IT’S NOT ART ANYMORE. IT’S BUSINESS.
Hip-Hop turns 40 this year. With hip-hop reaching a commercial audience, it has changed as a genre hugely. With 40 years behind the Mic, where does hip-hop stand today in the music industry? What can we predict for hip-hop in the foreseeable future?
It’s difficult to conceptualize hip-hop without taking into consideration, the environment that surrounds it. We live within a capitalistic, globalised world. To put this into basic terms: we inhabit a world increasingly inter-connected with the primary out-look to maximise profit.
Through technology, namely the web, artists are now able to be heard all over the world, developing large global fan bases on unprecedented levels. Due to this new phase in history the music industry is going through a chapter of transition. Success is determined by views and followers. Artists now wish to have as many online followers as they can, often willing to lose certain aspects of their craft or values to be accepted by mainstream media. Mainstream acceptance often increases the chances of artists making a living from their talent. We can blame this on ‘popular culture’.
But in what way is Hip-Hop evolving? For the purpose of this article, I will clearly state that Hip-Hop is going backwards.
Hip-Hop began to shine in the streets of the Bronx, during the early 1970’s. Over the next decade or so, Hip–Hop revolutionised from the streets, transcending into art, and now international success, with artists such as Run DMC, Public Enemy and N.W.A opening the doors for a wider audience.
The term ‘Hip-Hop’ actually means Enlightened (Hippie) Movement (Hop). Grandmaster Flash captured this notion with one of the first many successful mainstream Hip-Hop songs, ‘The Message’, which Rolling Stones Magazine places number one, as the ‘Greatest Hip Hop Song of all Time’. The song was a statement, and Hip Hop became a running commentary of the issues, concerning the people confined to the ghettos of inner city America – mainly Blacks and Hispanic. Artists such as Public Enemy and N.W.A spoke about drugs, violence and crime, but they did so with a purpose, with an intention of exposing an ignored reality. Hip Hop became a platform where artists could express their rage towards America’s unequal political system.
So what’s changed?
Fast Forward to 2006, living legend Nas released his controversial single ‘Hip Hop is Dead’. It was inspired by his thoughts on the music industry and the state of hip hop, highlighting the fact it’s still addressing the same issues such as drugs, crime, violence. But instead of opposing or confronting these issues, mainstream artists now glamourise these problems referring to them as a route to wealth and respect. Nas said in a recent interview:
“Hip – Hop artists today are going backwards.. We came from the streets & we made it to (success)… to handle every situation…the street way is going backwards, it doesn’t make sense… that’s why they can’t make any relevant music… They are trying to represent something they left a long time ago”
What isn’t acceptable is the misleading, unrepresentative image of mainstream Hip-Hop today. Black artists, at current, are definitely living up to status quo representing an image that only the Elite can adore, keeping cultures in their manufactured arenas.
But I don’t believe this is solely down to the artist (after all they are only on the payroll of major labels). Check out Mos Def’s single that was removed from his album ‘The New Danger’ in 2004, titled ‘Rape Over’.
There is nothing wrong with Hip-Hop being part of popular culture but it must not be defined by it. Hip-Hop at its purist is grounded in factual knowledge and its current commercial image is turning it back on its very creators destroying its tradition as an art. RESPECT IT.
I’ll end on a quote by Tupac, relevant for Hip–Hop artists today:
‘If you’re in the game and committing yourself fully, do what you can to give back to the community your raping’.
Whats your views on hip-hop turning 40?
Written by Jon Charles