WILL THE REAL KILLER OF HIP HOP PLEASE STAND UP?
In 1999 my friends and I threw a New Years Eve party. While my home girl’s parents celebrated out of the country, we chilled champagne, pumped vodka into watermelons, mixed tequila with Jell-O and soaked strawberries in rum before dipping them in chocolate. Then we invited our friends to come get ratchet.
I spent most of New Years Day at the police station. When I finally got home, my father wasn’t interested in the incident that caused the trouble. He simply asked one question: What did you do?
Last week, B Dot from RapRadar, shared his growing frustrations on twitter about Hip Hop’s relationship with the media. ‘Who let hipster media dictate Hip Hop policy?…Ultimately I think White-Elitist Media outlets will be/is the downfall of Hip Hop’ (B Dot later clarified his statements weren’t about race, but rather cultural tourism). Either way, the tweets opened the floor for an interesting conversation between several journalists I both respect and read regularly. So is Hip Hop dying? And if it is, who’s killing it?
Two years ago Pitchfork began championing Lil B as the next big thing in Hip Hop. The Bay Area rapper already had an ample on the ground following, he was selling out shows, and with the Pitchfork co-sign stamped on his back, he took his movement around the country.
Young Basedgod ride hot when you bought it
30 on my dick on that court like Spaulding
Bitches suck my dick because I look like JK Rowling
Harry pot my bitch
I fuck my ho
Her brain is awesome
Soon Lil B was everywhere. He took the stage at Coachella, performed alongside Diddy, and last month was even invited to speak at NYU.
Back to New Years Day, 2000. Obeying my father, I listed out all of my pre-NYE actions. I’d booked the DJ, showed my friends how to make the alcoholic treats, and provided my own list of invitees. And as I listened to myself, I realized while I wasn’t directly responsible for the incident that caused the police involvement, I was very much responsible for why the guests were there in the first place.
The undoing of rap will never be about race, especially since the list of raps pioneers is far more multi-cultural than DJ Hollywood and Kool Herc. John Shecter, Dave Mays, Keith Naftaly, Hosh Gureli, Ted Demme, Pete Dougherty, Sophie Bramly, Sal Abatiello, Lyor Cohen, Bill Adler and Ann Carli, were undoubtedly some of the people responsible for this thing we call Hip Hop. And all (with the exception of Carli, who is half Asian) are white. The very ‘boom bap’ that helped definitively separate rap from the reigning Disco, (and what we came to know as ‘Def’) was first tapped out in the NYU dorm room of a chubby Jewish kid known for being a bizarre bully. But we’ll get back to Rick Rubin in a moment…
So here’s the tricky elephant in the room: is it possible that White/Elitist media isn’t killing Hip Hop? Perhaps Urban/Hip Hop media has dropped the ball.
In order to ponder Hip Hop’s death, we have to be clear on the circumstances of its birth. In the beginning, there was The Music, The Money and The People.
In Hip Hop’s early days, the people led, shaping the art form, defining the rules for what was to come. Eventually, with the rules in place, the music took over. That 90’s era – the sweet spot of rap – was a result of refining the early sounds and flows, producing work that even Hip Hop’s biggest detractors couldn’t deny. Suddenly we had the worlds ear. That’s when the money took over. Recognizing the unharnessed potential, everyone wanted a piece. And everyone with a piece, was willing to sell it.
And some in Urban Media forgot its number one principle: tell the stories of the people, to the people.
Let’s be clear, Lil B had an audience before Pitchfork. The indie publication didn’t create him. They simply paid attention. That is their job. An argument could be made that while Urban Media became tastemakers, and chased exclusives (which requires great relationships with artists), Pitchfork spent their time investigating what their core audience was listening to and then brought those stories back to the masses.
Is Urban Media solely to blame? Of course not. What is souring rap culture is a collective plethora of ulterior motives, poor management, lackluster product and a chronic habit of ignoring the audience. In a sense, we threw a party and then let the guests take over and the shit got out of control.
Back to Rick Rubin. He’s as hippie as they come: rebellious, substance experimenting, irregular hygiene. His early work drips heavy of punk rock, leaving in is high school yearbook, ‘I wanna play loud. I wanna be heard. I want all to know. I’m not one of the herd.’
There’s room for everyone in Hip Hop – Sigh – even alt rappers like Lil B. As Hip Hop’s audience grows, they bring along with them their ever-diversifying taste. And we’ve seen artist transition to fit those growing tastes, creating sub genres. Will.I.Am’s decision to add white girl Fergie to Black Eyed Peas was met with criticism. But no one can deny the quality of the genre-bending music that followed.
The same thing has happened in Rock. Rock was born of blues, and has visited Death Metal, Glam, Grunge and even a sort of Rap/Rock hybrid. But it is very much alive. Because the same rebellious spirit that birthed it, the desire to thumb their nose at their parental oppressors thrives along with it.
So the party is out of control. Don’t just sit there and wait for the cops to come. Get back on the mic and regain the attention of the crowd.
First we have to be honest with ourselves. There’s a reason rappers give a different type of interview to GQ, Vanity Fair or even Playboy than they do to an Urban publication. The quality of the product is different. And it’s not just about the writing, the questions asked, or even the Q&A vs. the narrative format. How’s the weight and gloss of your magazine’s paper? If Jay-Z sits for an exclusive photo shoot, will the photos be presented in high quality? Will the surrounding content be engaging? Fresh? Is it creative? Or will his brand be sandwiched between ads for liquor and cheap clothing that has nothing to do with him or his core sensibilities? What’s your mobile app like? Since over half of the demographic have abandoned print, will this exclusive content Kanye is giving you, be passed on to the audience in a forward moving way? Or is it stale, boring and capable of bringing the quality of his brand down? Does your digital outlet produce high-quality original content? Or just aggregate everyone else’s posts? Do you tell stories? Or gossip?
Are you sure you know what your audience is interested in? Let’s not kid ourselves, there are more than just young white kids listening to Lil B. Lots of Black Women bought that W Magazine with Nicki on the cover. I’m definitely not the only negro bumping Bieber’s ‘Boyfriend’.
If I tell you I’m hungry and you run out and return with a steak, baked potato and brussel sprouts, it does me no good. I don’t eat beef. But if you regularly ask me my likes, dislikes and what I have a taste for, when you return with crab cakes, garlic mashed potatoes and broccoli rabe, not only will I be satisfied, but I’m likely to return to you when it’s time for the next meal.
Steve Stoute, who (that I know of) doesn’t possess a MENSA qualifying IQ, has built a second career out of remaining entrenched in the culture, then taking that information back to corporate America, saying ‘tell it to the people like this.’
The party that is Hip Hop, is growing bigger by the second. I agree that, like Rock, the core fundamentals of Hip Hop need to be protected. Artists have to make better product, labels need to focus more on the music and less on the deals and Urban media needs to step it up. Nobody can take your woman away from you, but you.
Hip Hop isn’t dying. It’s evolving. The real question is: are we evolving with it?
What New Years Eve of 1999 taught me was the responsibility of protecting your home, is yours alone. And should you throw a party that wrecks the place that you cherish, be ready to roll up your sleeves and clean it up.
By Paulo Coelho