2Pac wrote poems. Just saying.
hmmm… Too many rappers, not enough poets, that’s how I felt about Hip-Hop culture til recently, too much TURN UP, TURN UP and not enough “I sip the Dom P watching Gandhi til I’m charged…” but I’m content without the competition.
But in the past two years I dare say Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, Lupe Fiasco, Joey Bada$$ and Run the Jewels have given me Hip-Hop with lyricism, poets on beats. With Mick Jenkins, Ab-Soul and plenty more holding it up behind the vanguard.
What happened? I don’t think it was the conspiracy some say (one theory being that record labels have shares in private prisons) but I do think that once gangsta rap became the biggest selling genre that’s all record labels and radio stations promoted for ten years, notably since 50 Cents Get Rich or Die Trying. I didn’t get excited about mainstream Hip-Hop for about 10 years. (Don’t get me wrong, there were always good MCs and always conscious MCs but most of them they were not mainstream, and most would not get played on the radio like the superficial songs getting played 30 times a day). Then around 2012 and beyond Joey Bada$$es crew Pro Era and Kendrick’s team Black Hippy / TDE began to emerge.
Kendrick’s mainstream album Good Kid Madd City (GKMC) was essentially poetic gangsta rap, his first album Section 80 wasn’t mainstream. His second album GKMC was gangsta rap with some deep tracks on it and commercial flavour like Swimming Pools. Fans of the underground slept on him cos the first thing they heard was Swimming Pools (yeah, me). If the beat for The Recipe wasn’t fire I might have continued sleeping.
Kendrick defied the mainstream with his latest album To Pimp A Butterfly by making an album that wasn’t commercial, had loads more live instrumentation and loads more complex lyrical themes.
But what’s my point? Mainstream radio and mainstream record labels can’t hold real Hip-Hop back anymore. Cos the record industry is not what it once was, people don’t buy records like they used to. Artists make their money off live shows and promote their projects on the internet. So an artist like Joey Bada$$ can have mainstream success despite not being signed to a label. Run the Jewels can play on Letterman with an underground sound and a free album with dark beats and lyrics about police brutality and no radio play and no major label backing (although they got distribution through Nas’ imprint Mass Appeal.) Even Lupe Fiasco was on a major label but his project was shelved until the record label received threats from Anonymous (true story.)
So maybe it wasn’t a conspiracy, maybe it was just a financial decision made in boardrooms full of people who don’t care about Hip-Hop culture. Maybe they said “Gangsta rap sells, let’s concentrate on promoting that”, or “Turn Up music sells, let’s concentrate on promoting that.” It’s a logical decision for people mainly motivated by money, I’m not mainly motivated by money but in this day and age that makes me a weirdo. You don’t have to be part of a secret society to be motivated by money or to promote amoral music if it makes more money. Sex and violence sells, can’t blame the industry for what society is buying. But the success of non-gangsta rappers like J Cole, Lupe Fiasco, Joey Bada$$ and Run the Jewels proves that society isn’t just into bling, bitches and shooting people.
So thank the universe that the death of the music industry as we knew it and the rise of the internet has rescued Hip-Hop culture. There was a time it seemed you had to be an ex-crack dealer to be considered a real MC. The time of the lyricists and poets is back. Thank Kendrick, J Cole, Run the Jewels, Lupe Fiasco and Joey Bada$$ for making intelligence cool again
Teenage college kids who know nothing about flows or Hip-Hop culture may spend more on i-Tunes downloads than real Hip-Hop die hards like myself. But as long as real Hip-Hop is trendy maybe those hipsters will learn something. I was a teenage Hip-Hop nerd myself once upon a time.
Of course industry will always follow the lowest common denominator. But artistry will always lead the cutting edge to higher things. From the crack fuelled greed of the Ronald Reagan era to reminding us to say “I love myself”.
ps 2Pac wrote poems.