Long gone are the days of originality and creativity in the corporate world of hip-hop. If you think that hip-hop is a synonym for rap music, then I am afraid you have been bamboozled like most of America. Hip-hop is a culture. Rap music is a corporate entity. Turn on the radio or watch MTV and BET — you’re nearly guaranteed to find continuous themes of sex, violence and money in the rap videos. These are the images record companies want their artists to have. The more street credibility one has, the more records he or she has the potential to sell, no matter if the credibility is truth or fiction. This hurts urban culture and blasphemes against the foundations of hip-hop.
Hip-hop culture began in the impoverished neighborhoods of the South Bronx in the late ’70s. Gangs ruled the streets until they were replaced by hip-hop culture. DJs, emcees and break-dancers used rhythm and beat to uplift the spirits of a community plagued with poverty and crime. They wanted to bring social consciousness to the music. The goal was to relay a message about urban life while making listeners dance at the same time.
Today’s rap music is a far cry from the socially conscious rappers of yesteryear. Corporate record labels seem to capitalize on artists who portray the black male as an oversexed criminal obsessed with luxury items. This is evident in lyrics such as, “The fancy cars / the women and the caviar / you know who we are / cause we pimpin’ all over the world” from Ludacris’ “Pimpin’ All Over the World.” The hip-hop artists of today seem to be interested in one thing — getting rich. The rappers of the early days performed for the love of music, not solely for the love of money.
Hip-hop artists of today seem to lack lyrical talent. Flashy beats with a catchy hook are used to disguise this deficiency. Has hip-hop music been boiled down to a simple pop formula? What today’s rappers don’t understand is that longevity in the business depends on your ability to reinvent yourself and daring to be original. It’s as though they are scared to deviate from a proven moneymaking formula. As a direct result, America is subjected to rappers that sound the same. They all seem to be saying, “Look at me and how much stuff I have,” or, “I’m a thug because I have gold teeth.”
What happened to the importance of social change? What happened to music that uplifted the culture as a whole? The rap lyrics of today are carbon copies of each other and they all lack substance. Unfortunately, in this industry the lyricist does not always win. Lyrical artists like Talib Kweli and Mos Def have never enjoyed the same success as Jay-Z or 50 Cent. The infinite vocabularies of Rakim and KRS-One never disenfranchised people of their own culture.
Hip-hop artists that enter the mainstream have to sell their souls for the hopes of money. Once an artist signs with a major record company, creative control is virtually nonexistent. They become one of the countless clones that saturate the radio waves and pass themselves off to a mostly suburban audience as the real deal.
Real hip-hop heads are starting to shy away from anything mainstream, hence the rise of the independent label and the underground movement. Perhaps this new movement will mark the rebirth of a music genre corrupted by vanity and greed.