Hip Pop America: A Look At Artistic Growth Versus Crossing Over

In a culture where being stagnant can be a career killer, it's often difficult to draw the line between artistic growth and selling out.

“And some might say that it's a waste of time / Cause ain't no amount of dancing finna break the bondage / We go to war and transcend space and time / When every record ain't a record just to shake behinds…” –Black Thought, “Guns Are Drawn” by The Roots.

One thing I’ve learned from Hip Hop over the years, mainly as a fan and observer, is that there almost always seems to be some kind of double standard at play.

If you’re an artist that starts out by catering to a specific demographic, but you’re blessed enough to gain success at a higher mainstream level there are times when you run the risk of being labeled a “sellout.” Consequently, if you follow an artist as a fan for an extended period of time but find yourself not feeling that artist’s music as much as time passes because it’s not what you originally fell in love with, you might be deemed a “hater.” So no matter what side of the fence you’re on, there are times when it seems you can’t win for losing.

In case you’ve been confined under a rock in a pit for the last ten-plus years, you know that Hip Hop has become pretty popular in the mainstream since the dawn of the millennium. According to Billboard magazine, ten of the Top 50 best selling albums for the decade are of the Hip Hop genre. Both Drake and Lil Wayne hold Top 10 spots on Billboard’s top-selling albums in 2011 with Take Care and Tha Carter IV, respectively. People magazine recently named Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as the top album of the last decade.

But with all of the success that some of the biggest names in Hip Hop have had, there’s no doubt some folks have labeled today’s music as “watered-down,” “soft,” and the ever-present “Hip Pop.” When these terms arise, battle lines are drawn between those that want their favorite artists to stay in their original lane, and those that could care less and just wanna dance.

Therefore, what’s behind this idea of “crossing over,” “going pop,” or—being a bit more venomous—“selling out” in Hip Hop? Is this still a fair assessment to make of artists in an age where they’re encouraged to be more entrepreneurial? How do we distinguish between an artist that genuinely wants to push the proverbial Hip Hop envelope, and the artist that’s just bending to the will of corporate mainstream interests in the name of the almighty dollar? Truthfully, I have no effing idea on any of those counts. Because it’s a pretty fine line going up an extremely slippery slope that’s dripping with subjectivity. But album sales, chart positions and the words of the artists themselves are always a good starting point.

Cee-Lo Green And The Case For Being Ecclectic

I think Cee-Lo Green makes for an interesting study in artistic growth versus crossing over because he started out as one-fourth of Atlanta’s Goodie Mob and part of the Dirty South Hip Hop collective Dungeon Family. But the self-proclaimed “Lady Killer” has also been heavily influenced by socially conscious Southern lyricism, Gospel, Funk, stadium status Rock, Soul, Motown-style R&B, and Electronica, while seamlessly moving from one genre to the next without skipping a beat.

All the while he’s had amazing crossover success and created music with an impressive catalog of top-notch collaborators from all walks of music, like Lauryn Hill, Danger Mouse, Melanie Fiona, Carlos Santana, Pharrell, Paul Oakenfold and Bruno Mars. Does that mean Cee-Lo has just successfully diversified himself and done an astounding job remaining relevant, or should we categorize him as an artist that’s sold his soul so that he can be well-received by little, old ladies and suburban middle school kids the world over?

Personally, I’d go with the former. If you look at his career, Cee-Lo was already singing harmonies and melodies on Goodie Mob’s 1995 debut Soul Food (check the songs “Free,” “Cell Therapy,” “Sesame Street,” and “Soul Food”). And his solo debut, Cee-Lo Green And His Perfect Imperfections, was just about as far left field from Hip Hop and pop music as you can get in terms of musical experimentation (watch the “Closet Freak” video). Admittedly it suffered from the dreaded “critically acclaimed but poor selling” syndrome. And the follow-ups, Cee-Lo Green…Is the Soul Machine and The Lady Killer, can be counted as two more musical curve balls in his catalog that didn’t duplicate or complement one another in the least.

