D.L. Chandler's frequent thoughts on the world of hip hop and beyond

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Choices We Make & The Things We Do

With Hip Hop, you have to realize that the music no longer bears the distinction (or stigma) of belonging to poor people or, as the cliché goes, being the music of the streets. This music is being done by DIY suburbanites, downloading hackers using “borrowed” programs on their PCs and anybody with access to a microphone, a mixer and some tables. Then you have to factor how powerfully influential the culture is to the rest of the world – there are few corners of the globe that haven’t experienced the art form in some fashion. The problem with that, however, is that you have a lot of images and ideals that are modified and become such a bastardization of what true Hip Hop music and culture is.

One could argue for the side of Hip Hop by stating that at least it’s apparently more visible than before, regardless of the buffoonery or lack of quality present in the popular offerings of the day. On the countering end, one could definitely say that because of its large influence and over saturation, Hip Hop is reaching a creative and commercial zenith and that its time to knock it down of the pedestal. When you have African and Jewish rap groups who’ve never stepped foot on America soil, yet embrace a very wholly Western thing, you hope the influences go beyond the vapid or the obvious. How could one not question that point, given the wild popularity of every current hot Hip Hop single and not one offers a nugget of anything beyond gaining sex, money and empty and tired boasts?

These are worthy discussions and debates but I tend to think these talks lack depth because we’re too busy being split down the middle on what each side thinks is right or wrong. We (the so-called Hip Hop Nation) do not take the criticisms of our detractors well and become defensive. Our detractors are usually closed minded and closed off to the world we’re both immersed in and represent. The grand divide starts there and usually kills any hope of progression into a discussion that can and should provide ultimate change. Should more message-driven Hip Hop enjoy the same airplay that the dance and radio-friendly singles of today receive? It’s debatable because I’m finding that a lot of that music with a message doesn’t have the key component that many fans search for endlessly these days: The Dope Beat.
It is said that the underground set and sound is stuck in this elitist, lyrics-first ideal that in turn, the track suffers from the lack of the same sort of attention. I won’t validate that but I can attest to the fact that much of underground music has become a caricature of itself in a mere few years. We applauded (and I still do) label CEO and rapper El-P of Definitive Jux fame when his former group, Company Flow, introduced the term “Independent as F*ck”. Now there are many imitators of that ideal and they’ve forgotten how to make good, compelling music that you could still bump in the whip – or least play loudly with pride.

Message music is necessary and in the rock and punk worlds, it enjoys a lustful fan base and plenty of groups willing to go against all grains to make music they feel is important – regardless of fame. Hip Hop artists and hobbyists need to follow the example of gaining a foothold on both the creativity aspect but also be entertaining on top of that. If we intend to infiltrate the airwaves (again, as we did in the late 80s and 90s) then we have to follow the steps of our predecessors and stop letting our pulse get dictated to us.

Or we could just let the entire country nod like zombies to the same old thing. The choice is all yours.


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