Much like the original formula for a rap song — now called “old school” or “indie rap” — I I have been accused of using too much verbiage. So, I will further support my previous article, in which I explained that the landscape of hip hop music has been altered due to both the laws of capitalism and regional personalities, from a historical standpoint rather than a philosophical one. Along the way I'll explain how the change has created an environment where Drake, the Canadian version of Ricky Schroder whose bar mitzvah was held in his wealthy hometown of suburban Toronto, can receive a first class ticket from Nickelodeon Studios to the rap life as a gift from Lil' Wayne, the multi-platinum artist and privileged son of rapper, Byrdman.
Forgetting the funk offspring, filtered through the two-year disco boom, which spawned the breakdancing craze ultimately becoming the entity called hip hop and had already made appearances abound, it is agreed that hip hop originated in the parks of uptown New York City and spread instantaneously to the other Burroughs. It was a development that I witnessed first hand and I repeat that fact solely in hopes of being awarded some credibility. I would find it difficult to discredit a Vietnam Veteran's insights on guerrilla warfare. There is no agenda stemming from a regional beef or endorsement of any fabricated sub-genre. The idea is simply that hip hop is in its original form when it reflects the model of the early pioneers .
A common argument given, at this point, is that if hip hop still sounded like Kool Moe Dee, it would never have lasted. I agree completely, however artists who resemble the original rap music thirty years matured are those who use their time on the microphone to be a charismatic Master of Ceremonies, or MC, and to battle other rappers –in a test of skill — for the right to continue. Today the emphasis is on their lavish lifestyle, rather than their lyrical skills. While the production, also due in part to sampling laws, has become more keyboard based tunes over a down-tempo groove.
As in any major movement, the days where an MC fought for respect one block at a time are long gone. I don't expect to see the same competition as we saw when there were a handful of contracts to be given out, by the handful of labels that would come within 50 feet of rap music and every city block housed prospects. We are the at the same point in the progression (or saturation) of hip hop that the Friday the 13th saga was at “Jason Takes Manhattan”, but what were we really expecting at that point?
Around 1990, we saw the face of rap begin to change with the arrival of artists from the West Coast. While still conforming to the the basic mores of the culture, N.W.A. and the rest switched the topic from parties and respect for skills, to California's infamous gang life. The new “gangster rap” style, marked by black Raider apparel and a distinct sound, became wildly popular for its unique message. Incidentally, NY rappers, who had originally welcomed the growth, became resentful of the West's popular alterations, and this time also marked a divide where half of the East Coast artists followed suit, and the rest played the role of hip hop's guardian, dissing the new style and advancing the political rhetoric of Public Enemy and KRS-One.
This continued throughout the 90s, as hip hop's commercial appeal began to peak. The pioneers started to lose their right to the term “rap music” and were being called “underground,” as they continued to claim their authenticity and superior talent to a group of constituents that was dwindling each year.
The climatic deaths of two rappers in 1997, resulting from the East vs. West tension are well documented, to the point where much less subtle dynamics were occurring generated by the meteoric rise of two present day icons, Puff Daddy and Eminem. These two artists, a shrewd business man and an intricate character with tremendous skills and a unique message who was discovered by N.W.A.'s Dr. Dre, changed the course of development.
Puffy was an anomaly who was truly ahead of his time when he decided to represent NY in neither of the two main images. Instead, he chose a third image, that of flashy cars and jewelery. While the West Coast artists were seen mostly in white t-shirts and black everything else, and the O.G.'s were partial to big gold chains, Puffy went with platinum and diamonds, a look which admittedly caught the eye of another rapper with an entrepreneurial mindset, who was determined to do it bigger and better and achieved that goal after kicking off an entire movement down south, marked by the well known phrase, “Bling,Bling,” Master P. The multitude of artists under him were hardly interested in upholding the ancient rituals of the East Coast, they were interested in getting paid.
Another group with intentions of financial gain were the CEO's of every corporation on Earth. By now, the original struggles were over. Not only was hip hop accepted, but it could be found everywhere from a Burger King commercial to episodes of Blue's Clues (which is the type of conduit through which Drake appeared.) It only stands to reason that the turn of the century (when financial interests began pouring into rap) brought about an inflation of the time's current style. “Bling, Bling,” while the original model, now called “underground rap” had become dated and second tier. What businessman wants to invest in something passe? The romantics were now called “back-packers” referring to the element of old-school rap, where graffiti artists needed to carry multiple cans of spray paint through the city at night. This began the so called “dominance” of the Dirty South, while the throwback artists of New York lost support from major labels and were reduced to internet hustling and independent labels, or “indies.
On another front, Detroit-based, Caucasian rapper, Eminem, played a different role in shaping the music. The early culture had seen few white rappers after the Beastie Boys played a pivotal role in its acceptance and a handful of other NY residents, like 3rd Bass, said their piece. It was less racial and more demographic, as the elitist New York bias seldom accepted those who weren't a card carrying resident of a major city, preferably New York. Then, Vanilla Ice, the Texas-born prankster, who incidentally, has the so called “street credibility” of Shaft compared to that of fellow Grammy winner and former teeny-bop heart throb, Drake, was vilified for presenting himself in a false light (which was easier before the time of the internet), to the point where he single-handedly made white suburbanites a general persona non grata in hip hop.
Then came Eminem, whose talent and originality, officially stamped by N.W.A.'s super-producer Dr. Dre, were strong enough to finally end the embargo, both on “white-boys”, and to a lessor extent, middle America, as he called Michigan home. His undeniable popularity, skill, and arrogance, while referencing skateboarders and the suburban type party scene, allowed the acceptance of your average suburban mall-dweller, regardless of his childhood. It was only a matter of time before this happened, as I maintained in the last piece, you could only keep something for so long before it becomes public domain. (As a side note, it is interesting that Eminem's fellow Detroit rappers, such as Royce Da' 5'9”, and the Crown City Rockers, make up a large part of the “back-packer” rap, which is the original hip hop.
There you have it. The sum of all the dynamics mentioned, from the natural expansion, to the “Puffy” effect, which kicked off the commercial success of “Bling, Bling” and caught the eye of thrill-seeking tycoons and smart businessmen with their finger on the pulse of the youth, launching the Southern “dominance”, to the acceptance of suburbanites with European roots on the coattails of one gifted lyricist, have contributed to the “Fall of Rap”.
I say that because I am a purist, similar to a baseball fan who is against the DH. To a romantic like me, stuck in the past, when a set of standards that are twenty years in the rear view and would have handed the guy who played “Brandon” on Beverly Hills 90210 the same fate met by Vanilla Ice, dictated hip hop.Powered by Sidelines