Monday, October 27, 2008

Hip Hop Is Dead


Lamont’s Lists
November 2008

The Top 10 Reasons Why Hip Hop Is Dead

So last month I wrote about how hip hop is “Alive And Well”, opining that, despite a few ominous signs, we really shouldn’t worry about rap music’s future as a cultural force. Well, truth be told, those ominous signs might be more troubling than I let on. Below I give to you “The Top 10 Reasons Why Hip Hop Is Dead”. Depressing? Maybe just a little bit. But look at the bight side, that leaves more time to finally check out other types of music. I hear that dude who sings on Kanye’s “Homecoming” record has his own group and I’ve been meaning to figure out why this Radiohead band is all the rage. As always, please enjoy responsibly. Apologies to anyone who’s offended or mildly annoyed. Your feedback is still welcome.

Lamont

“Where were you the day hip hop died? Is it too early to mourn? Is it too late to ride?” (Talib Kweli).

1. The Best MC’s are getting old –
Ask the average hip hop fan to name the best rappers in the game right now and you will invariably hear names like Jay-Z, Nas, Andre 3000, Kanye West, Eminem, Common, and Jadakiss. The common thread? All of these guys are over 30 years old and that’s a big problem for hip hop. Even the relative young guns who always appear near the top of those lists, Lil Wayne, Lupe Fiasco and T.I., are all north of 25. Music in general, and rap music in particular relies on the fuel of “Youthful Expression” (as A Tribe Called Quest noted on their blissful 1990 hit). It thrives on spontaneity, the restless need for reinvention, and the kind of unbridled energy that is typically in abundant supply only from teenagers and those in their early 20’s. It’s just difficult to stay hungry or to be fearlessly creative when you’re a middle-aged dude with kids to shuttle around all day and a suburban McMansion to maintain. Are you worried that a new generation has not emerged to push the old guys on the list above aside? You should be.

2. Producers rule, not poets – In my last post I commented on how the great composers of our day, Timbaland, Will.i.am, Just Blaze, etc. make magic with Pro Tools, keyboards and their vivid imaginations. Their achievements in booty shaking urban symphonies continue to amaze me everyday; but somehow I know that we are all worse off because of their advancements. It’s just too easy for the MC’s, the heart and soul of hip hop, to disappear behind all that studio wizardry. Rap is about rhythm AND poetry, so when rhymes take a back seat to the beats we miss out on the potential to be transformed by our beloved MC’s wit, humor, pain and sometimes disturbing insights. The symbiotic whole is ruined and the entire culture is diminished.

3. Southern rap is dominant, and not very good – “If I don’t like it, I don’t like it. That don’t mean that I’m hatin’”. I agree with Common, who spoke out about his dislike for southern rap on his 2005 banger “The 6th Sense”. I try to appreciate all types of music, but with only a few obvious exceptions (Outkast comes to mind), the dirty south stuff is just bad. It’s not just that the lyricism is lacking, with no apparent interest in story telling, verbal dexterity or unique subject matter, but also that too many of the area’s front men (Soulja Boy comes to mind) represent regrettable stereotypes of rappers as clownish, over-the-top caricatures. Some region out there needs to break the south’s stranglehold on hip hop….and soon.

4. itunes distorts the value of music – itunes has now become the world’s #1 music retailer. This is bad for rap because it puts such a heavy emphasis on singles which sell for a paltry 99 cents each. While it may be good for consumers in the short run to be able to cherry pick the best songs from an album without fully committing to it, the whole 99 cent thing does not bode well for the future. For one thing, it devalues the power of a great song by selling it for less that a buck, the same price as for a crappy single (shouldn’t Nas’s “One Mic” cost more than Tone Loc’s “Funky Cold Medina”?). Worse yet, it creates a disincentive for artists to create great, coherent long-form albums. Don’t you feel cheated?

5. Commercial radio sucks – Radio programmers are right up there with Washington lobbyists, IT help desks representatives and AIG executives when it comes to my 10 most hated professionals. These guys have spent the last several years destroying a critically important media outlet by serving up a steady diet of 40 awful songs per day in every town in America? It’s impossible to listen to urban radio and not come away thinking that rap music is nothing more than a bunch of fake gangsta, auto-tuned, bling obsessed garbage. Quality of the product be damned, radio programmers only care about satisfying their shrinking pool of advertisers, hoping to save their jobs while they still can.

