Rap as Pop Music

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The idealistic principles of Hip Hop at its core are Peace, Love, Unity and (safely) Having Fun (Afrika Bambaataa, KRS ONE). It is expressed most often thru other principles like Originality, Concept and Skills. Originality was the lynch pin distinguishing us from them, Hiphoppa from non-Hiphoppa, originators from biters. Originality was a clearly observed rule at one time in hip-hop music. Concept, in addition, is what drives a person to make a song. In the beginning of rap music, the concepts were admittedly weak party rhymes. They were made mostly of catchy phrases and trendy rhetoric strung together in rhyme to keep a party-goers limited attention. Then “The Message” performed by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, solidified the idea that rap songs could have a concept and message. This became the most powerful aspect of a rap song. Rap has the ability to convey a message and provide a formerly unheard of perspective, to those immersed in the mainstream. It was a way for those in the mainstream to see what took place in the minds and lives of those in the Hip Hop Kulture. Lastly, Skills is what separates the dope emcees from the OK rappers. Skills, is what made Rakim a legend of wordplay. Skills separate those who do rap from those who should be rapping because of their gift . Skills, is the difference between a professional and an amateur.

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Rap music in recent years, is more akin to pop music. It has absorbed the watered-down concept and fake overtones of any generic pop song. The lyrics are inconsequential and the beat that drives it is either prepackaged for modern reuse or so trendy that it only sounds good during a small window of time. This is the state of rap since the idea that “ain’t no future in your frontin” was proved wrong. This was around the same time that “fake it till you make it” became a good thing. Back in the day, “crossing over” was a bad thing, not that it always should have been. But people were more idealistic at first. Crossing over meant selling out to the popular mainstream ideology. Hip-hop music had a certain need to be separated from the mainstream in order to define it in the beginning. Its practitioners understood that. Still, as hip-hop music aged and became more lucrative, the mainstream value system began to dominate the art. So, rather than Hip Hop Kulture as art, rap became the music business and from there just business music. Little by little so-called rappers have left their creativity and originality behind to pursue fame and money. Whereas crossing over used to mean selling out, some Hiphoppas realized they could earn a living creating hip-hop products. So, crossing over took on more of its other definition which is to become popular.

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In becoming popular, rap music lost what made it truly Hip Hop Kulture and settled for what makes it more acceptable to a mass which does not care for depth or distinction. Pop music has always been that. It is meant to appeal to the widest audience thru generic, surface level concepts which borrow from other genres. Today’s popular rap does this by borrowing from hip-hop music. This goes against the ideas of originality and concept because the pop artist seeks only to appeal to the formulas which have already proven successful. That, by definition is unoriginal. That is biting.

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During what the Gospel of Hip Hop defines as the Platinum Age (1991-2001), “Hip Hop benefits from the foundations laid in previous ages. True Hip Hop goes underground and Rap music becomes mainstream.”

Thus, to some people’s disbelief there was a future in frontin. Pop music has always benefited from the progress of other genres of music. Pop music by definition, absorbs whatever is popular at the time and makes it palatable for mass consumption. This always requires the original message to be watered-down to basic elements that the casual observer can understand. The messages are usually not very intricate, so that younger unfamiliar minds can absorb them easily. People like Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, who received fierce hatred from the underground at the beginning, ended up a winner in the eyes of the pop music fans in the end. True Hiphoppas have always considered Puffy somewhat of a faker and poser; he hung with gangstas but he’s not a gangsta. He fashions himself a producer but is not at all known for making beats. And as a rapper his most telling line reveals his interest in being a lyricist, “Don’t worry if I write rhymes, I write checks.” Therefore Puff becomes the proof that you can fake it till you make it. He has been able to ride a pattern of success built on appealing to the mainstream.

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Seeing the example of Puffy and others, it seems financial advancement won out over idealism and purpose. Now, for better and worse we have what is called today’s rap music, developing through the push and pull of popular culture. This is entirely normal and could have been for seen by observing pop music’s impact on jazz, rock, punk etc.. The problem True Hiphoppas have with today’s music is that, it’s steeped in today’s mainstream culture more than what defines Hip Hop Kulture as something unique. Today’s mainstream rap music is filled with mainstream ideology rather than Hip Hop ideology. Mainstream ideology is pervasive thru all walks of life. Today’s Rap music is no different. Because again, “Rap is something you do, Hiphop (consciousness) is something you live.” Hip-hop music started because it gave a voice to the voiceless. Now rappers use it as a hustle. Rap is something to make some money and fame off of. It’s something to stimulate a rapper’s ego, like buying new clothes and looking in the mirror. Rap is looked at as an easy income, somehow even though it’s not. The top ten songs of 2012, were for the most part freestyle rhymes without a detailed concept. They more so sounded good, more than meant anything.

Kurt Nice

Kurt Nice aka Kurtiss Jackson is a behind the scenes pioneer in the Hip Hop Kulture, creating the first nationally distributed video mix tape series, Shades of Hip Hop, in the late 1990s. Since touring the country with the Stop the Violence Movement and the Temple of Hip Hop as KRS-ONE’s National Marketing Director, Kurt Nice has been a constant commentator on conscious Hip Hop and its relevance to the new rap music of today, through radio and cable appearances. contact Kurt at info@hiphoplives.net

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