Some of the moves Cee-Lo’s non-Hip Hop moves have made him a household name. But decisions like being a judge on NBC’s “The Voice,” and writing “Don’t Cha” for the Pussycat Dolls happened after he had already paid dues in Hip Hop and tested the waters with wide-ranging styles and unorthodox material. Additionally, the 2006 Pop success of Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere resulted in 1 million albums sold domestically with another 1 million sales of the single “Crazy.” But the follow up, The Odd Couple, was a complete creative departure, had no markings of trying to re-create St. Elsewhere or the smash single “Crazy”, and didn’t come close to the numbers of its predecessor, selling only about 500,000 in the US at the time. Verdict: Cee-Lo merely broadened his catalog. No sellout-isms there.

Andre 3000’s Creatively Comercial Leap

In 2003, Andre 3000 also took a creative leap with his half of Outkast’s Grammy-winning, diamond-selling opus, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Keeping in step with the rest of The Love Below in terms of offering listeners barely a trace of any rhymes, “Hey Ya!” still became one of the Atlanta duo’s biggest hits. Are we inclined to say that “Three Stacks” turned his back on his Southern-fried Hip Hop roots for just a moment in time to appeal to the masses, or was he simply trying something new?

I’m more along the lines to think that 3000 made TLB for creativity’s sake. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below sounded unlike anything else out at the time, with samples of John Coltrane, Patti LaBelle, Aaliyah and Geto Boys. And though the Speakerboxxx side was where Big Boi shouldered the burden of holding up ‘Kast’s bass-heavy, soulful past albums, The Love Below sounded almost nothing like what the duo had already created, as evidenced by reviews of the album way back in ’03, calling it “eccentric”, “all about disorder”, “confusing, bemusing and exciting all at the same time” (straight from reviews in Rolling Stone and BBC Music). To a greater extent, the following quote from Antonio “L.A.” Reid on Andre’s lead single sums it all up:

“More than anybody, I hope Prince reads this,” Reid explained. “I had a conversation with Prince and he said, ‘There is no way you could’ve picked ‘Hey Ya!’ as a single–no way you could've known that was a hit. It was so against the grain in terms of what’s happening on radio.”

Ironically, “Hey Ya!” was the most radio-friendly song on 3000’s offering. But it just seemed to be about taking a creative risk. TLB crossed various musical and cultural boundaries. Plus, the whole of Outkast’s catalog at that point was already oozing with Hip Hop that had wide-ranging influences. And even when the group began selling more records with Aquemini (2 million copies sold) and Stankonia (3 million copies sold), they seemed to be making music that didn’t fit into a standard formula.

With all of the success and accolades that Speakerboxxx/The Love Below received, ‘Kast went in a completely different direction with their follow-up, Idlewild. The album/soundtrack barely made a blip on the Pop radar screen, selling only 1 million copies. To top it off, Andre eventually found his way back to his original Hip Hop lane, with a ton of lyrically impeccable guest appearances (UGK’s “International Player’s Anthem”, DJ Unk’s “Walk It Out” Remix, Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s” Remix, Devin the Dude’s “What A Job”, John Legend’s “Green Light”, Young Jeezy’s “I Do”, and this year with Gorillaz on “DoYaThing”). Verdict: Andre 3000 gets a pass for the unconventional but stellar accidental mainstream music monster, The Love Below.

The Reinvention Of The Black Eyed Peas

More than a few artists have turned a Hip Hop foundation and pretty humble beginnings into gargantuan worldwide success. The best example in the last few years seems to be the Black Eyed Peas. On a national level, will.i.am, Taboo and apl.de.ap started out as a trio of alternative California emcees with a curious sound and devoted following. Their first two albums, 1998’s Behind the Front and 2000’s Bridging The Gap, sold modestly and did their intended job in carving out an alternative Hip Hop niche for the threesome.

Then, along came 2003, and the Peas sprinkled some Fergaliciousness into the mix. They crafted the sugary-sweet yet socially aware “Where Is The Love,”—a song obviously destined for heavy rotation on MTV and even some easy listening stations. Their third major label album, Elephunk, eventually went triple platinum, and we saw the beginnings of the quintessential Hip Pop super group that would go on to dominate mainstream music for years to come.

