What the Hell Happened to Hip-Hop Music?
First of all, it's important to draw the distinction between a style and a genre. Those two being Hip-hop music and rap. Oftentimes they're used interchangeably but they're just not the same. Hey, even gospel music can have rap in it. But for the sake of populism and this article, let’s call it both. One that can put you to sleep as easily as swing your moods. Rap used to make you feel something. Something in your soul and in your spirit. It gave you permission and power to do anything you set your mind to.
Granted listening to some rap songs today has the power to evoke you to bash somebody’s head in. Recording music, specifically Hip-hop, used to take skill and tact. Now anybody can record some words behind a beat and call it a song. Hip-hop made you ask questions. Questions about this world we live in and more immediately our country. Like, is the US all that free when it takes less time to become a policeman than a hair stylist? Where others' freedom and lives is literally in your hands... Whereas if you mess up someone's hair it'll just grow back in a couple weeks.
Hip-Hop HistoryIt started out as a subculture in the 1970's reflective of the greater society. It was started by impoverished young people in Bronx, NYC. People society tend to overlook and treat expendably. Many attribute Jamaican immigrant DJ Kool Herc, a hip-hop deejay with pioneering the art form. He mixed percussive pieces from old songs with dance songs to create a continuous rhythmic flow. Not to mention his occasional interjection. He brought his style of music from his island to parties in the hood of the Bronx. This started street dance contests where b-boys and dancers would breakdance.
But, Hip-hop was more than just music. It was a culture. Still is. It's reflected in clothing, dance and even the way we speak sometimes. From the timberland boots you rock to the slang you might use. It was a sanctuary for Black and Latino youth who wanted to talk about their surroundings and hardships. These old school youth are the reason rap often involves so much exaggeration and "shooting the dozens".
Hip-hop gave so much to the culture. Freestyling. Breakdancing. It was a unilateral protest by young men in their teens and twenties. A protest to the real gangs. The Police department. The CIA. The FBI. Those are all gangs. However, Hip-hop was revolutionary by nature. Since its inception. Now, rappers just rap about fucking bitches, doing drugs and money. No doubt, the fun stuff has its place. Rappers have always talked about that, albeit more tactfully. But it's problematic when the exception becomes the norm. It reset a whole culture. It brought us to the era of "rappers" with rainbow hair and coloring book tattoos. ahem...Tekashi 69. They don't talk about shit that's stimulating anymore! Just look at one of these new rappers' interviews. Their vocabulary is limited to "uh", "okay", and "it depends".
Initially, hip-hop was to showcase your unique steez and ability. Rappers had pizzazz, personality, and presence. Now everyone dresses the same (like Love & Hip-Hop) with the fake eyelashes, tight clothes, drag makeup and wigs.
"Broken glass eveywhere people pissing on the stage and no they just dont care. I can't take the smell, can't take the noise got no money to move out, guess I got no choice."
So we're going to fast-forward past the 80's era of NWA and Ice T and all them, to go to the 90's where Hip-hop reached its peak. The notorious (no-pun intended) question of who is better between 2Pac and The Notorious BIG is so cliché, but if you asked me I would say 2Pac. Yeah, Biggie Smalls had a mean, fast flow and rapped with vicious technique, But 2Pac had an undeniable wisdom. His lyricism and imagery skills transcended mere music. His music was poetry. He spoke with so much heart and conviction it's hard to believe this man was only 25 when he was killed! Sadly, he didn't even live long enough to join the 27 club. He dominated the first half of the 90's as one of the most loved and hated rappers of his time.
So, if one man single-handedly embodied the spirit and tenacity of Hip-Hop it was Tupac Shakur. He embodied the revolutionary spirit that birthed Hip-Hop. Born in New York (birthplace of Hip-Hop) to a Black Panther mother, his aunt is political refugee Assata Shakur. His mom was even pregnant with him in jail, so his embryo was cultivated in that setting. That may have had a lot to do with his radical yet practical outlook and value system. Fittingly, here's a man who would grow up to have the Vice President of the United States (Dan Quayle) and politicians like C. Dolores Tucker trying to boycott and censor his music.
Got Your Back: Protecting 2Pac in the World of Gangsta Rap
A couple months ago, I got to read his bodyguard Frank Alexander's (AKA Big Frank) memoir "Got Your Back: Protecting 2Pac in the World of Gangsta Rap", detailing his years as 2Pac's bodyguard. From his first trying to size him up when they first met, to being a wallflower at Death Row's orgies, to chasing him all around Italy. Certainly, I highly recommend the book! Never a dull moment. There's so many wild stories in it! But, it also is serious as it shows a man who blamed himself for his client/friend's murder.
After 2Pac died, it left a void I feel hasn't been filled and probably will never be. He was just way too ahead of his time. Maybe there doesn't need to be an heir to the throne. After all, hip-hop began underground and might very well just remain underground. So, the next big Hip-Hop rapper may be still undiscovered. Someone with real, raw storytelling skills and paints a picture in your head. Anyway, we might revisit this topic in the future. Maybe even make it a regular thing. We'll see...
"I won't change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world. "