What Is Wrong with Hip-Hop?

(Note: Since I downloaded this track from MediaFire, I forgot the name and address of the blog that originally uploaded this track–probably a European site–but the link for MediaFire was down, so I re-upped using Mega Upload; I apologize for the image tagged to the file that I can’t remove. And if the artists wish for me to remove this link, I will, but really, this is like extra promotion for a track that already has a video.)

About two weeks ago, Pennsylvania native and independent artist Jasiri X (third verse) posted on his Youtube channel a video for a song he and two other regional artists (Idasa Tariq and Living Proofe) had made. The song, provocatively–and powerfully–titled “Just a Minstrel,” dissects and depicts everything wrong with today’s hip-hop culture and music. If it hasn’t been generating a buzz already, it surely will, unless fans somehow manage to ignore the poignancy of its message. You never know these days. (Note: Major credit must be given to Idasa Tariq, who Jasiri X has even explained, came up with the concept and hook).

Directed by X-Clan’s own Paradise Gray, the video is well shot and edited, with a refreshingly minimal budget in comparison to the over-polished, Hollywood high-def “glam” that impinges upon every video released by a major label artist these days. Or, sadly, even Youtube amateurs. Seriously, the day rappers started propagating this business-suit wearing, champagne drinking, misogynistic bullshit was the day hip-hop music videos turned to utter shit. Yep, they’ve been utter shit for a while.

The central argument in “Just a Minstrel” seems to be that through the antics, gimmicks, and lyrics of today’s hip-hop acts–specifically their fellow African-Americans–these artists are not only exploiting themselves as individuals, but also exploiting their race and culture, further perpetuating heinous stereotypes, and indulging and promoting a culture that is both inaccurate and detrimental to African-Americans as a people. Ultimately in today’s rap game, even artists who can’t rap are in it to make a quick buck, hoping and praying to fit into the mold of what fad is now “in.” It sounds like a high school soap opera, but if a rapper isn’t deemed marketable by the labels, he or she has zero chance of being signed. And that, according to the song, is enough to raise a generation of rap sellouts.

This raises the important, age old question: Who is to blame? Do we blame the artists themselves for selling out and acting like buffoons so confused teenagers will buy their music? Or, do we blame the major music labels for promoting and marketing this kind of artistic suicide?

The truth is, guns, drugs and sex (read: sex, not misogyny–misogyny shouldn’t have a place anywhere) have always been a part of hip-hop. Originating in the inner-city ghettos, where people are living and dying in poverty every day, that’s just the way it is. But what made Onyx and Raekwon the Chef so fun and innovative and stimulating to listen to, as opposed to Rick Ross and (insert any mediocre ring tone rapper here), who come across as phony and insecure, and just plain ignorant?

Well, for one, the culture has changed. What was once a music made by the streets, for the streets, being played in the streets, is now all over every sector of the globe, from the suburbs to the rural counties. That’s all fine and dandy, and in fact, I encourage it; I am partly a product of hip-hop’s globalization myself. But what has happened now is, many artists and consumers have lost touch with what hip-hop is supposed to be; and instead of remaining a strictly urban style of music, it has become a suit-wearing, pseudo-wealthy corporate entity that promotes gimmicks and fads over lyrical, musical, and artistic capabilities.

See, when Raekwon made Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, the entire album was creative, imaginative, and innovative for its time, and both the lyrics and music production were some of the best any genre of contemporary music has ever seen. Wu-Tang creating mobster dramas under the influence of classic crime films was special because these artists were, for the majority of their lives, poor and desolate. It was special because, in addition to the amount of skill and talent involved, it offered a means of escape to a generation of impoverished youth–a fun fantasy of riches and glory amidst a life of grimy street struggle. You can’t even compare Cuban Linx with anything in the last half of this decade, except for maybe Cuban Linx Part 2.

I’d say it’s a combination of how an artist carries him or herself–the content of the work–and the amount of skill and talent present–the quality of the work–that determines the greatness and appeal of music. It seems obvious, doesn’t it? But right now, hip-hop–and most music in general–needs a serious dose of both.

Maybe, one could argue, humans are just nostalgic by nature, and even though there may be a lot of great hip-hop out there, we refuse to acknowledge it. This is probably true. For a blog that calls itself “They Reminisce Over You,” dedicated to preserving the art of hip-hop from an older–and most would say “golden”–era, we can’t argue with this. Maybe people like me just like to complain about the current state of affairs, and write angry blog entries for the sake of being nostalgic in of itself.

For instance, in the '80s, with the onset of the New Wave genre of synthesizer-driven music, many people were initial skeptics of what was deemed a banal fad at that time. Think of bouncy synthesizers being to New Wave '80s rock and pop, what Autotune pitch-correction is now to hip-(p)op–yes, probably that annoying. Yet, what was once hated by countless rock & roll purists during that time, is now mourned by those exact people in the 21st Century–so much so that the '80s have become a fond, almost mythical time for many fans living today, even those young'ns who hadn't yet seen the light of day during that decade. It's become almost mindless accordance amongst the masses, to admire and fawn over everything created, marketed, and sold in the '80s. And rap music is no different.

Will there perhaps be a day, sometime in the lingering unforeseeable future, when people who call themselves rap music fans come to cherish and revere the very music we call trite and worthless today? Autotuned annoyances, bubblegum pop hooks, materialistic misogyny and all? Damn, that’s a disheartening and downright depressing thought.

But there has to be more than that, something more substantial as to why we prefer the older eras of hip-hop to the majority of today's releases–nostalgia will only go so far, and while it is fun to reflect on old memories, good taste is still good taste, right? As someone once said, preferring the likes of Charlie Parker and other historically monumental musicians to some of the amateurish contemporary garage bands that have come and gone with the the latest rock & roll trends, is not nostalgia, but rather good taste. Likewise, preferring Raekwon the Chef to the likes of Officer Ricky is not simply mourning the past, it's demonstrating and appreciating great taste in hip-hop music. And the truth is, most of the artists we hear today getting major radio play are not the type of artists worth listening to and supporting.

We need not over think it.

— Teddy C.D.

PS: Please do not go around calling people, especially black people, “minstrels.” No matter how dope the song is, and how much I support showing tough love and constructively criticizing even your own people, I do not advocate insulting someone racially with a remark like that. Any injuries you sustain from calling someone a “minstrel” are at the indiscretion of you and only you.

PSS: Jasiri X’s Youtube channel (highly worth checking out, as Jasiri is one of the few talented and intelligent rappers to use the internet and Youtube to his advantage) and Living Proofe’s Myspace page are linked above, but I couldn’t find any information on Idasa Tariq (second verse) from a quick search on the internet. If anyone has any information on this artist (maybe from the artist himself?), it would be greatly appreciated. Since the other two are from around Pittsburgh, I assume Idasa Tariq is as well. He deserves more exposure and major props for his role in this song, and for spitting my favorite verse on the track (on the off chance he is actually really well known amongst most hip-hop circles, and I’m just incredibly out of the loop, forgive me). And to the promising up-and-comers in this often-frustrating hip-hop game, keep it up!

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