Hip Hop: From birth to the modern day
Hip Hop: A culture and form of ground breaking music and self expression with elements that consisted of the elements of graffiti art, DJing, MCing and breaking.
Looking at this definition I, alongside many others, utter the question: Is Hip Hop dead?
Back in hip hops heyday of the 80s and early 90s, the most popular and successful groups were militant, they made genuine political statements. Groups such as 'Public Enemy', 'A Tribe Called Quest' and 'KRS-One' , despite their stylistic differences, seemed to be working as a team to vocalise and raise awareness of the history and experiences of black people, particularly in the US. They symbolised a distinctive change for the better in US society, in which it was now acceptable for young kids to look up to, respect and aspire to be like black public figures. However, today rap stars, though famous and idolised by some, are less admirable in the sense that they don't stand for anything, they do not represent a mass political movement and they are often poor role models. This has been shown by Kevin Powell, former Vibe magazine senior writer and editor of 'Who Shot Ya? Three decades of Hip Hop Photography', 'If you were a young black male growing up then, you could aspire to be Chuck D, or Big Daddy Kane, or Too Short, or Doug E. Fresh. You had choices. That doesn't exist anymore.'
Hip Hop artists today rap about money and violence and less about the hardships of those who fought for their civil rights, 50 Cent felt the need to bang on about his past as a drug dealer that was shot 25 times. It seems that if rappers were to write about more cerebral issues they would be mocked by their peers or be deemed as less gansta, which is ironic as, in my opinion the most gansta of all are those who bravely stand up for what they believe in. Co-founder of politically concious group Public Enemy, Bill Stephney, states, 'There is an over-representation of the criminal aspects of black youth culture from the videos and the records... Not all black kids out here are slinging on cocaine, crack and heroin and shooting at one another. What about the black kid who works at Haagen-Daz in Brooklyn? He or she is not represented. What about the black kid who just goes to church with his grandmother on Sunday? I don't hear their story in any of these records. All I hear is bang, bang, shoot em' up!'
So what I want to know is how did this happen? When did rap leave it's glorified political past and become an expression of violence and abuse in what has been described as its least innovative period?
Is it due to what has been called the crack epidemic in urban communities which changed many of the values of youth black culture in the 1980s? Is this what has created the 50 cents of the rap world who express a die hard mentality over meaningless materialistic things?
This mentality began in the early 90s with the introduction of the group NWA (Niggaz Wit Attitudes), which represented the beginnings of the careers of many big rap names today such as Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. While their first album was great, their follow up, 'Niggaz4Life', seemed to talk about violence, drugs and sex. However, it was this album which sold in mass quantities and, therefore, defined a new popular movement in hip hop music.
('Express Yourself' from NWA first album 'Straight Outta Compton' (1988) reflected the end of the glory days of politically motivated hip hop before their more modern follow up album)
Record labels pushed aside groups like Public Enemy to make way for the future of hip hop, hungry to match the enormous sales of NWA. This new direction was set in stone after the release of 'Suge Knight's Death Dow Records' - which released albums by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.
This made way for the first popular white rapper to hit the hip hop scene. Eminem's first three albums made a total sale of 20 million, representing $300 million gross for Interscope Records.
American record companies have made huge profits from selling ghetto culture to the mainstream consumer. However, the movement in the sound of RnB and Hip Hop music is not completely the fault of the record labels. In todays hip hop music artists with catchy tunes, such as Dizzie Rascal, have just borrowed the backing tracks from previous records, taking away from the creativity and integrity of the music. Stars such as Puff Daddy, for example, started this trend. Puff Daddy, who previously made ground breaking tracks with Ma$e and B.I.G., later topped the charts with songs that instead of using samples borrowed entire records.
(The backing track is taken from 'The Police' track 'Every Breath You Take')
The modern day consumer also plays a part in these developments. The consumer has changed. Back when Run DMC were popular the majority of hip hop consumers were black kids now, the majority are from white suburbia who are looking for a way to rebel. As co-creator of Public Enemies Chuck D said, '15 years ago, rappers rapped for the people, whereas today they rap for their companies, because money dictates the direction.'
Though the popular movement of rap has changed there are still underground rappers who write about politics and more diverse themes. I think it is hard to say whether hip hop has died. It has definitely transformed. Despite the fact that lyrics are perhaps less meaningful than they once were, some aspects of the hip hop industry have changed for the better. Concious rappers who write about politics and mistreatment of their peoples sometimes sacrifice the quality of the music itself for powerful lyrics, where as non-concious rappers like Snoop make much more catchy and musical records.
Another important aspect of rap in the 20th and 21st century is the dominance of females in the industry, with artists such as Eve and Missy Elliot. This is perhaps the one positive thing I will take out of 2011's hip hop. This year the rise in popularity of rapper, Nicki Minaj, has shown that women can be highly successful in the industry. She has broken the glass ceiling of the hip hop world and is possibly the most popular RnB artist of the year.