This is Part 1 of a 3 part series.
“Hip Hop Is Dead”.
It’s a meme that’s run around the “real” hip-hop community for a few years now, right around the time ringtones started outselling CDs. But it’s not just the product of the disgruntled 80’s baby imagination: Hip hop sales have slid more than 74% between 2000-2010, and it’s only getting worse.
The genesis of this decline can be traced to a number of sources: Piracy plays a factor, as do changes in the way people legally consume music (i.e. iTunes and Spotify). But, if you look closely at the most visible rappers in today’s culture, another culprit is to be found. Today’s rappers, by and large, have all the same elements of rappers from yesteryear, except one thing: The ability to rap.
This is a list of the 5 rappers most responsible for today’s shift from substance to style, where the amount of cars in your driveway, bricks in your closet and tattooed tears on your face are far more important than the words that come out of your mouth. And the irony is, they had no idea what hell they unleashed when they set out on the path to stardom; they just wanted to sell records.
The Legend: Back when most rappers equated success to going gold and having a herringbone, Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella records were blazing a trail, with the charismatic Brooklynite leading the charge with his charismatic, flawless rhyme delivery and Kingpin swagger. Other labels at the time, like Bad Boy and Def Jam, were first to many of the branding avenues Young Hov went down, but none were as intrinsically linked to one man as Jay: Sneakers, Apparel, Film, Liquor, Books, and now, a basketball team. Add that to the fact he went plat a bunch of times, times that by his influence on pop culture – wait, did I just slip into one of his verses? Damn, he got me too.
The Aftermath: Jay-Z’s business acumen has never been questionable, but neither have his rhymes. He stands as one of Hip Hop’s greatest MC’s, and even today there are none from today’s crop (and only one living from his own heyday – Nas) that are even close to his ability. With this in mind, today’s crop of MCs who benefit from Jay’s influence are content to focus on the “I’m not a rapper, I’m a hustler” part of his persona, taking the “It just so happens I know how to rap” part and throwing it from a moving car going full speed down a busy highway. They’ve got it all: Clothing companies, sneaker deals, endorsement deals, liquor brands and the like, but they all share the rap skills of a 3-year old with a speech impediment reciting Mother Goose.
Worst Offenders: Young Jeezy, Rick Ross
The Legend: Everyone knows who Sean “Puff Diddy Swag Daddy” Combs is, and that’s exactly the way he way he wants it. The ubiquitous Hip Hop mogul founded Bad Boy Records, which dominated music in the 90s with artists like the late Notorious BIG, Craig Mack, and Ma$e. He danced his way into almost every video made back then, and did remixes for damn near every artist under the sun. Factoring in the successes from Sean John, Making the Band, and Ciroc Vodka, and Diddy casts a pretty impressive shadow for a man who’s never actually penned a verse.
The Aftermath: Next time you hear some awful verse from Birdman over a song on the radio, be sure to thank Poppa Diddy Pop. In his path to glory, Diddy committed many of the gravest sins against the genre, chief among them making it OK for a CEO to be a rapper too – in spite of any ability to do so. But his greatest crime was the commercialization that now permeates rap music – every rapper is now a brand, and the music is a secondary trait. Diddy took commercialism in hip hop to heights that would make MC Hammer shit his parachute pants.
Worst Offender: Baby “Birdman” Williams
Check in tomorrow for No. 3 & 2.