The legendary Hip-hop group EPMD once said “Hip-hop is out of control.” If you turn on the TV or the radio and watch/listen to how Hip-hop is represented these days you would agree. Rappers are barely rapping. Their words are slurred to no end. They are overly confident: cocky. They are typically male and have nearly-naked women all around them. They have guns and drugs and huge houses and nice cars. The content is shallow at best. Surely, Hip-hop needs to grow up.
Here is the problem with that sentiment; it is not based in practicality. Take a modern mainstream rapper that fits the image I described. Let’s call this rapper Tritan Maxwell. Why Tritan Maxwell? It just sounds fresh. Tritan is all about exploiting women, selling drugs, acting really tough, and overall just living & rapping without a cause. We find Tritan and box him into a corner and conduct an intervention. He listens. He changes. He decides to refresh his whole image. The corporate interests that represent Tritan drop him. His influence in pop culture dwindles. Those corporate interests that used to make money off Tritan travel to the Southside of Chicago or the suburbs of Toronto and find another Tritan.
Tritan might have changed for the better, but the image and portrayal of Hip-hop has not changed a bit and the condemnation of Hip-hop continues unfettered.
Hip-hop has never mass-produced a singular, cookie cutter image of the culture; corporate America has. Before the BIG record companies started dumping millions of dollars into promoting & advertising rappers, the visible field of artists was incredibly diverse. Hip-hop produced revolutionaries like KRS-ONE, political activists like Killer Mike, ridiculously fun & innocent class clowns like Biz Markie, street-wise gangsters like NWA, and on and on the inclusive and diverse list goes.
When big record companies saw the huge impact (i.e. dollar signs) of “gangsta rap” they divested from groups like Public Enemy and over-invested in groups like NWA. The misrepresentation of Hip-hop was underway. Popular Hip-hop music in the late ‘80’s boasted a very diverse and healthy roster of rappers and mceees. Hip-hop in the late ‘90’s boasted a very diverse and healthy roster of rappers and mcees. Hip-hop today boasts a very diverse and healthy roster of rappers and mcees.
The change is what you see without searching. Radio and TV used to promote the broad spectrum of rappers in the late 80’s and early 90’s. But, by the late 90’s that was changing. The gatekeepers (i.e. record companies, magazines, video outlets, radio stations, etc…) began to only let through a limited viewpoint that did not promote and celebrate diversity. Instead, it stifled it. The power holders were not interested in good art or a healthy culture. They were interested in money. Point blank, period. And money they got! A lot of it.
I do not think that Hip-hop needs to grow up. I think capitalism needs to grow up. I need it to apologize to me and countless others who are indebted to hip-hop. I am speaking to record company executives, radio station PD’s, and video show producers that helped change the face of Hip-hop from one of healthy diversity to one of damaging singularity. I’m speaking to you on behalf of countless Hip-hoppers in saying we are upset with you. You took something so dear to us and exploited the hell out of it (correction “exploited the heaven out of it”). Shame on you. If you are still doing that. Stop. If you have already stopped, thank you. Go back and bring someone else with you. Hip-hop does not need a revolution, but the industry you were once a part of does.
Now, please excuse me as I have to go listen to ‘Them that Do.” You can too…