This article is a continuation of The Current State of Hip Hop (Part I) article I did on April 10, which I am now realizing is a lot further back in time than I intended it to be. Make sure you check that out before reading this piece.
Now I want to look at some reasons as to why we have made it to this point. We’ve been though a few phases as of yet. From the gangsta rap of the early 2000s, to the shift in to ringtone rap at the end of the decade. Then we saw a slight dump followed by a demand for new talent as people grew tired of ringtone rap. These pockets were filled by a young Drake, J. Cole, Big Sean and Kendrick. The turn of the decade moved to see these MCs become huge names in the culture, skillfully fusing well made lyrics with great beats and entertaining subject matter. They came to take the torch from Eminem, Nas and Jay-Z as hip hop shifted to synth packed tunes. As we approach the end of another decade, it is unclear who will take the helm from them. Chance becomes an obvious pick as he recently came to the forefront of the current generation for doing what the ideal MC should: rap well but make it entertaining. It would appear that we are still under the heatwave of trap beats and drugged out vibes. The biggest difference is that a large portion of hits from previous generations were able to still keep lyrical content at a certain standard. From the iconic Izzo by Hova, to Stronger by Yeezy, to Headlines by Drizzy. The beats were hot and the bounce was there, but lyrics weren’t compromised. I’ve seen some commentators citing lyrics centered around gang violence as the reason. Specifically that they’ve grown tired of these lyrics and want to hear something different, which some of these new artists like Yachty and Uzi seem to do. They’ve also grown tired of hearing straight raps on songs and want either new flows or an overall different voice to keep their attention. This could be attributed to the fact that streaming and the sheer availability of music resulting in shorter attention spans. People want something that perks their ears. Voice and flow has seemed to become the deciding factor in hip hop, not that it wasn’t before, but relative to lyrical prowess, the ratio has shifted.
At this point we need to talk about controversy. Hip hop is no stranger to controversy. It is at the foundation of what hip hop represents, at least from perception. This is not to discredit the genre as I firmly believe that the culture should also be rooted in its history of oppression and struggle. But with such intense subject matter, its friction with White America has stirred a lot of controversy since its inception. Controversy has also provided a lane for emerging artists from Slim Shady to Odd Future. The fact that controversy arises when you bring up Yachty or Kodak Black in a hip hop conversation is enough to have people look at their names. This is something that many smaller artists seem to lack, that type of attention that arises from controversy. Another glance at the budding underground and it becomes clear with artists like $uicideboy$ and Lil Pump that controversy is an important metric that should be factored in a rapper’s impact. is often better to take the risk and stand out and be hated than blend in and be loved. The hate eventually turns to love, and if not that, well, it still pays.
Linked to controversy is overall appeal and marketing. While marketing can be done in a way to generate controversy, it can also create an aesthetic that is hard to take your eyes off. While I’ve seen a lot of older heads condemn the fashion choices of the younger artists, it’s these same choices that build the brand of recognition around that artist ie. Yachty and his red braids with beads. Lil Dicky masterfully used his marketing intel to bring clever comedic raps which built him a big enough audience to fund his rap dreams via a KickStarter. Now more than ever, where records don’t sell the same, artists are forced not just to be recording artists, but personalities. A brand that embodies a lifestyle and brings content across all avenues.
Wrapping up controversy we have the biggest point of controversy: politics. Hip hop started as a form of rebellion against the unjust laws and hidden oppression that riddled American politics. One obvious example that remains prevalent today is police brutality and the attitude of police towards black and brown citizens. I believe we are in an interesting time with politics and hip hop. There are less key players, that is, rappers who are known for being ‘conscious’ whilst being relevant in the mainstream. The two biggest names that come to mind are J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar. These two names also happen to be two out of three (looking at you, Drake) biggest selling names in rap. However, in the big picture, there are really not many popular artists now in the mainstream who have been able to offer a political message whilst being attractive to White America. I say White America because it should be no surprise that suburban white youth have a massive impact on the direction of the culture, like it or not.
The next point I want to make is a little tricky, in that it is a lot of speculation, but at least an interesting thought that I believe could generate sufficient debate. That is, the correlation between American politics and hip hop. We know now that a lot of the young kids are tired of the material from the early 2000s and prior, deemed as relics of the old heads. As mentioned before, nowadays it’s all about the vibe and for a lot of people how the music translates inside the sound systems of cars and clubs. Interestingly enough, that same music was once anthems of protest, an immediate example that comes to mind is NWA’s Straight Outta Compton. Other than Kendrick’s Alright, back in 2015, there have been rare examples of turn up music in recent memory that could be played at a jam but still incite thought or passion for black power. Let’s add another area of consideration, the 2016 election. With Donald Trump as president, a lot of attitudes have been made clear. We have seen attacks on mosques as well as minorities from different groups. Going online has become a chore when you are exposed to a lot of hateful propaganda, a lot of which has been generated by a sensationalized media poking and prodding at political agendas from both sides. Now let’s draw this back to White America. I’ve said that white youth are drivers of the culture. Now, do yourself a favor and look at one of the XXL Freshman’s shows. I pulled up Yachty’s performance at Toad’s Place in New Haven, CT. As I predicted, it was mostly white youth. Now, this isn’t a problem, as fans are crucial to an artist’s success. However, many white teens from the suburbs are less inclined to listen to music about black power or that was made with the African American struggle in mind. While it’s understandable seeing as they may not relate, I still think this is unforgivable in the context of hip hop, where the culture is so intertwined with the history of its people. Putting it all together, a lot of people who have showed their true colors after the election; their ignorance towards the plight of minority groups is reflected in the hip hop they choose to focus on. Also keep in mind the shift in music from the Obama era to the Trump era. Maybe this is a huge reach on my part. However, knowing the backstory of the relationship with politics and hip hop, I think it is necessary to make comparisons to truly find out if there is any correlation.
The next few years will be pivotal for the culture. We have a whole punk rock/rap phase blooming, with the most success being brought upon the ‘weirdos’, or those that stay truest to themselves. Trap shows no signs of leaving, and the flamboyance in style is seemingly a signature part of modern hip hop aesthetic. While music has adopted to fit our short term attention spans, a direct consequence of the age of internet, we expect to grab on to songs with our phones and throw that back in to the interweb when we’ve had enough. Music has been forced to become more than a song, often personified and yet managing to be bigger than life, or at least whatever can keep the consumer’s attention long enough to justify a download. The final straw necessary in determining the impact of this current phase is yet to come. That is, five years from now we will be able to say what modern hip hop did for hip hop as a whole. On one hand, maybe we might look back at it dismissively. “Oh, you remember that time when we used to dye our hair with the torn up clothes and raunchy piercings. Yeah, let’s never do that again.” Cringes. Or, “hip hop started to bump again around the 2016 Freshman Cypher. Back when cats started to actually have fun on the cyphers. Those dudes really changed the game. Hey you hear about that new guy, he reminds me of old Yachty except he’s street like Kodak.” Guess I’ll be back to let you know sometime in the future.
P.S. I know there is probably so much I left out, in terms of speculation, opinion, new facts, other areas to tie in, WHATEVER. I would like to keep building on this in the future so I will definitely keep note of what I may have only glossed on here or not mentioned at all that can be made in to its own article. Thanks for following this little two part series.