, have become big business, not just on street corners, but also across the web – from the websites of enterprising DJ’s seeking to cash in on their hard won local fame to the sanitized, label sanctioned itunes store front. Mix Tapes and their ready availability, provide on-going access to new music for consumers and an outlet for creativity (and profit) for artists, free from the bureaucracy of big budget label releases. Thank goodness.

5. Madison Avenue Loves A Good Hip Hop Track – When Sprite used hip hop music as an integral part of their urban-youth targeted “Obey Your Thirst” campaign in the 90’s it was groundbreaking. When Volkswagen dropped a Roots track into a Beetle ad years later it was downright shocking. Nowadays, Gatorade jacks A Tribe Called Quest, 50 Cent hocks Vitamin Water and Budweiser hooks up with Jay-Z for a glossy, fully-integrated campaign and no one bats an eye ( not even the conservative protectors of Middle American Values or the cranky hip hop purists who are always itching to cry “sell out”). As long as advertisers crave a little bit of borrowed coolness, hip hop will have reason to keep cranking out hits and hitmakers.

6. Chicago Is En Fuego – Kanye, Lupe Fiasco, Common, The Cool Kids, Kidz In The Hall, Rhymefest, No I.D…Chicago is on fire. Forget about NYC VS LA VS the South, Chi-town is the new heart of hip hop, churning out some of the best MC’s and producers in the world right now. What’s great about these guys is the fact that they are all putting out smart, accessible music with both mass appeal and street cred…challenging the rest of the country to step up their game.

7. There Are Some Seriously Talented Producers Out There – There are a handful of producers out there -- Kanye, Pharrell, Timbaland, Will.i.am, Alchemist, etc. who are so gifted and so prolific it’s hard to appreciate. I mean seriously, these guys are flat out great composers…the Quincy Joneses and John Lennon’s of our day. Somewhere along the way, all the talent and creativity in hip hop shifted from DJ’s and rappers to producers and the industry hasn’t been the same since. Yes, they have amazing technology at their disposable and there’s an unfortunate sameness to some of the beats on the radio for sure, but if you really listen closely to the music when it’s at its best, it’s stunning. More encouraging is that fact that there’s already a new wave of hot shots with names that are not as big who have taken over the reigns and are doing some sick, state-of-the-art work; another good sign that hip hop’s future is secure.

8. MC’s Have Discovered The Art of Live Performance – Unless you came of age during the 80’s like I did you probably don’t remember Fresh Fest. Twenty thousand strong packed into a coliseum in some small town somewhere watching the likes of Run-DMC, Whodini and Dougie Fresh work the crowd into a frenzy with showmanship and style. Fast forward to the 90’s and rap concerts were nearly obsolete. Not only were they too violent, they were also dull. A bunch of dudes who were otherwise wildly charismatic on record and in videos yelling into a mic alongside a posse of hoodlums for 45 minutes or so. Luckily, thanks to increasingly inept record sales, today’s rappers have decided to actually take the art of performing in front of a live crowd seriously, working to hone their craft and to actually be entertaining. They know it’s one of the few ways they can actually make money, so over the last few years they’ve suddenly become much more enjoyable to watch (funny how that happens, right?).

9. MTV2 Is Cranking Out Some Dope Programming – Last April, MTV2 celebrated the 20th Anniversary of Yo MTV Raps by re-airing endless episodes of the iconic show from during its 1988-1996 run. It was a pretty friggin’ good show during its day and thus the re-runs were totally addictive to watch. Thanks to MTV2 and its steady stream of authentic, well-produced programming centered around hip hop (My Block, Sucker Free, etc), real rap still has big-time outlet for aspiring artists to shoot for.

10. Indy Rockin’ Hip Hop Chicks Rule – Remember the days when Queen Lafifah and MC Lyte ruled the world? Me neither. The decline of the great female voice in hip hop is indeed a shame but there is a surprising group of offspring that has finally emerged to re-ignite the flame, just not in the way we expected. With a style all their own, part rap, part rock, part vintage R&B, a new group of bad-ass babes such as Santo Gold, Lily Allen, M.I.A. and Estelle are starting to make their mark. It’s refreshing, imaginative music of a new generation with a broadly influenced global perspective, but deeply rooted in Hip Hop.

15 Other Reasons To Keep Hope Alive
11. Jigga Man – Because we are witness to the Michael Jordan of mic recordin’
12. MySpace Music – Another death blow to album sales and labels but a boon to new music fiends
13. Hollywood – Tinsletown continues to reward rappers who make hot records with movie deals
14. Pro Tools – The democratization of beat making…the only limit is your imagination
15. Ipods/Iphones – 24/7 instant access to music, video and gossip has us listening more than ever
16. My 5 Year Old – Equally comfortable with Lil Wayne and the Jonas Bros – a brave new world
17. Video Games – Yet another outlet for exposure, integration and money making.
18. The NBA – From Iverson to Lebron, the NBA continues to reflect hip hop in all its glory
19. Japanese Denim – Hip Hop’s embracing of high fashion has saved us from death by wackness
20. Andre 3000 – His skills are still razor sharp and will soon be applied to a new Outkast album
21. Suburban Teenagers – Jeezy and Jack White are both all good, and nobody’s even frontin’
22. Mercedes Benz – As long as the Germans keep making cars, we’ll keep making hit makers
23. Generation Y – They’ve all got rhyme books, business plans and thousands of online connections
24. Blogging – If it happens in hip hop, it’s blogged about by somebody somewhere…immediately
25. The Underground – With the help of the internet, the underground is more vibrant than ever