BEP also began incorporating more dance music into their signature sound. While its predecessor Monkey Business was technically the Peas’ biggest selling album, 2009’s The E.N.D., saw a focus on a nearly endless stream of iTunes ready singles such as “Boom Boom Pow,” “I’mma Be” and “I Gotta Feeling.” Many of their original fans have probably deemed them as having “sold out.” But who truly gets to determine whether they have or haven’t? It’s hard to say. The Peas probably present the most difficult example of just crossing over and adding more experimentation to their music, versus a blatant ploy to get more mainstream attention and sales.

I’d have to side with those original fans. It’s one thing to want to do something different with your music, and that’s totally fine. But in terms of BEP, all the evidence is there: more of a focus on slick, polished production as opposed to lyrics? Check. Plopping a singer into your group that had basically no background whatsoever in Hip Hop or even mainstream Rap? Check. Music sales rapidly increasing with each successive album after both of these factors took effect? You get the idea.

And when you start out creating Hip Hop that caters more to indie coffee houses featuring the likes of Mos Def, Les Nubians and De La Soul one year, and the next you’ve got Fergie as a permanent member and Justin Timberlake on your lead single, what do you really expect your fans to think? Verdict: The Peas went Pop on Hip Hop. Successfully? Yup, but it was still a sellout-ish crossover, nonetheless.

A Concession For Commercialism

I think in all of these cases, it’s an easy criticism to say that each artist took the road of the “sellout,” steered away from their Hip Hop foundations, and found mainstream success and acceptance waiting around the corner after years of grinding in the world of Rap.

But even if that’s where your train of thought takes you, let’s just ponder for a moment if Cee-Lo and 3000 had remained strictly spitters from the ATL, or if BEP had continued to be underground champs on the L.A. Alternative Rap scene. More than likely, many of us would probably be criticizing them for being stuck in their ways and not taking chances musically, all the while snickering devilishly under our breath about how the game has passed them by. Or maybe we wouldn’t be talking about them at all. It’s an interesting Catch-22 in Hip Hop.

Then again, is it always fair for fans to pin such accusations on artists? Maybe not. After all, Hip Hop’s beginnings are rooted in the sampling of electronic-centered music and youth just wanting to get together and have a good time, most famously with Afrika Baambaataa and the Soulsonic Force’s “Planet Rock”, which is a direct descendant of German electronic music group Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express” from 1977.

The Backlash Against Barbie

As of late, current mainstream queen Nicki Minaj seems to be feeling the sting of “sellout” backlash. Though her latest single, the techno-driven “Starships,” caused a negative uproar from her fans that dismissed the song as a move towards the middle of the road, Nicki defended creating music with more of a crossover appeal by saying that she already had the intention of releasing a song that had an “urban” feel after “Starships” in a recent interview with Funkmaster Flex.

“I think people sometimes get blown away by the magnitude of the Pop stuff,” she said. “It reaches everywhere, and then I feel like my Hip Hop fans or Hip Hop culture starts getting a little bit afraid…[but] I'm just adding on to my brand. And if you don't understand that, then it's probably why you don't travel and you don't see the world and I probably can't even have a conversation with you anymore.”

True, Nicki’s had massive success, having broken a record by simultaneously placing seven songs in Billboard’s “Hot 100” chart without having an album out upon her arrival. Additionally she earned a certified platinum plaque with her Pink Friday debut by moving 1.7 million copies as of this past February. She was also placed on last years’ Forbes magazine list at No. 15 for “Top Hip Hop Earners,” raking in $6.5 million. I personally congratulate her for it.  And yes, she’s even hella lyrical when she wants to be (I don’t care what anyone says; she killed that verse on “Monster”).

