Is hip hop dead? A wise man once said that it was but, perhaps, for all his wisdom and smarts Nas was wrong when he said that back in 2007. Hip hop then seemed to be stagnating, it seemed to have become another cog in the machine of churning cash for the fat white people in enormous buildings all over the world. All the while the movement that started hip hop on the course it was on up to 2007 had been ignored, the people and places that birthed hip hop had become just as poor and desolate as the times that fed its creation.
Does that mean that hip hop is dead?
Hip hop as an industry has generated billions in revenue and now produces more albums per year than ever before, but what does that mean? Is that a good thing or is that a bastardisation of what it was always meant to be? It’s not dead if it’s generating so much revenue, surely?
The voices of those that needed hip hop to express themselves are now diluted in the waste water of so many “artists” that simply aim to serve up a steaming hot bowl of misogynism and ridiculous flossing. What do I think? I think that having so much hip hop on the market has made it impossible to hear real artists, poets and wordsmiths, I think it’s stifled the movement.
However, for all my thoughts on the negatives in hip hop today I have to shed light on one amazing thing that’s come off the back of such garbage being turned out by the industry. Beat makers, producers and DJ’s are back on the rise. It seems I can’t walk five minutes around my home town without tripping over a beat maker; so just imagine what NYC, London or L.A must be like!
Take a few moments to peruse Soundcloud and you’ll find amazing hip hop influenced beat makers like Cuthead, see the track below, and you know that hip hop is not quite dead yet. The slick beats, slick DJ-ing and the slick mixes are still flowing but now minus the lyricist.
We see more and more that the producers are taking it back into their own hands, making it their own again. Where it was once that without a rapper on a beat it didn’t feel like hip hop, it now does. Hip hop is, after all, not just about spitting bars and verses but about the beats, the culture, and the lifestyle.
This kind of resistance to change, change that will ultimately sink a scene, is nothing new. Towards the mid ’80’s in the US times were hard, no one had money and no one had spare cash for musical instruments or new music, thus jazz began to decline, music became a luxury that no one could afford. Then we saw the resistance, people began chopping up (sampling) the old records they still had, then mixed tracks on old worn out record players and made an instrument of something never before considered to be such a thing.
The DJ producer came to life, injected fresh blood into music and hip hop was born.
Then we found MC’s joining the scene, urban poets and musicians alike. This was followed by the style and the art of the scene. The break dancing, graffiti artists and the fashion all went hand in hand with the music and the resistance was in full force, hip hop was born.
But, still, is hip hop now dead?
I think the hip hop we knew and loved might just be dead, yes. Looking back at the mid-’90’s, where people seem to think hip hop was in its golden age we now, on reflection don’t see that same style and caliber. We don’t have the TuPac’s, Biggie Smalls and Big L’s on the scene anymore but people often forget so much more that came after them.
MF Doom’s reappearance in the naughties was nothing short of incredible, he’s an artist that’s head and shoulders above the rest and one of the most creative minds in the game today. You have Madlib (and his many alter ego’s) on the scene right now too, he’s been blowing up hip hop in true form for a long time now.
I need go to no great lengths to introduce J Dilla, a man who’s beats changed music from the 90’s until even today, 11 years after his passing, the records he made resonate with the masses, the beats he created still being used and worked with.
Back to the main point, is hip hop dead, well and truly dead?
No, despite what I see as a bastardisation of hip hop in recent years, I do not think it’s dead. But it has evolved a lot, right now we see the beat makers and producers bringing it back and keeping hip hop alive.
This isn’t to say that every rapper on the scene is straight garbage, to the contrary, you have people like Danny Brown and Kendrick Lamar doing amazing work. You have female artists like Noname and Fatima blowing up at the moment too, so the scene isn’t totally dead but it is struggling, don’t ever doubt that. These new artists are breathing life back into hip hop by taking it back to what it was but it’s going to be a battle as the fat cats in the industry don’t want art; they want massive returns and they don’t give a damned about how that happens.
They will milk the cow until it’s dead.
Hip hop is a lifeblood for so many and without I hate to think where we’d be. It’s so much more than some records and so much more than a scene. It’s a lifestyle and a way of thinking. Support your smaller artists, go to shows, buy legit merch and plug them to your friends.