The King of Hip-Hop

There is no king of Hip-Hop. In my humble opinion there can’t be a king of Hip-Hop.

“Why can’t there be a king of Hip-Hop…?” because music is a matter of opinion, it’s a subjective thing. Nothing determines the king. The best selling artist might be trash – Vanilla Ice sold ALOT of music in the 90s. The Spice Girls sold alot of records. Record sales don’t make you the king. So who decides?

J Cole said it best…
“Ain’t gonna be no more kings
Be wary of any man that claims
Because deep down he clings onto the need for power
The reality, he’s a coward
Ultimately he’s scared to die
And sometimes so am I
But when I’m in tune with the most high
I realize, the fear lies in my lack of awareness of the other side
Today I know that we are the same, are the same, you and I
Different kind of skin, different set of eyes
Two different minds, but only one God
(It’s only one God nigga)
It’s for all the kings
Cause I know deep down every poet just wanna be loved” – J Cole, Fire Squad

The problem is, and no offence intended to any age or race, but if teenage hipsters who know nothing about Hip-Hop culture or history buy more records than “real Hip-Hop heads” (of any age or race) who analyse flows, lyrics and production  does that mean Justin Bieber can be the King of Hip-Hop next year if he sells the most records? (It’s got to be about more than record sales or it leaves the culture open to culture vultures and cheesy pop stars. So who decides who is king? If not record sales?

Was Michael Jackson the King of Pop? Because it was drummed into your head by pop culture or because he sold the most records? Or because he was objectively the best? Who decides who is king?

Is Eminem the king of Hip-Hop? He sold the most records in the end. I can’t call it, because he is one of the best ever if not the best but the fact that more white people listen to the white rapper gives him an unfair advantage which then turns into an unfair handicap. Cos he may well be the best, but few people are gonna give it to him when we know there are lots of white people who will only buy a rap album if it’s Eminem, people who know nothing about the rest of Hip-Hop culture.

What decides who is king? Is it their influence on culture, or on the industry?

There is no king. Because as I said, it’s subjective opinion, some would say that the Beatles were more of a pop group than a rock group and put the Rolling Stones in the rock category, some would say Rock n Roll is part of the Rock category so Elvis takes the rock spot, some would say pop music is just “popular music” so Elvis and the Beatles are both bigger pop stars than Michael Jackson (I checked, the Beatles sold the most records of all time, followed by Elvis, followed by Michael Jackson) so if we’re going on sales AND if we’re calling all popular music ‘Pop Music’ then the Beatles and Elvis are fighting for the king of rock AND the kings of pop. Classical? Many people would argue Mozart. But clearly there is an argument for Eminem and truth is he’s the biggest selling rap artist but not the most influential, hardly anyone tries to sound like Em, he’s too unique and original. You say the most influential but the truth is most rappers try to be like Jay Z and the rest try to be like 2Pac, Eminem is so unique most people would sound weird if they rapped about killing their baby mommas, their moms doing drugs or dissing pop stars. Most rappers either rap about money and hoes like Jay Z or rap about being a thug like 2Pac or try to say something conscious like 2Pac so they’re currently the most influential. If you’d said Eminem was king cos he sold the most you would have a better argument but then I’d refer back to my previous comment, some terrible rappers have sold alot of records in the past cos idiots buy music – Vanilla Ice sold ALOT of records. So sales doesn’t really mean anything. Sales indicates good marketing more than it indicates good music.

I’m not trying to say Vanilla Ice compares to Eminem, Eminem has got skills but he also appeals to people that don’t even like rap music unless it’s Em. I only mention Vanilla Ice because in the 90s he was one of the biggest artists but nobody would call him king. I think Eminem is a good candidate for king because he’s talented AND he’s sold alot of records but I still say there can be no king because everybody is using different criteria.

Personally I’m old skool with it. KRS-One would be a good candidate for me, also Afrika Bambaata, the Amen Ra of Hip-Hop. If you love Hip-Hop culture you should find out as much as you can about Afrika Bambaata and the Zulu Nation and what they did to organise Hip-Hop culture at the start, and redirect gang culture in New York towards breakdancing, graffiti, and rapping. Just for influence on the culture.

If I were to talk about sheer skill on the mic Rakim has to get mentioned and the man everybody saw as heir to his throne – Nas. None of these people sold as many records as Jay-Z or Eminem but their dedication to the true spirit of Hip-Hop is an unquantifiable feature of legendary status.

