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Name: Adam Bernard
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Pop-Rap – Hip-Hop’s Gateway Drug
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A handful of years ago there was a terrible series of anti-drug commercials that made the claim that marijuana was a “gateway drug.” The inference was that if you smoked marijuana you’d be more influenced to do much harder drugs like heroin and crack. While most people laughed this off, as they should have, I think we have a very real, and very powerful, gateway drug that’s being passed around to kids today and it’s actually a potentially positive thing. That drug is pop-rap and it’s the gateway to real hip-hop.

Many of us in hip-hop like to take shots at pop-rap, and most of the time it’s because, in all honesty, it’s easy. Pop-rap is a watered down, meaningless, disposable version of hip-hop that’s safe to play on the radio at any time of day. That being said, the success of the brand of hip-hop that many would define as “real” hip-hop is almost wholly contingent on the success of pop-rap. The reasoning is pretty simple, most people, especially suburban kids, need their gateway drug. They need their Flo Ridas and their Soulja Boys if they’re ever going to find out about the myriad of talented rappers out there who actually create great hip-hop.

Artists like the aforementioned Flo Rida and Soulja Boy, despite being mediocre in almost every conceivable way, are providing a great service to Hip-Hop. They are this generation’s MC Hammer, Young MC, Vanilla Ice, etc. (and yes, it killed me to put Young MC in that list). What they’re giving the youth is essentially a Fisher Price – My First Hip-Hop Record type of experience, and there’s not only nothing wrong with that, it can lead to a lot of very good things.

I can tell you from personal experience I had Young MC’s Stone Cold Rhymin’, MC Hammer’s Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em and Vanilla Ice’s To The Extreme in my personal collection before my twelfth birthday. I also had plenty of DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince and LL Cool J in there, as well. At the time both of them were, like the other acts mentioned, firmly ensconced in the pop-rap scene. It would be a few years before I’d discover artists such as Public Enemy, EPMD and Eric B. & Rakim when I turned on my first rap video show, Video Music Box, and VJ Ralph McDaniels introduced me to them. In 1992, right around my 14th birthday, I copped Das Efx’s Dead Serious and it was on from there. So while you can hate on the poppy tunes of MC Hammer and artists of his ilk all you want, they were the reason I wanted to tune in to Video Music Box to see what else hip-hop had to offer. Pop-rap, essentially, helped to birth a lifelong love and appreciation of real hip-hop.

A few years ago pop-rap was almost non-existent. The likes of 50 Cent, Jay-Z and Nelly had taken over the pop music airwaves and although they were good for what they were, they weren’t pop-rap. They had lyrical content that required massive amounts of editing for airplay and even though they sold millions, the fact that hip-hop saw a decline in popularity directly after them only proves that as a product they didn’t work to get people interested in the culture. For as great as Eminem’s five year run was from 1999-2004, he was far too good an artist to make new fans want to dive into the culture further. I know that sounds funny, but consider this – if you’re consistently being told how an artist is “the best,” and there’s really no one saying anything otherwise, wouldn’t it give you the idea that you’ve already heard the pinnacle a genre has to offer? What would inspire you to investigate further if you think you’ve already heard the best? And even if you did investigate further, measuring everything else up again an Eminem in his prime is only going to lead to a lot of disappointment in most everything else.

Nobody has ever held a pop-rapper up as one of the greatest of all-time and nobody ever will. That’s the beauty of it. The kids love to have fun to the music and enjoy it at their middle school dances and even if we, as older, more educated hip-hop fans, know it’s not a great representation of the culture, it isn’t hurting anyone.

A lot of older folks like to hate on pop-rap. Phrases like “Soulja Boy sucks” are fairly commonplace within the hip-hop community. We really shouldn’t say that to the kids who are listening to him, though, because all it will work to do is turn them off from whatever we’d rather have them listening to. The next time you see a kid who has “Kiss Me Through The Phone” as their ringtone ask them if they like Soulja Boy. If they say yes, rather than saying “Soulja Boy sucks,” try saying “if you like Soulja Boy maybe you’ll like…” and insert the name of your favorite artist. Remember, pop-rap can be a powerful gateway drug, but it’s still on us as adult listeners to either keep that gateway open, or slam it shut.

Story originally ran in the FairfieldWeekly.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 8:07 AM  
  • At 3:06 PM, Blogger Whitemist said…

    Great insight in the article. From people who do know, I was given some true hip hop to listen to after had heard a bit on the floor of the old Willow Street. I later hears the pop-rap and was amused because it did not have the depth of energy that I had found in those few songs, but they were enjoyable.
    Quite truthfully, my speed for my own listening pleasure would be trip-hop, but ALL Music has its place. I will never defame any style, it is true for someone.

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