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Hip-hop needs to make changes to keep its edge

BY DUSTIN SEIBERT
n Weekend Magazine Analysis
Published February 7, 2002

Back in the days of old, hip-hop was relatively innocent. In the days of Grandmaster Flash, The Sugarhill Gang and Kurtis Blow, it was all about who could break the nicest on the dance floor. It was about respect gained from cutting, scratching and an occasional rhyme battle here and there.

In the mid-"80s, it was about the Adidas, fat gold chains, Kangol hats and the increasing popularity of story telling in rhyme.

In the mid-"80s, it was about the Adidas, fat gold chains, Kangol hats and the increasing popularity of story telling in rhyme.

In the late "80s/early "90s, rap was identified by a mixture of Public Enemy"s political agendas, Luke Campbell"s sexually explicit journeys into the carnal kingdom and the advent of gangsta rap with groups like N.W.A.

The early to mid-"90s saw a rise in conscious hip-hop, with the stylings of groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Pete Rock and CL Smooth. California found its spot on the map, holding the rap crown with Dr. Dre, Snoop and Warren G. Many of what people consider to be classic hip-hop albums dropped during this time frame.

After the mid-90"s is when things started to fall off. Way off. It"s somewhat hard to believe that, after roughly three decades, the driving force that is hip-hop continues to thrive as one of our culture"s most defined genres of music.

So many years ago, the masses dismissed hip-hop as a trend, or a phase that would eventually die off like so many boy bands of today, only to find it evolve into a culture all its own.

Unfortunately, the art form that is hip-hop is consistently being marred by a number of variables simply determined to see it falter. Artists today seem to have forgotten what it was that the Bronx-born genre stood for. People always refer to "the rap game" giving it the connotation of a hustle of sorts, as if only to put money in peoples" pockets, and it was never about that. Bringing it back to the essence, at this point, is probably an impossible task, but the underlying issues are not exactly hard to identify.

There are four elements of hip-hop: the emcee, the deejaying, the breaking and the graffiti. Seems like these days they have been replaced by money, hoes, jewelry and expensive cars. The "bling-bling" era is in full effect, and it has ruined the sanctity of hip-hop music.

It must be understood that these talentless hacks aren"t born, but made in an A&ampR"s office and in music videos. Their ability to string a bunch of nonsense together to make it rhyme is not indicative of a lyricist, but as a rapper and there is a difference.

Attaching R&ampB hooks to rap songs these days seems to be all the rage, although it and a number of other trends represent the marketing of the music. What sells is what blows up, so there a number of imitators trying to become the next "Cash Money," or the next "Nelly."

These people are not lyricists, but in conversations of the shallow and explicit nature of hip-hop, they are always brought up, simply because they are the most commercially popular. Not often do you hear names of conscious like Kweli and Common come up in a discussion of the negativity of rap music.

Lyrically, hip-hop is usually centered around negativity the essence of most lyrics in all forms of the music is to say, "I am better than you this is why" it is the nature of the art. However, the violence in the music has been taken to an astral level in recent years. More guns go off in verses, more domestic disturbances and far more death threats. It is bad enough that the lyrics have been so debased, but now it appears as if the problems are being taken off of the wax and into real life.

The murders of Big L, Freaky Tah, Biggie and Tupac shook the industry, but it is often said that the latter two artists died as a result of their music. It is frightening to think that the words coming out of your speakers from your Biggie CD have the weight of a man"s death on them, but it would be no surprise.

When life imitates the music with existing negative connotations, then it becomes more powerful in a negative manner, and all the rhetoric that the politicians and the opponents speak of become true in a sense. For example, this silly beef going on with Jay-Z and Nas is currently harmless part of hip-hop music is the battle, and as long as it is kept kosher between the artists and their supporters, then it is nothing more than what the struggling industry needs.

The truth is that the lyricists who really deserve their due don"t often receive it some underground artists do things in an attempt to reach the commercial audience (i.e. The Roots with Erykah Badu), and oftentimes they are considered sellouts. The other option is to stay underground and not make any real money off of your craft.

Hip-hop, like all music, is a starving art when it isn"t made to appeal to the masses.