But when it comes to skill that is another subjective opinion and there are plenty of new potential heirs to the throne. I wonder what people will say in ten years about Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, King Los, J Cole, Jay Electronica, Ab-Soul and Hopsin?
There is no king. Just opinions.

Too many rappers, not enough poets #hiphop #poetry

2Pac wrote poems. Just saying.

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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.

Gig Review – Lyrically Challenged 5th Birthday

{I also have an interview with one of the hosts and promoters of Lyrically Challenged coming on The Metropolist website, http://www.themetropolist.com/ however this is the gig review for the 5th Birthday Bash without the interview.}
Since moving back to London I had made it to catch the end of one of the monthly Lyrically Challenged Hip-Hop events. The vibe was nice and for that, and for a handful of other reasons I will explain in detail later I knew I had to reach the 5th Birthday special when they were to take over two floors of the venue Passing Clouds. So I went to “Lyrically Challenged, the 5th Birthday Bash”. It is not an exaggeration to say that personally it was like witnessing first-hand evidence of consciousness evolution. And a sick party. All rolled into one all encompassing experience. Allow me to give you some of my personal history with regards to rap clubs before I start the review in detail.
I used to go to Hip-Hop clubs in London in the late 90s and early 2000s, this was when Canibus and Eminem were Hip-Hop’s biggest influences, everyone wanted to be a battle rapper or a gangsta rapper. But I would rap about crystals and ayahuasca and just feel like the odd one out. My how times have changed.
Don’t get me wrong, even back then MCs like Chester P, Jehst and Roots Manuva had poetic lyrics and influenced the scene. But most of the rappers coming up were largely inspired by what was coming from the states and in the early 2000s the biggest album was Chronic 2001 and the biggest success was 50 Cent. With 50 Cent and Jay Z vying for ‘King of New York’ status it seemed like you had to be an ex-crack dealer to be considered a ‘real MC’. My how times have changed.
Then I discovered a poet called Paradox and the poetry scene in the London squat scene, here was a well-spoken black man talking about consciousness evolution, politics and spirituality to an audience that wanted to hear it. I just left the London rap scene behind for a while and focussed on performing poetry in squats like Unity Workds, Project 142 and St Georges Theatre. Then I moved to Bristol and focussed even more on poetry.
I was in Bristol for 10 years. Since I went away Lyrically Challenged started 5 years ago. I don’t know what it was like when it started but that 5th Birthday was like a dream come true for me. Hip-Hop culture expressing the evolution of consciousness; from Marv TheRadio doing a verse about Ayahuasca to hearing poetry at the start to seeing sacred Geometry like The Flower of Life and the Merkaba / Metatrons Cube spray painted on the decor – some of these things may seem superficial in isolation but together it created the atmosphere that something authentic and special was happening. Even the fact that it was hosted by two female MCs, MC Angel and Shay D, defied a stereotype about the culture. It was literally as if all my dreams for a consciousness evolution in the Hip-Hop community had come true while I wasn’t looking. So big up.
One of the reasons I went was because Passing Clouds has quickly become one of my favourite venues since I moved back to London, from Dub nights to art workshops, the atmosphere is always pleasant. Another one of the reasons I reached was because Mista Penfold of Itch Fm was playing and I hadn’t seen him or hung out with him since the early 2000s. He smashed it with the rare grooves and classics (the Michael Jackson medley was a highlight!) Another one of the reasons I reached was I knew my mate Felix Luke would be be there but I had no idea he was DJing (and MCing cos he’s multi-talented and multi-dimensional like dat!).
But headliners 47 Soul took everything to another level. After their own set of funk soul Hip-Hop with middle eastern sounds (that’s the best way I can only begin to describe them) they invited the MCs in the building to join them including Marv the Radio, Sonny Green, MC Angel, Shay D, and loads more including myself (I also got involved in the poetry open mic at the start and the Hip-Hop open cipher in the middle, plus joining Felix and the Truesounds Tribe upstairs for a jam – I must have been in a good mood.)
Also worth mentioning another highlight for me was Marv the Radio’s beatbox set, especially the Jungle tribute. He made us all rave with his mouth.
In short – that was the best Hip-Hop night I have been to in a very long time.

That was the 5th Birthday bash, so they took over two floors of Passing Clouds on a Saturday. Usually Lyrically Challenged is once a month on a Tuesday, upstairs in Passing Clouds, the space is smaller but that just means the performances are more intimate and the vibes are high. My advice? Reach.

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