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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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What Happened To Rap Music?
Friday, September 18, 2009

The other day I was enjoying M.O.P.’s latest album, Foundation, when I realized something - there are very few artists out there making rap music today. There are plenty of people claiming to be hip-hop artists, but very few rappers. Being someone who likes good rap music, this disturbs me, but taking a look at things, I can see exactly where it’s coming from and sadly, hip-hop is in large part to blame. That’s right, Hip-hop is doing what the government in the 80’s tried so hard yet failed to do, it’s killing rap music.

A little back story to explain this; somewhere between the early 90’s and today rap became a dirty word in hip-hop circles. People tried to differentiate rap music from hip-hop. Most of the time it ended up an exercise in an individual talking about what they liked, dubbing that hip-hop, versus what they felt was wack, calling all of that rap music. Even though those kinds of categorizations caught on, they were never actually true. All they really did was work to push rap music, and people who called themselves rappers, into a corner. Ironically, it was that same corner rap music was originally put in by older folks and a government that wanted parental advisory labels on albums and age limits on who could buy such albums. So in a very cruel twist of fate, hip-hop has become the tool the government never had back in the day to shut rap music down.

Now we have a bevy of hip-hop artists, some of whom are very talented individuals that I happen to like a lot, but a large number of those claiming the title aren’t talented at all. In fact, whenever I read a press release about a “dynamic new hip-hop artist” my first thoughts are that the artist can’t rap and the beats are going to be too artsy for their own good. Sadly, nine times out of ten I’m right (that’s how the assumption developed!). Oh, and “hip-hop artists” can’t stand to be called rappers. To be fair, many hip-hop artists don’t know how to rap, but that’s not why they shun the classification. They shun it because of the negative stigma associated with the title. The negative stigma that they themselves helped create. According them rappers supposedly aren’t as talented as “hip-hop artists.” Hmmm, doesn’t that sound dangerously similar to the “it’s not real music” argument many of the elitists had about rap music back in the 80’s? Once again, we have become them.

The worst part about the loss of rap music is the way hip-hop opens itself up for a type of commercialization that rap music never did. Most people would agree that commercialization, while bringing money to a handful of artists, hasn’t been good for the culture. Rap music would rarely pop up in advertising back in the day, but now a toned down version of it, a toned down version that’s been brought to us by “hip-hop artists,” is in damn near every commercial we see. Major corporations would never think of touching rap as a way to sell a product (except Sprite. Old school heads know!), but hip-hop? Hip-hop is easily approachable thanks to a breed of artists who are, for lack of a better term, cuddly. Mos Def will always be allowed in company that wouldn’t ever dream of letting NWA through the door and a large part of my issue with hip-hop today stems from the fact that said company are the types of people that NWA would have never wanted to associate themselves with. Now, however, too many artists are looking to be in those circles and it’s hurting the music, badly.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have a decent percentage of our artists with a foot in the door of mainstream society, but far too many have a goal to be there. Because of this the intense emotion that I hear in M.O.P. is becoming harder and harder to find. The social commentary that was once so scary to a nation has been made palatable for a much wider range of people and while that’s great for getting a message across, and we do need artists who can do that, where are the artists who want to follow in the footsteps of the great rappers of the 80’s and get in people’s faces about what’s going on in America today? Where are the artists who want to craft the best possible rhymes and wow people strictly with their words? Where are the artists who don’t care about mainstream society?

The culture of hip-hop wasn’t built on assimilation, but for some reason over the past 15 years we’ve done an amazing job of doing just that. Our music is played alongside Miley Cyrus on pop radio stations and featured in mainstream publications. The majority of artists no longer have that same lust to throw their words in the face of authority and cultural norms, they want to be the cultural norm, and that’s no way to make a real impact.

So while I do have love for what some hip-hop artists are doing, I think we need a balance. We need good rap music to make a comeback. Without it we’ll lose the edge that created the culture in the first place, if we haven’t lost it already.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:10 AM  
  • At 9:01 AM, Blogger Deshair Foskey said…

    Adam, I agree with you on a few of your points, mainly the separation between Hip-Hop and one of it's components, Rap Music. Rap is the voice of Hip-Hop so that makes it such.

