Taking stock of hip-hop
Rap and Hip-Hop have always been a vehicle for mobility as evidenced in its numerous “rags to riches” tales and stories detailing the struggle of being broke, marginalized, ridiculed and misunderstood. Rappers have been illuminating the ghetto and the neglected neighborhood that most come from for years, but what if you don’t come from that environment or know little of it? If instead, you grew up with millionaire parents in the Hamptons and not on the streets of Brooklyn, what can you rap about? There seems to be a flooding of “already rich rappers” trying to get into the Hip-Hop game and their rhetoric is one unbeknownst to myself and is a complete parallel of the type of music that I grew up on.
I was quite surprised to find out that Tom Hank’s son “Chet Haze,” Tommy Hilfiger’s “Rich Hil” and Bob Dylan’s “Pablo Dylan” are all rappers out to claim their seats in the Hip-Hop emporium. It would be foolish to presume that there is some requirement to be a rapper; one does not have to come from the streets of Harlem or Compton, L.A. These are not breeding grounds for rappers and that can simply be seen through artists like Drake and Kanye West. Drake was a child actor for the show Degrassi before he decided to grip the microphone and Kanye had a decent upbringing by his mother in the suburbs of Chicago. Rap has evolved from a genre of music that was appropriated by blacks as a means of civil unrest to the point where anyone can do it, even the children of white affluence. Rap is no longer Rhythm and Poetry but it has now become a metaphorical “wrap.”
Artists nowadays can create an image for themselves and if they have enough money they can buy their way to stardom. There is no story of pain, struggle or even humility when you are born with the silver spoon in your mouth and a Rolex baby rattle. What makes Hip-Hop and Rap distinct is the fact that it is one of the few popular art forms among young people today that can be used for social change, education and the mobilization of peoples. This is epitomized through artists like Nas, Dilated Peoples, Outkast, Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Rhymefest and Lupe Fiasco.
When Hip-Hop first burst onto the scene, it was seen as a fad, record labels dismissed it as a “black genre” that would not be profitable and die out. However, when it did not die out and proved to be very profitable and lucrative, record labels were all over artists and Hip-Hop began to die. As carbon copy, cookie cutter rappers were made by record labels, an image of a rapper arose and labels just spewed out these rappers as a means to get quick money. Rap slowly lost its socio-political edge and somewhere along the way there was the birth of Chet Haze, Rich Hil and Pablo Dylan. As I see these artists flourish and flaunt their riches, a single tear falls from my eyes. I know Hip-Hop is dying and I don’t know a doctor alive who can save it; no, not even Doctor Dre.
Long forgotten are the days of Public Enemy, N.W.A., Rakim and Eric B, and even Tupac Shakur. Rap does not get the respect that it had vied for initially. I believe it is not respected as an art form because everyone treats it like a gig, something anyone can do and get famous off of. Artists are no longer rapping to tell their story to the world in hopes it might change a life, mobilize a dormant people, educate the youth, promote love; they are rapping to get famous and rich. New artist Big Sean even titled his debut album “Finally Famous” as if that was what his life was all about, the journey to become famous. Hip-Hop and Rap are tainted by money and competition from the record labels that put so much money behind conformist rappers who don’t go against the grain, are already rich so they have no need to speak on the social ills of society or the struggle that it the “rags to riches” American Dream.
I say all of this not to place a burden on listeners, go ahead listen to whatever you like, but I just want you to know what you are listening to. I am not telling you what to think but, I encourage you to “THINK.” Our music reflects our societal values and us as a whole. Do we want to look back and be remembered as the generation of proponents for aristocrat rap or revolutionary rap?