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Name: Adam Bernard
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About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Is Longevity What It Used To Be?
Friday, July 20, 2007

As I look at which artists are the most talked about in Hip-Hop right now I can’t help but notice that the list hasn’t really changed much over the past few years. T.I. has once again sold a ton of units in his first week despite, in my opinion, falling off considerably since Trap Muzik, which was a near classic, and Urban Legend, Fabolous is tearing up the charts with another big single and Kanye West has plenty of folks talking, though his own self-proclamations are usually the loudest. With the unarguably awful state of mainstream Hip-Hop I have to wonder; what’s their longevity actually worth?

Point blank, the artists who are sticking around today can't be compared to the artists of the past. The mainstream Hip-Hop world is significantly depleted as compared to how it was during its “Golden Eras," which, for arguments sake, are the late 80’s and the mid 90’s. During those times we had a unique mixture of legendary artists, talented up and comers and even a few one hit wonders. With the way the industry is set up now the legendary artists are gone and talented up and comers are rarely listened to if they aren’t associated with some big name. Simply put, everything is watered down right now.

It seems lately we’ve all been in a weird holding pattern, not really willing to alter the overall scene musically. We’ve had our fads come and go, like crunk and hyphy, and certain cities had their time to shine, like Atlanta and New Orleans, but the music hasn’t really changed very much during that time. Timbaland, Swizz Beatz and Mannie Fresh were hot producers back in the late 90’s and still are today. The only difference in the scene now is that artists are becoming more and more faceless as we’re confronted with more one hit wonders like D4L, MIMS and the Shop Boyz. With this in mind what does the longevity of a T.I., a Fabolous, a Kanye, or even a Jay-Z mean? Not much.

Over the past few years being a top mainstream rapper has been akin to being the best lifeguard on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg. Sure, it’s a nice title, but half the ship’s already underwater, so you have a lot less competition. So let’s temper all of our “next great rapper” and “greatest of all time” coronations for a while. It wasn’t that long ago when dropping a few hot albums simply meant you dropped a few hot albums. Nobody was crowning anybody “the next” anything. We had a ton of respect for the likes of LL Cool J, Run DMC, KRS ONE and Kool G Rap and treated the hot new groups as hot new groups. Now it seems as though we’ve found ourselves in a time when there are neither legendary artists or hot new groups, just a stagnant pool of semi-reliable guys and a seemingly endless supply of one hit wonders.

If we’re going to bring mainstream rap back to where it needs to be we’re going to have to start by supporting more than the handful of artists that we do now. Remember the well-deserved hype over Lupe Fiasco? A quality emcee on a major label, Lupe received a bit of a raw deal in terms of when his album was finally released, but it still deserved better from the buying public. Since the true legends aren’t as prevalent as they used to be (though KRS ONE’s new album with Marley Marl is amazing), we need to start building up a bigger roster or artists we support, and when I say support I don’t mean buy the single on iTunes, I mean buy their albums when they come out. And if you like an artist explore their entire catalogue. You’re allowed to develop an attachment.

So in the end longevity isn't what it used to be, but we can right this by finding a few more artists to support. Crowd the current top emcees with more competition and it will either make them better, which I think would be the case for T.I. and, dare I say, Eminem, or expose them as mediocre (Jigga?), either way Hip-Hop wins and suddenly we’ll be hearing artists that are worthy of some real longevity.
posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:42 AM  
  • At 10:37 AM, Blogger Ketchums said…

    Good post. While "next great rapper" and "greatest of all time" dubbing is often premature, it's also worth considering that hip-hop hasn't been around as long as other genres, so "greatest of all-time" spans over a smaller time span. Therefore, I still respect artists like T.I. for doing what they have; he hasn't had classics every time out, but he's had some really solid record, and it takes a lot to be able to have hot album after hot album. Though I agree, longevity isn't what it used to be.

  • At 6:17 PM, Blogger Pedro said…

    In my mind it's really not that different then and now. You look at Eric B. and Rakim - they dropped two classics back to back and then kind of fell off. And they only had 4 albums total. EPMD had 4 solid albums back to back but they were the exception. Nas had one classic album and leaned on that until he released Stillmatic almost 10 years later. I think in the mind of those who loved the golden era it seemed everything was different and better, but you look closer and it's a cycle. Personally I feel things are better - it's amazing to me that guys like Manny Fresh and Swizz can remain relevant for over ten years. It's great to me that Fabolous can fall off hard for a few years and then come back and still have hits. Imagine if the golden era had treated it's rappers like that. Instead, every time a golden era act fell off - they fell off for good - no coming back. At least in mainstream terms. So for T.I. or anyone else to keep dropping best selling albums year after year is amazing to me - especially considering how fickle the buying audience can be nowadays. Though I tend to disagree with most of what you say - it gets me thinking which is always a good thing.

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