Attention all music journalists, interns, and enthusiasts; hip-hop music production may never change!
While I do agree with the bemoaning over laying endless tracks of synthesizers with meaningless lyrics about sex, money and drugs there appears to be little, if any, change in the distant horizon.
This argument started well over 10 years ago when crews like the Lost Boyz, CRU, and later Biggie Smalls changed the game, digressing from the pious spiritual and existential concerns of rappers like Nas and Tupac, to today’s seemingly endless materialism.
While a few lone standouts attempted to either maintain hardcore rap’s current relevancy by mixing the new with the old, this new mentality, ushered in by over processed, heavily sequenced music was a dramatic shift from the boring jazz-rap of yesteryear. The music was fun to listen to, yet this newfound energy came at a severe cost to the integrity of the culture.
Once rappers realized that, they could sell well over ten million records the only other artist to come anywhere close to replicating their success, without selling out, was Eminem.
Of course the only problem there was that he dealt heavily in his own grief and disillusionment, topics that were not of much interest to most hip-hop followers, although Eminem has done a lot to bring new listeners to the genre, the way crossover artists always have since the early days.
The only relief purists have today is the eccentricity of the Southern scene, with groups like Outkast and rappers like Kanye West who are trying to find a creative way to blend old school soul and r & b with today’s production techniques to create yet another sound.
The only problem, of course, is that in doing so you have to, once again, talk about topics that do not interest the average listener. Kanye had a lot of success doing so with “Jesus Walks”, and Common is finally on the charts again.
Speakerboxx and the Love Below were an excellent example of how we are willing to listen to sounds we had never taken into consideration before when they are presented to us in an interesting way.
At the end of the day, however, those 30 or so tracks, layered, manipulated, sequenced, continue to mesmerize us in a way we never have been before.
This is why a ridiculous track that talks about school rivalries can be the number one song in the country, particularly considering that the break involves commenting on how good the song is.
I do appreciate journalists’ attempts to trying to convince the audience to demand more from their artists, and for calling artists themselves on their own accountability to be true to the fans.
However, you have to wonder if this is simply how the music was meant to evolve, if this is not the true destination all along. Rap started with the minimalist simplicity of loud, overpowering beats from a simple drum machine, and 20 years later, seems to have arrived at a similar destination.
Listen to “Grinding” from the Clipse, or “I’m a Hustler” from Cassidy’s second album, and you feel like you are back in the 80s wearing your Nike Air Force One’s or Reebok Pumps all over again.
If we have not learned anything else about this form of music, and the tastes of its listeners, it is that we cannot control it. Sometimes journalists are confused between simply commenting and reporting on events and trying to use their opinions to create a discussion and raise the consciousness of its readers.
A good writer can do both, without digressing towards a state where they feel as if it isn’t worth their time anymore because they’re frustrated that the world isn’t the way that they feel that it should be. It is like a fashion writer that feels that everyone should wear couture because they do, or only support certain designers or a certain aesthetic.
How many articles have you read where the Midwest’s Black is Camel, where the observation is made, that the Bible belt is all about neural, earthy colors and everything is loud and vibrant out in California?
How many oversimplifications have you endured, as an enthusiast, from “experts” who try to sell you the latest Gucci and Louis Vuitton because you are a “jetsetter” and want to stick with that high-society minimalist look? What if you do not feel like one today, perhaps you want to hang out at the park or take a trip to Iowa, what are you supposed to wear then?
Not everyone with old money wears Ralph Lauren, and it is just as ridiculous to assume that everyone who listens to this music wears ridiculously priced Iceberg shirts and Sean Carter shoes, neon colored backpacks and mink coats. Take the good with the bad and see exactly where this particular sound leaves us, it may not be quite as bad as you think.