“It is not about lyrics anymore. It’s about a hot beat and a catchy hook.”
Eminem begins his new single, “Syllables” with this (ironic) spoken intro; quite the apt description of the current state of Hip-Hop. With each year that passes, I observe Rap becoming more and more watered down, ultimately to line the pockets of greedy record executives and A&Rs who call the shots. Artists have all but completely lost creative control in the song-writing process and are forced to meet the ever-changing demands of a fickle industry.
Jay-Z raps in “Moment of Clarity”: “If skills sold, truth be told/I’d probably be, lyrically Talib Kweli”. One of the most prolific rappers of this generation, Jay made songs like “Big Pimpin'” and “Money Cash Hoes” in order to sell records, in order to survive. But Kweli, never one to be outdone, later responded on “Ghetto Snow”: “If lyrics sold then truth be told/I’ll probably be just as rich and famous as Jay-Z”. Moving away from the true lyricism of Reasonable Doubt that conjured vivid images of the harsh streets of New York City, Jay became more familiar with the club song around the turn of the millennium.
Safe to say, the rise of the club song has brought about the fall of quality Hip-Hop music. Whereas visionaries such as Tüpac Shakur and KRS-One once spread messages of personal empowerment and intelligence, it is rare to hear a new Rap song that does not objectify women or feature a rapper bragging about “making it rain” (is anybody else sick of this cliché?). Granted, boasting and bragging are intrinsically connected to battle Rap culture, but modern Rap songs have been debased of well-written poetry and artistic integrity.
Inane songs that fall well on drunk ears have replaced cerebral jazz-infused classics that told stories, and they all sound exactly the same to those who know better. It’s hard to point fingers, because rappers are not 100% to blame for the terrible songs played on the radio. The trend is reflective of our youth, who seem to grow more apathetic by the day. They clamor for the most repetitive song, the simplest lyrics. It seems, therefore, that making these types of songs is the only way for rappers to put bread on the table. There is no demand anymore for groups like A Tribe Called Quest. There is no demand for classic albums like The Low End Theory.
So, what can be done about this? Was Nas right in 2006 when he said that Hip-Hop is dead? Not entirely. Nas himself later clarified in an interview that he believed Hip-Hop was moving away from the art of storytelling. But there are still artists that bring something to the table. In a sea of mediocrity, artists like J. Cole, Blu, and Saigon give hope to Hip-Hop heads. Do yourself a favor and call your local radio station. Tell them to play an old Slum Village record, if not to observe their reaction. Aren’t you sick of hearing that Drake song that sounds like all the others? We need some J Dilla on the radio. We need some more Talib Kweli. Nobody needs to make it rain.
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