But the current proceedings have me less than convinced that Ms. Minaj is just being musically experimental, as opposed to going mainstream. Just take a look at Nicki back in, say, 2008, up against Nicki now. Pre-YMCMB Nicki was NYC to the fullest, Biggie-influenced, and going at the necks of male and female emcees alike on her mixtapes with no regard. Post-YMCMB Nicki makes multiple appearances on “Ellen,” has production from RedOne of Lady Gaga fame, and has been called by her YMCMB brethren, essentially, a Pop singer that just so happens to rap. Even though it’s quite clear by some early YouTube footage that that’s not how she was looking to be received. Verdict: This writer’s inclined to slap the “You’ve Gone Pop” label on the Harajuku Barbie.

On the other hand, outspoken emcee Killer Mike was quoted in Respect magazine as saying, “Hip Hop today is not very black, not very masculine.” Of course, I won’t try to speak for “Killa Kill from the ‘Ville.” But he may very well have been alluding to a lot of what is mentioned here: music that, while creating an “everybody’s welcome” party anthem atmosphere, may not always challenge the listener’s sensibilities and values. Then again, this is the music “business,” so we can’t expect a stirring dissertation from our Hip Hop all of the time. Sometimes people just wanna dance.

Although a case can be made for Minaj and Mike both having valid points in their arguments, it’s also important to take into account that we’re essentially talking about these artists’ careers. After all, anyone doing any job would want to get compensated properly for their craft and their skills.

So even if it is at the expense of “staying true” to the fans that rode with an artist in the beginning, should we as fans view artists as people that have bills to pay and obligations to uphold like the rest of us? By the same token, are both artists and fans alike always privy to there coming a time when putting the money first has the potential be a detriment to artistry? Once you take the Pop plunge, is there really never any coming back?

A Mainstream Fork in the Road To Success

So where do we stand ultimately? Are we to commend these and other artists for taking calculated risks with their music, or do we brush them off for having side stepped Hip Hop for greener pop pastures? I’ve made my opinion known, but the answer will be different for any and everyone that counts him or herself as a fan of Hip Hop music.

And that’s just it: there are no cut-and-dry answers, which may be due to the often fickle and chastising nature of the Hip Hop fan. Or it may be due to the way Hip Hop musicians are usually presented with a “this or that” decision when it comes to their careers. If and when they blow up there seem to be two choices: either fall in line and make the music more universally appealing, or stay stuck where you are wondering what could have been. But hell, if there were easy answers, we as Hip Hop heads probably wouldn’t be so passionate about the subject in the first place.

Let the debate rage on…

Ron Grant is a freelance writer originally from Detroit and currently residing in Orlando. He is a senior contributor to BrooklynBodega.com and runs two independent music blogs. Follow him on Twitter @RonGreezy.

83 Comments

  • ziploc

    sorry for the typos

  • ziploc

    you can capture this whole debate in a few sentences..artistic growth versus financial en career priorities..the pressure of a labe versus the creative freemdom that was so important in hip hop's early years..the need to carve out ones identity has become less important than having a succesful career,wich means..the money became the main reason and it's own driving force behind the music,artistic growth,relevance and social commentary..I don't blame Nicki or BEP..I blame the people that bought into it and are now controlling the music ..We blame the radiostations,major record companies and the dollar for the lack of diversity in hiphop and slutting out of the culture..we get what we ask for..we want this type of music..maybe not me,or you..but a large demographic does..and they support garbage,we don't support,we just whine and complain about the good old days..put some money behind it..support what you wanna hear,support tha artists that do give a fuck and it will reach the surface..

  • Truth

    I'll reiterate: hip-hop fans aren't closed minded, don't want the sound to stay the same, or whatever. It's easy for lazy/uninspired artists to say that when they take criticism. ALL WE WANT IS GOOD MUSIC.

