Hip-Hop is dead, at least the passionate, emboldened social commentary set to music that once wondered the world's radio waves is now long gone. I am not alone in this sentiment. Nas came to the same conclusion in 2006 and even went so far as to name an album and track after this very sentiment.
As a child I grew up on the truly talented and melodious works of Motown artists, like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and The Temptations and the classical works of Mozart and Holst. Music created by people who actually knew how to compose music and lyrics in their truest sense, limitless works that didn't rely on 'super-star' producer's names to sell it. How does this affect Hip-Hop as a genre and my enjoyment thereof you ask? I am getting to that.
When I became a teenager in the 90's I discovered Rap and Hip-Hop. I discovered a thirst for the lyrical protestations and outcry at political and societal inequality of the likes of 2 Pac and Biggie Smalls. Their lyrics and music demonstrated a passion and thirst for change that was intoxicating. Then I was to discover the works of The Roots and this really spoke to me, 'The Return to Innocence Lost' performed by Ursula Rucker was at once enchanting and deeply melancholy. They really had something to say about the injustices around them. This combined with listening to the works of Wu-Tang Clan and RZA I formed the opinion of Hip-Hop as being the collective conscious of a lost generation of peoples suffering from constant massive socio-political upheaval, a generation of peoples without borders all united by their dissatisfaction with those in power.
Unfortunately throughout my enjoyment of Hip-Hop I had noticed a steady and ever increasing commerciality that was unmistakably seeping in. The stink of corporate middle-America was starting to damage something that was once so visceral, real and predominately talented and successfully attempting to turn it into what 'Hip-Hop' has become today, a pre-packaged and controlled commodity that won't offend the predominately white middle-classes, something I like to call 'Disney-fication'. I knew Hip-Hop was dying when The Fugees released 'The Score' and then Immortal Technique showed me that there was still some life in the genre. And then Ludacris betrayed us all by releasing that appalling duet with Justin Bieber ('Baby'). Ludacris what the hell were you thinking?
O, how the mighty have fallen.
I mean 'Black and Yellow'? Really? You'll be Black and Blue if I ever catch you crossing the road in my hood Wiz Khalifa. What nonsense is this? In my day rappers were discussing whether or not they were ready to die and the merits and ramifications thereof, however now we are living in a world where the likes of Wiz Khalifa are considered to be 'meritorious'. Our youth today has never been more directionless than they are now, leaderless and without inspiration. This is in part due to our soulless and predominately talentless auto-tuned excuse for modern music. If we expect our youth to seek knowledge, inspiration, truth and justice then we cannot just yell at them to learn more and 'shape up', we need to inspire them with new creativity, we need to reach them through the very thing they listen to everyday, their music.
A revolution of the people cannot happen without first a revolution of the mind. I would like to exit with a reiteration of some words from Nas;
"When I say 'hip-hop is dead', basically America is dead. There is no political voice. Music is dead ... Our way of thinking is dead, our commerce is dead. Everything in this society has been done. It's like a slingshot, where you throw the muthafucka back and it starts losing speed and is about to fall down. That's where we are as a country ... what I mean by 'hip-hop is dead' is we're at a vulnerable state. If we don't change, we gonna disappear like Rome. I think hip-hop could help rebuild America, once hip-hoppers own hip-hop ... We are our own politicians, our own government, we have something to say."
By JB Webb-Benjamin