14 April 2008

Original Hip Hop: Outdated?

Rap music is, by it's very nature, a politically expressive art form. It was heavily influenced by negro spirituals and work songs of American slaves to reflect the contemporary movement of inner city youth. Now, two hip-hop artists, The Roots and Rhymefest, are set to release respectively their most political albums to date, tying in themes of the streets with those of a universal context. The Roots' Rising Down is an aggressive and frustrated record, highlighting the injustices of the judicial system and the sad state of hip hop today, which lacks inspired movement and a unified culture. Similarly, Kanye West-protégé Rhymefest is putting the final touches on El Che, a Che Guevera-inspired album about sacrifice and struggle. In terms of rap and hip hop culture, these are two of the most heavily anticipated albums of the year, but why aren't these previously mainstream acts getting any mainstream attention? One possibility is the emergence of ringtone rap, that is, rap music which is single and not album-driven, using simplified beats and annoyingly catchy choruses. The terminology was coined when it was realized that many of these effort-free songs were being bought and downloaded as cell phone ringtones (which in today's market can generate a lot of revenue for an artist). With two amazing, concept-driven albums on their way I wonder if there is room in this heavily saturated marketplace for this return-to-the-fundamentals type music or if the quick, money-making, bastardization of a vibrant culture is here to stay. This week, I posed this question to the blogosphere (which I have included below), commenting on a post by Cyrus of the blog "A Jogging Session With Cyrus", questioning if hip hop is really dead, and also Nah Right, a Complex Magazine blog which included a video of Rhymefest talking about the ideas and values behind his new album.

"Hip Hop Is Dead" (quite literally pictured at left)

Great post! I can see how much hip hop really means to you, literally pumping through your veins like the blood in your body. There needs to be more people like you, who will forever go down with the ship, even if it's sinking. You mention that you do not think hip hop is dead, but regretfully fading away. I don't know if you are aware, but The Roots and Rhymefest have new albums coming out in the next few months, and I, for one, consider them real hip hop. The new albums are gritty, intense, and tell stories about inner-city struggle, which is what I believe real hip hop is about. Do you consider this new music real or just another delineation from the golden era of the culture? It is true that no one today sounds like Run DMC or KRS-One, but even though the tone and the rhyme patterns have changed, I think some elements stay the same, don't you agree? Soulja Boy and Mims and all of those other ringtone rappers don't seem to appreciate the history of the culture they are representing, and maybe if they did they would not continue making soulless songs on Casio keyboards in their bedrooms. The problem with hip hop today is that, for many acts, there is true artistry missing, and without art there is no music-period. I have to disagree with you, though, when you say hip hop is dying or fading away, I just think it is misplaced and it is up to us to find it. It just takes some extensive looking, and everyone in the culture and the community must work together to reassert its dominance in the mainstream media. The worst part about the current trend is that we, the listeners, are doing nothing to stop this change. The only way hip hop will stay pure is if we work together to keep it alive. The essence of this music is the community, and if we work on that, the rest of the pieces will fall into place.

"Video: Rhymefest on his Album, El Che"

Rhymefest has a lot to say and I’m glad he’s saying it. This video is an inventive and effective way to not only get the word out about his new album, but inspire change in the hip hop community. ‘Fest says in the video, ” People criticize me…but what are YOU doing?” I was just thinking about how everybody is saying “hip hop is dead”, but no one is doing anything about it. Rhymefest offers a unique perspective and a gravitating personality which will make people stop and listen. I do somewhat agree, though, with the commenter “Jersey Spic” because it is true rappers have now abused the name of Che Guevara (pictured right) for a few years now. I wonder if many rappers even know who he is and the full extent of what he did in Argentina. I think Rhymefest is different, though, because not only was he named after the revolutionary, but he does not seem as one who takes on topics and issues lightly, especially concerning the amount of change he wishes to inspire. Do you think he is abusing the Che Guevara image and legacy like so many others, or do you think he is really genuine in his admiration and acknowledgment? I also wonder if you have any idea what he meant when he said “Hip hop is separated in two right now, I want to do something different”? In my best guess, the two subdivisions he is referring to are “conscious” hip hop (i.e. those with a message like Kanye West, Common, or Mos Def) and “party rap” like Mims, Soulja Boy, and Jibbs. So is he saying he does not want to be a part of conscious hip hop and carve another unique path, or does he want to stay on that “real” hip hop side? I am not exactly sure and I hope by the time his album drops he will have the answers. I would have liked to hear a few words from you, the author, on the video as well, but maybe simply posting the video was response enough. Rhymefest really is one of the most underrated lyricists of our generation, and even if he is never remembered for his music, I hope that is remembered for his contributions to the hip hop culture and the state of society at large.


BM said...

Well, all I can say is that you did a great job! Despite the fact that I am by far not a major hip-hop fan, I was certainly intrigued by your post and its subject matter. For those like me, who involuntarily listen to "ringtone rap", to know that there is a different alternative to this kind of music is very refreshing. Thus, I must agree with you when you wonder why are not these albums that you have mentioned, getting more attention? I should expect that there would be enough room for these "concept-driven albums", in our society. Although we live in this supply and demand culture, how much can we blame these "ringtone rappers" for their mediocre product? Also, I wonder how difficult it must be for newcomers rappers to put out a record in the first place, let alone a concept album? And besides, as you also said in one of your comments, "everyone in the culture and the community must work together to reassert its dominance in the mainstream media. The worst part about the current trend is that we, the listeners, are doing nothing to stop this change". Although I am not familiar with the history of hip-hop, I imagine its roots are in the American culture. And since this culture is highly exported to the rest of the world, I wonder if hip-hop (in a global scale) is also suffering from this "bastardization"? On a different note, I also like your link about the "negro spirituals" and their legacy in the American culture. I say this because I am a Brazilian and African culture is a great part of my country's culture. Specially when it comes to music. However, that kind of music is so different from hip-hop. Perhaps it would be something interesting topic to look at in the future?
Once again, congrats on the post! It was really entertaining!

GoCyrusGo said...

Excellent points made, we should def. have a cyber cafe talk and discuss the 'best' of the real hip-hop heads! (laugh) Thanks for the feedback!

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