    • ETK

      sorry man, but hip-hop fans are close-minded. you got niggas throwing temper tantrums when their favorite rapper features someone like Lil Wayne or Rick Ross or anyone from YMCMB everything has to sound like the rapper's debut albums, colorful and enthusiastic melody is almost not allowed, and to top it off when ONE beef goes down, it's always gonna be the two parties' names being namedropped in every article. every Common article will now have a mention of Drake, Nas about Jay-Z, vice versa, etc. it's bullshit and artists are seeing it too you want good music? either make it yourself or buy their old albums.. or just focus, point blank, on what you like. seein 200+ comments trashing Nicki Minaj at some point gets old

  • cinavenom

    I am really suprised that there wasn't a big part of this article on Eminem. I think he along with the Black Eyed Peas are the biggest sell outs in the history of hip hop. Their music is straight pop garbage.

  • The colored section

    Hip Hop sold out when we left the park and the blocks.

  • Anonymous

    "When these terms arise, battle lines are drawn between those that want their favorite artists to stay in their original lane, and those that could care less and just wanna dance". you lost me with that statement. there are too many artists not pushing the 'original' feel of hip hop that are NOT just making dance music. all of B.O.B's music isnt dance. even the artists u highlighted, c-lo and 3k dont just make dance music outside of that 'authentic' hip hop. the problem, imo, is hip hop purists always want the genre to have a certain sound or speak on certain situations but anything outside of that is labeled sellout however even this doesnt hold true to form. they will accept different from certain artists but not others. either way it just does not work. everyone that listens to hip hop didnt have the same life experiences so the shyt the roots speak on doesnt relate to every1. same with any other artist. the music has evolved and whether you like the evolution or not it will only continue. i understand those that want to hold onto and maintai the original form and i think it should be maintained. i think if those that feel that way were more accepting of the new shyt thats coming in it would help them to preserve the 'real' hip ho sound bc youngins would be more accepting and respectful of it if they didnt have to deal with such disrespect from the old heads. shytn on another (wo)man's grind is not gonna get you anywhere. the problem here is US and our inability to accept our differences and work together. IMO

    • room2roam

      accept it or not its clear its going to be here. every1 that listens to hip hop isnt listening for the same reasons. music, in all forms, evokes emotion. it just depends on what the listener is going for whether its a message, entertainment, experience, whatever. but that attitude is the reason for the dichotomy between the fans. i liek all kinds of hip hop, just depends on what im in the mood for. theres plenty of good hip hop out here. theres no need to complain about the artists that are always getting commercial play when you dont want to listen to commercialized music anyway. and every artist thats able to crossover doesnt mean they've sold out on hip hop, just means they enjoy and want to explore music outside of hip hop. they should not be branded as traitors for this. and the purist unwillingness to bend on their views will continue to perpetuate the discord... its all silliness.. ppl like what they like. you cant dictate that nor can you try to tell ppl that just bc they like waka flocka they cant like slaughterhouse or j cole...

    • The colored section

      " the problem, imo, is hip hop purists always want the genre to have a certain sound or speak on certain situations but anything outside of that is labeled sellout however even this doesnt hold true to form". The Hip Hop Purist can't take all the Fuckery that comes with it.

  • Anonymous

    Some of you clock in to a dead end job everyday that you KNOW you're underpaid doing for some scraps to feed self, THAT'S SELLING OUT TOO. 3 Stacks is in a position where he can call his own shots, put out whatever he wants. Nicki? She has creative control to push "Massive Attack" as her first single then the will.i.am produced song? Stop lying to these kids, you're looking bad. The worst part is people equate success as selling out, but they're the FIRST ONES seeking riches. IN WHAT SHAPE, FORM OR FASHION CAN YOU HAVE A COHERENT CONVERSATION WITH SOMEONE WITH THIS MENTALITY? They have more faith in dropping hundreds on lottery than saving that same money to finance their actual dream or goal, others on here haven't even worked their first job. Cool story, but the feedback comes from many slaves of a mental death and savages in the pursuit of happiness.

  • Anonymous

    It's not that Nikki has sold out. What she has done is dumb downed the art. That's the worst thing you can do. Profit from it and leave it in a worst place. She's not the first but she goes on the list.