6. There are no female rappers –
The decline of the great female voice in hip hop is not just sad, it’s also irreparably damaging. When an entire gender drops out of the creative process, things tend to decline quickly. Imagery and perspectives become one-sided and access to talent is severely restricted. I can only surmise at this point that a generation of potentially stunning Goddess MC’s has simply moved on to other artistic pursuits. We are now left with a bunch of loud-mouthed dudes (some gifted, some not so much) running unchecked throughout the industry, without access to our better halves.

7. Ringtones are like crack – Nothing kills the momentum of a promising new artist like a mega-selling ringtone. Why is that? Because they are the hip hop equivalent of crack; fast acting, addictive, and providing of an ultimately unsatisfying high. Once you and your moms share the same ringtone, Mr. hot-like-fire MC is toast. There’s just something about this cheesy form of quick-buck commercialism that has cheapened the art form.

8. Talent follows the money – If 99 cent singles are deemed to be not worth very much, then what about free tracks that are pirated from the internet? Not good right. As rap sales continue to plunge, one can only bemoan the impact of an endless supply of free music. It’s a vicious cycle. If music is free, then no one can make a profit. If no one can make a profit, the attraction of the potential for fame and fortune disappears. Once the money goes away, great talent soon leaves with it. The truly brilliant will find another creative outlet and another dream to chase.

9. Our souls died with Biggie and Pac – Before hip hop lost The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac during an ugly 6 month stretch between fall ’96 and winter ’97, rap ruled the pop charts, and American popular culture in general. Since then hip hop seems to have lost its way, with no one stepping in to carry on their charismatic way of articulating disenfranchised youths’ struggle to capture the American Dream at all costs. Sales have steadily declined and rap no longer passes as legitimate social commentary. Instead, it’s now viewed and exploited for what it is…a commercialized entertainment commodity. As a result, the cultural impact of hip hop has shrunk immensely in the void left by Biggie and Pac’s prophetic, blood-stained deaths.

10. Conscious rap no longer matters – Even I have to admit that I was a little bored by Nas’s latest “Untitled” album. It’s not that it wasn’t outstanding. Nas’s sweeping analysis of racism and institutional corruption in America is a poignant, moving opus. It’s yet another testament to his breathtaking poetical gifts and “Street’s Disciple” moniker. But for some reason, I either couldn’t or wouldn’t let myself be drawn into it. Maybe it’s just that I, like most current hip hop fans, claim to want depth, but lack the patience to slow down long enough to appreciate it. Maybe it’s a sign of our hyper-speed times or that all we really want deep down from our music is brief escape from the real world. Either way, if this one didn’t grab us, it’s a pretty safe bet that nothing that is labeled as conscious rap ever will. That’s a shame because when art becomes too shallow, it surely is no longer worth our attention, admiration or hard-earned dollars.

15 More Reasons to Despair:
11. The Recession –
What are you going to cut 1st? Groceries, gas, or your itunes habit?
12. New York lost its swagger – Jigga man aside, the region is largely confused and frustrated.
13. Record company people are shady – We’ve suffered greatly from Industry Rule #4080.
14. Even at $5, most mix tapes are a rip off – Peddling half-baked, crew-loyal table scraps.
15. Misogyny is out of control – I’m glad I don’t have a daughter. Who’s approving this stuff?
16. The use of Auto-Tune is a bad idea – Seriously, can somebody come up with a new idea?
17. NY hip hop fans are closed minded – Still bitterly clinging to the ‘90’s and hatin’ on Weezy.
18. Hip Hop journalism is sketchy – Beware the culture that lacks journalistic integrity.
19. Rock Kids have moved on – The resurgence of Indie and now traditional rock spells doom.
20. Wal-Mart is the #1 traditional music retailer – Censorship rules everything around me.
21. Hollywood is a distraction – The allure of movie stardom is stealing our best and brightest.
22. There’s no tolerance for the unproven – Record co’s can’t afford to invest in young talent.
23. The Native Tongues left a massive void – We really miss Quest, De La and the JB’s.
24. Rap beefs are boring PR stunts – Does anybody still care about this nonsense?
25. Jadakiss is paling around w/ NKOTB – As sure a sign of the apocalypse as any I’ve seen.