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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
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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CT Hip-Hop's Identity Crisis
Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The other day one of my editors gave me an assignment I’m really not looking forward to putting together (not my editor at the Weekly, just wanted to make that perfectly clear!). He wants his entire staff of writers to attempt to put together their top ten albums of the decade.

Despite my reluctance I started sifting through a decade’s worth of CDs, or at least the ones I felt might qualify for such a list. When it came to the Hip-Hop involved I noticed that this decade more than any other has seen a huge variety of styles break through. At the start of it we had Eminem and Nelly, who were decidedly different emcees, ruling the charts. We moved on to 50 Cent and Lil’ Jon and then took a funky turn with Gnarls Barkley, all the while with acts like Jay-Z seemingly ever present in the background.

This got me to thinking about Connecticut Hip-Hop and how a decade of randomness uncannily parallels our own scene. Unfortunately, while variety may be the spice of life for a decade, it’s not the greatest way to build a scene, and despite our long history in Hip-Hop, Connecticut’s scene seems to suffer from an eternal identity crisis.

New York has a sound, LA has a sound, the Bay Area has a sound, the South has a sound… you see where I’m going with this. Connecticut, unlike all those places, doesn’t have a defining sound. You can’t hear a song or an artist and instinctively know “that’s Connecticut Hip-Hop,” and that’s something that’s holding us back.

Yes, artists need to be individuals within a scene, but right now only a few dozen emcees in the state are actually being individuals and attempting to develop their own sound, a sound that might, if they become large enough, end up defining the state. That may, at the outset, seem like a huge task to accomplish, but it should also be something that excites every artist out there. There aren’t a lot of places left where artists have the opportunity to literally define a scene. Unfortunately, it seems the majority of our rappers would rather be followers than leaders. Once again, there are exceptions, most of whom end up being featured in this very column (blatant plug to search the archives at FairfieldWeekly.com), but right now there are basically two kinds of rappers that dominate our scene – the “underground” rappers and the wannabe mainstream rappers.

The “underground” rappers work off of the misguided idea that underground is a style of Hip-Hop. My buddy Substantial, who is an amazing emcee from Maryland, noted during an interview we did a few years ago that underground isn’t a style of Hip-Hop, it’s a position in the industry, a rung on the ladder. That’s a concept that a lot of our underground rappers don’t seem to understand. It’s also why I put underground in quotes when I first mentioned these rappers.

Some of our underground emcees are actually pretty good, but they’re not going to help the state rise to any sort of national prominence as their originality is thin. They aren’t attempting to create a defining sound, they’re simply emulating what they hear their favorite, not so widely famous, rappers do. The topics you’ll hear these artists rhyme about include being underground, hating the industry, and being a rapper.

The wannabe mainstream rappers are a similar animal. It’s actually kind of amazing the “underground” rappers and wannabe mainstream rappers don’t get along better, because like our underground rappers, our wannabe mainstream rappers are simply imitating something they like, the only difference is they’re imitating the hits on the radio in hopes that they will eventually score a radio hit of their own. Unlike the underground rappers, however, the wannabe mainstream rappers rap about topics like money, fame and women (although not necessarily using that particular word to describe the ladies). The irony is that many of them actually have none of these things.

So how can our state’s problem be solved? (The problem of not having a defining sound, not the problem of our wannabe mainstream rappers being broke, not famous and loveless) Easy, artists just need to start taking the initiative to be unique. It’s a scary prospect for many. Being “underground” or attempting to be mainstream ensures at least a small audience while doing something different requires going out on a limb and not knowing where your audience will come from, or if one will even develop at all. This is where we come in as fans. It’s our job to support the emcees who are really doing something innovative, creative, and that we would love to say represents our state. This means showing up at shows, buying albums, adding the artists as friends on the social networking site, or sites, of our choosing, and getting people involved. If we all play our part maybe the next decade will be the one where people will finally be able to hear a song say “that’s Connecticut Hip-Hop.”

Story originally ran in the FairfieldWeekly.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:21 AM  
  • At 4:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Do you know of any Connecticut rap artists that might be of use for Wammy Giveaway's Anime Radio site, fitting with your pre-requisites (if you may) of being a unique animal among the herd?

  • At 10:00 AM, Blogger Adam Bernard said…

    Yeah, just give me a shout over email and we can discuss.

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