  • ChuckD

    Definitely a solid piece of work. I agree with the overall sentiment that it is difficult to blame an artist for having the ability to, and genuinely achieving mainstream success in the music industry. But it is also understandable for fans to feel betrayed by an artist whose music they feel has gone mainstream and no longer appeals to them. I think the fact is if it was so easy to get your music played every 20 minutes of the pop stations, then everyone would do it. There's something to it, and not everyone is capable of it. It may be appealing to the common denominator, but isn't it the goal of any artist to have their art be experience by as many people as possible? Only thing that was missing was, as some others have noted, an examination of Eminem and/or Jay-Z. You can't speak about hip-hop and commercial success without Eminem and Jay-Z and both deal with criticism of having gone too poppy or mainstream, especially with their latest releases.

  • jr88

    the difference between lets say a 3 stacks and wayne is that stacks did it when it wasnt popular to be different wayne just comes off as a desperate poser trying to appeal to young kids

    • ChuckD

      That's some weak poser shit on your behalf. 3 stacks did it when "it wasn't popular to be different..." There's an argument to be made that 3 stacks went poppy in a more genuine, experimental way than Lil Wayne did. But at the same time, Lil Wayne went poppy in a way that was relatively true to his place in Hip-Hop culture. Focus on the music, not on the image.

  • black one

    this article essentially just stated the obvious and what most people already know and feel about these particular artist. i would have loved to have heard a perspective on a artist like Nelly, or Eminem. Or even someone like J.cole, who has been accused of turning pop for radio sakes with his singles from his album.

    • ETK

      I agree, I think J.Cole is an interesting situation. he was droppin unreleased tracks like no tomorrow and hip hop purists were eating it up, I guess that made his debut album all that more anticipated... and when it came out, he made a lot of ladies songs, now he got a strong female fanbase and the "day 1 fans"... turncoats, like I been sayin. calling him an "industry slave" and all that shit, criticizing his partnership with Jay-Z and think it's the beginning of the end for him. I'm not the biggest J.Cole fan, I think he's OK but I still find it pretty puerile how heads have turned against him. trust that in his sophomore album, he'll bring some of that lyrical spark back

  • Truth

    Interesting but understandably half-hearted given the artists the site needs to reel in. Nicki Minaj is a myth. Her credibility is concocted by committee, her ideas (e.g. "Massive Attack", "Roman Zolanski") appear to be taken from whatever she saw on the TV that day, and her shtick is taken from Lady Gaga, of all people. Those who buy the rubbish about how strong she is for being a female rapper; nope. Rah Digga is a genuine, feminine, yet uncomprimising female rapper, yet because of greed, money and dribbling, mindless fans, it seems alright for pop artists to rip it out of her. There is NOTHING wrong with crossover. It's easy and convenient to simplify down to these closed-minded fans who only want credibility, but actually, all anyone wants is good music, and for artists to retain a sense of creative control. If they want to, there are rappers capable of writing hooks and pop songs. There are also good hip-hop songs that will sell in big numbers. History corroborates this.

    • room2roam

      i disagree, i couldnt care less about the image but lyrically nikki been a beats and still is. most dudes and many femaels just cant get past the antics long enough to even hear the words. you got artists like raekwon and nas speaking on her lyrics. these artists dont need anyting from nikki. there are lyrical artists. if they speaking on how nice she is on the mic then you must not be listening.

  • Anonymous

    almost forgot even Heavy D did the pop thing which influenced MC Hammer

  • Anonymous

    this sell out slash pop slash make you dance thing aint new queen latifa and jungle brothers did house music then groups like C & C Music factory and soul to soul and PM dawn blew up so its all one big hip hop cycle

  • Fish

    basically, FUCK OFFICER RICKY!!!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    The difference between selling out and artistic lies within the albums as a whole. People like Lil Wayne, Eminem lately, gucci Mane, Drake just throw a bunch of singles together, without much flow or intricacies throughout the whole album. Then you have people like Outkast, The roots, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Kanye West, Doppelgangaz that create albums where the tracks build off each other and create a sonic atmosphere and tone that flows from song to song. And had to throw doppelgangaz in there cuz they are the greatest thing to come up in hip hop in the last 10 years. check them out if you haven't =)

  • Errol James

    I thought Nicki was selling out until I heard Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. I was surprised to find that my favorite song is the dance track "Whip It." She also delivers on the Hip Hop tracks with the songs "Roman Reloaded" & "Champion." She hasn't gone pop, she's just good at making pop music. Big difference.

