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Hip Hop Is (Not) Dead
By: Jersey J  |  May 2, 2011

People who go around saying "hip-hop is dead" most likely don't even try to search for the current artists who fit their definition of "real hip-hop," whatever that may be. A quick visit to Soundclick and YouTube can easily debunk that conclusion. Or you can buy CDs from "real hip-hop" artists and let them know that you support them. Encourage your friends to take a look at your favorite artists. Play some "real hip-hop" music in your car. In other words, do the same things the fans of "fake hip-hop" do to make everyone else into fans.

Just what is "real hip-hop" music, anyway? The most common definitions I hear are: rap before the 2000s, songs promoting the unity of African Americans, and music made by artists who bring their own style to the table. Assuming that these are all accurate, they each have their share of contradictions. I'm not saying I fully agree with the following three paragraphs, but let's explore, shall we?

Let's start with rap before and after the 2000s. People say mainstream rap today has too much sex, violence, materialism, and drugs. I agree. Some people also say that "back in the day," rap had none of those things. Here's where the contradiction lies, and the lies begin. Hip-hop before the 2000s wasn't all that innocent, either. Ever heard of gangsta rap? Do you remember which decade it was at its peak of popularity? It certainly wasn't the 2000s.

Speaking of which, that leads to definition number 2. Sure, artists like KRS-One and Public Enemy were popular and had a lot of songs promoting unity and standing up for ourselves, but let's not forget the fact that just as many hip-hop artists back then were rapping about the exact opposite. And as long as I'm throwing names out, it's funny to hear "real hip-hop" fans call negative rappers like DMX "real hip-hop" artists. How is it that rappers like DMX, Snoop Dogg, NWA, Dr. Dre, Westside Connection, Biggie, 2Pac, and Ice-T can be considered "real hip-hop" legends when they also rap about sex, drugs, and murder? Isn't that what people complain about today's artists doing?

Going by the logic of the third interpretation, Soulja Boy is a "real hip-hop" artist. Soulja Boy wrote and produced a song, made his own dance, and put it on the internet. Next thing you know, he got a record deal, the song became one of the biggest hits of the year, and he received numerous awards and nominations, including a Grammy, and he's still making music today. Quite an achievement for someone who probably wasn't even serious when he wrote that song.

To say that hip-hop is dead is a slap in the face to the artists who fit your definition of "real hip-hop" and struggle to get their message out. For something to be dead, it has to no longer exist. That means no 9th Wonder, no Black Ice, no Dead Prez, no Mos Def, no Talib Kweli, no Jean Grae, no Immortal Technique, no Black Thought, no Nas, no Common, no Roots. So in addition to hating the fact that negative rappers are more popular than "real hip-hop" artists, you're saying that "real hip-hop" artists don't exist?

Fans of "fake hip-hop" and "neutral hip-hop" know what they want. Many of them know there's always something out there for them, even if it's not on the radio, and they're right. They look forward to new artists. Plenty of them are willing to buy the CDs of "fake hip-hop" artists, whether it's a mainstream album or an underground mixtape.

So-called "real hip-hop" fans typically don't know what they want. They want older artists to make new albums, but they don't want to buy them. They want fans to stop talking about "fake hip-hop" artists, yet they won't even stop talking about them. They want new positive artists, yet they judge every new artist as negative. What they really want is something to complain about. And it shows in the sales of positive hip-hop albums, the YouTube views of today's positive rap, and the relevancy of "real hip-hop" artists.

Why other people listen to negative rap is irrelevant. Most of their music may be random lines about the same negative subjects over and over again by different rappers, but at least they support those rappers. When was the last time you went out and bought a "real hip-hop" album? Why don't you put your money where your mouth is and show how big a fan of "real hip-hop" you are by supporting today's artists?

Some people worry about music of the past so much that they can't even see what's in front of them. It's true that in the past, hip-hop had a balance of positivity and negativity in the mainstream. However, although the negatives outshine the positives in sales and radio play nowadays, positive music still exists. Most of today's "real hip-hop" artists are underground, and there are quite a few of them. Before you classify all post-2000 hip-hop artists as bad, listen to Lupe Fiasco, Dead Prez, and Little Brother.

Sure, the radio is full of negativity, but it's not completely one-sided. Believe it or not, there are a few mainstream artists even today who make music with messages, such as Common and Nas. The problem is, they don't get as much attention as those who rap about negativity. The DJs are not the ones who should be at fault for that. Neither should the record labels. Radio stations and label executives are looking at the money involved. They cater to what the biggest (paying) audience wants because that's how they get paid. They have the right idea because positive singles and albums tend to flop. Why should DJs and labels risk losing listeners and big money by promoting artists who don't make hit records and are known to have disappointing sales? Because a relatively small fanbase wants to hear from them, but not enough to buy their records?

The fans of negative music are also considered the biggest problem. Fans are the driving force of sales, this is true. But some people look at the picture backwards. They seem to think that the reason why negative music is so popular is because everyone prefers negative music and no one cares about positivity. This is merely an exaggeration of part of the truth.

The sales of "real hip-hop" albums lie greatly in the people who preach about the death of hip-hop. The fans who are supposed to buy the records, attend the concerts, and generally know what's going on in "real hip-hop." However, this is rarely the case. Most of the "fans" are so busy raving about the death of hip-hop and wishing negative rap would sudden disappear on its own, that the release of a positive rap album or a reunion album of an old school group usually goes over their heads. Then they wonder why nearly every time a "real hip-hop" album gets released nowadays, it flops.

How is a flop the fault of people who don't like that music in the first place? Albums aren't sold based on who does not like them. If it flopped, it's because the fans didn't buy enough copies. Don't blame fans of "fake hip-hop" for that. All they did was listen to the artists they like, and just happen to get something to show for it. Blame people who complain about lack of good music and don't support it when it appears. If you complain about "real hip-hop" artists not getting the recognition they deserve, and you don't have any of their albums, go to their concerts, or even look them up on YouTube, blame the man or woman in the mirror.

My final thought on the subject is that some "real hip-hop" artists refuse to divide hip-hop into real and fake. They still consider it to be one big thing. Mos Def, said it best:

"They've got their little categories, like 'conscious' and 'gangsta,'" says Mos Def. "It used to be a thing where hip-hop was all together. Fresh Prince would be on tour with NWA. It wasn't like, 'You have got to like me in order for me to like you.' That's just some more white folks trying to think that all *beep* are alike, and now it's expanded. It used to be one type of *beep* now it's two. There is so much more dimension to who we are. A monolith is a monolith, even if there's two monoliths to choose from." Mos Def sees the danger, however, in having only one dimension of the black experience get airplay, which in present terms is usually of the bling-bling or thug variety. "I ain't mad at Snoop. I'm not mad at Master P. I ain't mad at the Hot Boyz. I'm mad when that's all I see. I would be mad if I looked up and all I saw on TV was me or Common or the Roots, because I know that ain't the whole deal. The real joy is when you can kick it with everyone. That's what hip-hop is all about." [...] Mos Def is careful to avoid accepting the praise -and the typecasting- of corporate interests that deny the complexity of black identity and culture. "They keep trying to slip the 'conscious rapper' thing on me," he says. "I come from Roosevelt Projects, man. The ghetto. I drank the same sugar water, ate hard candy. And they try to get me because I'm supposed to be more articulate, I'm supposed to be not like the other Negroes, to get me to say something against my brothers. I'm not going out like that, man."

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