    Back in the 90's Fortune 500 companies wouldn't be caught using Hip-Hop references, at least until two years later, after we the Hip-Hop culture was done with them. In 2009, the impact is immediate. When you look at 90's Hip-Hop, it could be seen as a teenage of some sorts. The music was still fresh, breaking new ground, artists were talking about items and not seeing any cash for it. Execs were spending 5 million on four minute music videos, every song had blatant sampling, and the music became less regional, more national.

    In all actuality, every song that hits the radio becomes commercial, because that's how it is defined in radio. The difference between Nas and Jay-Z is the fact that Jay dumbed down his music to become more commercial acceptable.

    Damn i am rambling. In closing, Hip-Hop is facing what just about every genre faces, the creative brick wall. New Rappers are running out of names to use :-D Plus, nomatter how many rappers that we listen to that are 35+ in age, it is still a youth movement. You don't just love M.O.P. because you feel they make great music... They make YOUR MUSIC; the music that defined your growth. Just as those that feel the Raekwon album is critically acclaimed; it is THEIR MUSIC from their adventurous youth. Damn, I'll stop now. Great topic and great read Adam.

  • At 9:19 AM, Blogger Kirk Coburn said…

    ..."whenever I read a press release about a “dynamic new hip-hop artist” my first thoughts are that the artist can’t rap and the beats are going to be too artsy for their own good."


    Adam- I could not agree with you more. The Co. I work for, we just got a new high level manager. He met with me, and one question he wanted to know is what type of music I like. One type I named is rap music. 99.9% of people will admit to liking hip-hop, but no one says they like rap. I never say hip-hop, primarily because the artists that I love do not embody the "hip-hop artist" criteria. WC, Dj Quik, Ice Cube, NWA, Trick Daddy Dollars, E-40, Devin the Dude. These guys are rappers to me, and not afraid to admit what they are and call it what it is. I remember 5 years ago in a marketing class at Boise State, a student referenced our current culture as "Hip-Hop 2004." This was a disturbing thing for me to hear on many levels. Why is it that John Q. Public who enjoys watching re-runs of Seinfeld and keeps up on Desperate Housewives are down with hip-hop, yet rap still has a negative connotation associated with it? Bullshit in my opinion. And I love rap music. Not hip-hop music. Nothing pleases me more than to hear the lyrical content and consistent message of a RAPPER like Too $hort. Well written article Adam, keep up the great work.

    Portland, OR

  • At 11:38 AM, Blogger kosha dillz said…

    adam proves a valid point.
    the era of hip hop and rap became what is played on the radio . Whatr adam says is that rap in reality wasnt put on the radio and the definition changed.
    i think there should be radio hop.
    rap music (rakim , mop, boot camp click, krs one buck shot, wu tang)
    and then hip hop is like the culture of today,....which is paid dues..and rock the bells and break dancers in commercials...and beats behind the movies..

    the outlets of culture...which eventually transformed into dollars.

    ok..I love rap...rap rap rapp..a rappers rap.

  • At 1:29 AM, Blogger Adam Bernard said…

    Thanks for all the awesome, insightful, comments!

    Deshair - You're definitely right. It's a youth movement and we are no longer youths.

    Kirk - Co-sign on your list of artists. Trick Daddy was always crazy underrated.

    Kosha - Makes a lotta sense!

  • At 3:46 PM, Blogger Red Stinger said…

    This view of rap music has got me wondering: is there even such a genre called "hip hop rap?" Does it even exist?

  • At 12:37 PM, Blogger Skila said…

    I feel that certain "hip hop" artists put down or stray from rap because they don't feel safe around it, they're scared, so they create this environment where they feel safe from scrutiny and maybe even getting beat up lol. You wouldn't catch these guys in the hood ciphering on the corner.....

  • At 1:59 PM, Blogger Adam Bernard said…

    Red - In my book all rap is hip-hop, but apparently I'm in the minority. How about you?

    Skila - I think you're on to something with that! Some folks can't hang with the big boys.

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