  • Raiden

    A clear distinction has to be made between selling out/going pop for cash and getting creative for arts sake. But then you have people like Nicki that were not even great at anything they did. People ramble on about her mixtape work but It wasn't that great. If you look at artists like Roy Ayers that went against the grain of pure jazz, the financial implications couldnt have been any better. Him doing fusion saw him coming with new sounds that impacted other genres heavily. Had him and other jazz artists not experimented, Golden Age hip hop might have sounded very different. But you look back at Nicki and you feel like the implants and colourful wigs are mere additions to the gimmick that she uses to distract people from the terrible euro-trash music.

  • Meezy

    The difference between selling out and experimenting is whether or not you are doing something that has ever been done before. I know a lot of people like to say kanye sold out, but he's an artist who is always doing something new. For example. When Stronger came out was there anyone else that had rapped on an electro beat?? i really don't think so. On top of that he hasn't touched that style since. When 808s came out and everyone was doing auto tune, it was all about making songs for the club (lollypop, everything by T-Pain). but kanye made a fucking break up album. Granted it wasn't a hiphop album, but it wasn't a mainstream pop album either, it didn't sound anything like what was on the radio at the time. Furthermore, is there any song on MBDTF that sounds like anything anyone else has made before the album came out?? no. None of Kanyes albums sound anything like each Now Nicki Minajs Starships is following a trend that has been around since Akons Sexy Bitch and BEPs I Gotta Feeling. It is a sound that has been played out for a year but seems to still be strong in the mainstream. So what i'm saying is that Kanyes mainstream success is a result of setting a trend while Nickis is a result of following one, which i think is the difference between being creative and being a sellout.

    • room2roam

      seriously? kanye took diddy's crown for the king od sampling. he's more creative in his sampling however he still uses the music of yesterday to come up with his 'new' sounds. and how many innovators have we had in music? that shyt happens once every purple moon so its baffling how y'all choose to shyt on one artist when hundreds are doing it?

    • firealarm

      this is the truth! I don't understand how people say Kanye "sold out" when everything he does has completely new sound.

    • Anonymous

      In reply to your Kanye question, Slum Villages raise It Up came before Kanyes Stronger, so yes there had been other rappers doing It.

  • Anonymous

    3Stacks has not created a RAP album since Stankonia in 2001 FUCK THAT NIGGA!!!!Shout out to Big Boi for holding it down.

  • FLIP

    Bottom line, in hiphop remember not to leave your day 1 fans... You can diversify your music but you still need to put out something for your day 1 fans regardless.

    • ETK

      here's the problem jack, his "day 1 fans" are also gonna be the most critical, and the most demanding. gonna be a bunch of turncoats in there too. a lot of artists won't wanna deal with that shit, think it's not worth it I mean fuck look at Eminem. niggas been cryin for years that he ain't brought his old style back. people have trouble accepting.. that slim shady is gone. he'll show shades of it through some recent verses, but that's the most you'll get. a big example is that it took three fuckin years for people to finally appreciate Relapse. when it first came out, people were shittin over that shit like Lupe's Lasers, and some still are now. but I'd probably say(this is just my opinion) that between Encore, Relapse and Recovery, Relapse is the lesser of the three evils it's so easy as a fan to say "we want your old style back" but when you're behind the studio, and you got your label and your agent tellin you what to do, and the sponsors, conflicting fanbases, conflicting projects, etc.. it gets very sketchy

  • FLIP

    Bottom line, in hiphop remember not to leave your day 1 fans... You can diversify your music but you still need to put out something for your day 1 fans regardless.

  • RTJ00

    You want to sell out go right ahead. When you end up flopping and the mainstream fans dont embrace you don't expect to be able to just come back to the underground or go back independent, that's all I have to say.

