I looked over the Grammy Award nominations list this year, and I can honestly say that the Recording Academy is more woke than mainstream America. Now, I say that because I recently heard a white kid say “all Rap sounds the same,” as if it’s still 1999 and his first experience with Rap is thanks to Eminem.
But, let’s be real: you can say that about anything. All Reggaeton sounds the same. All Country music sounds the same. Really struck a nerve, huh? Don’t let your lack of eclectic taste be an excuse for hating Rap music.
Any true Country fan will be quick to showcase the drastic difference between Conway Twitty and the much less stellar Brad Paisley; and any exceptional Country lover will also mention Ray Charles’ incredible string of hits and influence. Likewise, Reggaeton aficionados will give biggups to El General, one of the granddaddies of the style, and Nicky Jam, and somewhere in there, I’m sure Daddy Yankee would pop up, also.
I’d rather not go into a lengthy overview of the history of Hip Hop. It’s vast and should be learned by the individual, heard, experienced, watched in music videos and audio samplings. I can never do the genre justice, because “life is a better teacher than I’ll ever be,” in the words of my wonderful, beautiful mother.
Now, what I will say is that it wasn’t until 1999, when Lauryn Hill won 5 Grammys, including Album of the Year, the first time a Hip Hop artist won that award, that Hip Hop really began to be taken seriously. Or so it seemed. A true masterpiece in any genre, I always felt Miseducation was the perfect template for what people should have come to expect, what they would have started looking for in Rap music. I was just so certain that album would usher in more acts and nominations for talents within the Hip Hop community. Then, after Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, there was just a halt to even being considered for the Grammys’ highest honors as a Hip Hop artist. Kinda sucked, really.
Recently, I saw something by trash rapper, I mean… walking Dumpster, I mean…
Post Malone. I’d never heard of the kid, and I feel a bit dumber for having learned of him and seeing his face on my computer screen. Look at this. What is that? Okay, okay. I’m trying not to be petty. Lots of super talented artists over the years have opted for very questionable fashions, like Andre 3000. I don’t think I’m alone here when I say that what Malone said about the art of Hip Hop is out of bounds and only something a true novice would say, especially someone not capable of mastering the craft. Malone said that there is no real Hip Hop anymore, and set off a firestorm. I’m not surprised, really. This guy, Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, Yachty—these dumdum heads are what I call Lego Rappers: If you twisted the head off of one of them and screwed it onto the body of another one, he’s essentially the same person, so what does it matter? They’re as kitsch as motel art, and I’m as angry at A&Rs for drafting this breed of “artists” as I am at the media spreading the infection, as I am at people who call this style Rap and have determined that it should be stacked up next to Talib Kweli or Mos Def, because “it all sounds the same” anyway. Words without substance mean very little, except to an ant, maybe. Words, no matter what they were, would probably mean a great deal to ants, since they can’t speak. Can you imagine a trail of ants that just gained the gift of speech?
Unlike Malone and crew, actual Hip Hop artists were nominated for Grammys this year. Hip Hop is alive and doing just fine, no thanks to him.
We know that the general public has had a long and difficult relationship with Hip Hop as an art form. Because: Sex, drugs, and hoes. Right? Well, nice try but Country references drugs more than any other genre. And if you’re worried about mentions of sex and prostitutes, you should know that except for 2012, there hasn’t been at least one number 1 single on the Billboard 100 without explicit content. In 2017 alone, two-thirds of the top 100 songs have a parental advisory label. So, what the hell’s going on?
As Toure´ beautifully put it in 2011, when he spoke on possible reasons why Adele’s 21 was the biggest winner of the evening, over Kanye’s Magnum Opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy:“For them, perhaps, hip hop is a lesser sound and rhyming a less important and less valuable skill than singing.” Not to knock Adele, in anyway, because the woman is brilliant and a powerhouse all on her own, but I’mma pull a Kanye and let you finish after I say: ‘Ye should have won Album of the Year. The risks the album took, combined with the lyrical skill of the artists on each track, the range of subject matter, and the cultural impact make this entry in Mr. West’s catalogue a juggernaut to say the very least. To say the very most, it was a damn crime and everyone who passed on giving him the award should be locked up, because he got robbed of that Grammy. I thought about it a lot, and I’ve noticed that Hip Hop is quite disrespected in so many arenas. Sure, Eminem won an Oscar for his Monsterpiece “Lose Yourself,” but they also gave Three-Six Mafia an Academy Award for “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp,” so you gotta realize those outside the community might have iffy judgement when it comes to Hip Hop.
One of, if not the most, problematic of issues, the one that really tends to turn up the noses of the most squeamish of casual observer—is violence. People will always speak about Biggie and 2Pac, quintessential icons for whom no narrative about the genre can move forward. Controversial as it will be for me to say this, I must admit: I hated these two as a kid. Hated the violence and the gunplay that they so fetishized in their songs. I was in the Hood of South Side Chicago. Ain’t nobody tryna hear that when their friends are dropping into graves like fleas dive-bombing Plague victims. I didn’t, at least. I was a nine year old waiting to get it next, because kids, strangers, family members my age and younger were constantly getting murdered, repping the wrong gang, too far to the border of where their clique ended and another began. Or they just happened to be shot, just because. No meaningful reason. Mistaken identity or stray bullet.
It took a lot of time to look beyond the glamorization of blood and gore, and actually appreciate the lyricism and message amidst the pain and agony within the bars.
The argument has been made that Hardcore Rap’s growth in popularity (early-90s to 2005) is directly linked to a decrease in violent crime, which you can check out here.
I’ve had to almost force non-listeners of Hip Hop to listen to it. And that’s a real fuckin’ problem to me. You would never have to make someone listen to The Beatles, Elvis, Michael Jackson, or Prince. Right? How influential has every genre been to Hip Hop and how much has the genre itself given back in return? Something’s amiss.
I would implore everyone to take a chance on the art of Hip Hop. Don’t turn on the radio and expect brilliance, ‘cuz chances are, Post Malone will find you and violate your eardrums. I would suggest that you search to find out what Hip Hop is, whether or not you’ve been a fan your entire life or I just whetted your appetite with this brief offering alone. Google and YouTube are not your only options. Netflix has an exceptional and easy to digest series called “Hip Hop Evolution.” The only problem is that the incredible women of Hip Hop are excluded. For that, I suggest checking out this doc that I’m currently watching on YouTube. At any rate, I’m looking forward to the Grammys, because most years I’d already expect a rapper to win Best Rap Album. Kinda hard not to win it. Fingers crossed for what this can mean for the future. I’m hoping it’ll give masses a greater appreciation and knowledge on the subject, and get people excited about what Hip Hop is and what it means to us as a society, because it’s way more than said society is giving it credit for. Happy searching!