The great A Tribe Called Kwest
Coming into my last week of my internship has it’s ups and downs. Ups – I’ll be home soon, my creativity won’t be stifled, I’ve gotten my camera, I’ll have ten days of pure summer. Downs – I’ve got a major presentation (I’m not the best with powerpoint format), I’ll miss a lot of the people in my department (wish I had more time just to get to know them), I’ll miss my fellow interns, and the city of Chicago (Chicagoland area).
Another major up is the opportunity to get realer than real with a lot of people around me. I wouldn’t say I’ve been fake; since from my first day in the office I’ve told people exactly what I wanted to do but I’ve definitely been owning up to a lot of my finer hobbies and interests regardless of who’s listening. Basically, more people know that I’m a rapper and videographer (hey music videos!) and the questions and discussions have been interesting. In fact, this weekend I’ve had multiple discussions about the fall of hip hop and music in general.
It started with two other interns, one a music connoisseur (wide palate) and another a major fan of EDM who shied away from hip hop at a younger age due to sophomoric content and repetitive themes. The second continued to make the strong claim that the rap scene had majorly declined since the Golden era and the first was refuting it with the “nostalgia glasses” argument.
“But you have to admit that lyricism is a lot more watered down than it used to be….”
“There were a lot of bad artists from the 80s and 90s who you don’t remember…”
Personally I see validity in both sides. There were a lot of terrible artists from earlier generations and there is a reason we don’t remember them. There were also a lot of talented ones. The emphasis on lyricism has shifted to underground hip hop heads though on a occasion there will be some sort of argument about who had a better verse on a song (when a more mainstream artist does some “back to the pillars” shit).
My main view on that particular issue goes like this: In a more saturated market where people have been conditioned to getting their music in two ways: Media (radio, TV, magazines etc.) and People (word of mouth), the corporations trying to make money off of music need to monopolize the former which leads to greater control of the latter. In short, it’s not that people as a whole want less lyricism, but now lyricism is an other in Hip Hop.
To make a clearer comparison: Insightful lyrics are to modern Hip Hop what Cool Keith and Horrorcore were to the Golden Age. As in, extremely left field. To see an artist display lyricism in a package that is consumable (not garbage) is an extremely rare thing. I’ve often asked fellow musicians and friends if this generation could create a Nas, Mos Def (Yasiin Bey), Common, or Kweli: not because those 4 are ungodly talents (they are in many ways) but because the only way to penetrate the market in the way they did you’d need label support for your first few albums (Indie or Major) and then you’d need to separate yourself from labels and go about things your own way.
To get label support you’d need hits or a proven fan base. All four of the mentioned emcees started out in the neighborhood, whether it was working with more established artists in the studio (Nas and Common) or being well known via open mic performances (Yasiin Bey and Kweli). Then you’d need to connect with the artists straddling the line between mainstream and underground or be that artist yourself (Nas) so you could become a household name that people associate with quality music and quality hip hop. It’s not impossible, but in a post-Platinum era, there are major differences in expectations.
For some this may seem extremely daunting: all four of the artists above have had periods where people said they “fell off” and it hasn’t been easy for them. Lyricism is a hard road to walk down. Realistically, if you ask most people to name rappers they consider lyrical, aside from Kendrick or Cole, Ab-Soul etc. you’d likely get a lot of names of artists who have been in the game since the late 90’s or mid 2000s, before the Hip Hop internet boom. To be a homegrown “lyricist” you’ll have to inject yourself in circles where subject matter is respected (most real Hip Hop circles) and music is a way to get through the day to day. But to say that means Hip Hop has fallen is to me ridiculous.
Hip Hop has “fallen” because of commercialization, but the response to artists like Kendrick Lamar, who are “putting the pill in the pudding” demonstrates that there is still room for lyrics and deep subject matter. For the new artists like myself coming up: stick to who you are and what resonates with you. Get out of your rooms and get to the outside world (I’m trying) and let people know what it is you’re doing. You can’t have fans if you don’t have a base. And you don’t have a base if you’re only on the internet. The radio may have “fallen”, but there are still people looking to find music with meaning and if you can really resonate with them, you’ll find some success.
Know this was kind of long, but I hope this makes sense. Love to hear what y’all think,