  • Anonymous

    I think Dre and Cee-lo already had so much respect in the game basically for doing their own thing; they had carte blance from their fans to push the envelope. In this article the author seems to equate changing genres, with selling out; with not being hip-hop no more. That's a bit unfair. Did anyone at any point when Dre and Cee-lo wasn't rapping think it wasn't HIP-HOP? Part of the reason is cause we know both of them can still murda 99%+ of rappers if they wanna spit. The Black Eye Peas just wanna destroy, not just hip-hop, but R&B, pop, and electronic music. The suck at each genre individually; but when it's all combined its a little bit catchy. Look how many R&B singles sound like a crappy version of the dance single that should be on the b-side. Hell look at Nicki. You wonder what the reason singles sound like bad euro-trash techno? Black Eyed Peas. If we were gonna look toward hip-hop for an actual rapper who sold out. Try Kayne... think about it

    • Anonymous

      So Love Below was Hip Hop?? Even Kanye admitted that 808 was a POP album he didnt try to pass it off.

    • ETK

      Kanye isn't the highest example for selling out, he's being just as experimental as 3stacks IMO. k, if anything his sell out point was Graduation, and that's cause he went head to head with Fiddy. but on MBDTF he brought things back a bit to earth and it's actually acclaimed by a lot of hip-hop fanatics(even though not his best album). but Kanye should be respected for being experimental, and creating certifiable bangers out of EVERY single one of his albums... even 808s which for many was his worst one. through all his albums people see the effort he puts in, that's why he got 18 grammys.. most out of any hip-hop artist, and people think Grammys don't matter because they're shoving all the mainstream trash on there, but Kanye went over most of em anyway.. people recognize his talent either way

  • Clos

    HA so on FunkFlex Nikki implies that if you're not feeling her new music (hating) then its because you're not cultured and open musical exploration? Bitch. it's not that we're not cultured its that what she is putting out HAS not culture, it has no soul, its fucking bland despite it being sparkly. Its the formula of taking the skeleton for a pop single and covering it with glitter

    • gulley

      Second that... Nicki is nothing more than a role player in today's version of the Minstrel show. Oh and Clue is better than flex no drop a bomb on that!

  • micah dancy

    Andre 3000 always been creative in away that anything he did is considered hiphop he got tired of rapping about the same thing which he never rapped about Outkast at the time was still slept on in the national audience but when speakerboxx/the love below classic album came out Outkast became the biggest rap duo over Run-Dmc they always was original just like cee-lo he is still slept-on til this day great singer/rapper behind 3000 or might be litte better andre 3000 kinda followed cee-lo

  • Concerned Reader

    "Comercial"?! Did you fire all your editors?

  • Anonymous

    fuck it lets sell out

  • Henry K

    Let music be music.

  • jtruth

    Lil wayne is the biggest sellout i cant believe it he hasnt put out real hip hop since carter 2 with a few exceptions. Lil wayne didnt become a household name until lollipop from a solo standpoint. The block is hot and the first two carters are the best. I can believe how wack he has become its a shame i always hope the next new wayne joint i will lsten to will be his ild school flow. The whole cash money crew now sux. Juve,bg, and ol lil wayne defined cash money to me always and of course mannie fresh

    • Grim DeLarge

      I don't think lil wayne sold out, in my opinion it is no difference then what kanye did. Both Kanye & Wayne can go away from their lanes (808'S & hEARTBREAKS and Rebirth) but they can still go back to there rapping roots AS WELL.

    • ETK

      I actually agree here, cause beyond Carter 3 Wayne completely changed. the mainstream life got to his head and that's when you can see a sellout. I still respect him for experimenting with other styles, but it's like he's gone on a one-track mindset and never looks back at what made him hot. that to me is a sellout. but someone like Lupe(I'm just using him as an example but he's a great example) who goes on a different mainstream sound, but still relays the same types of message(roughly) that's not a fuckin sellout. Lasers was disappointing SURE, but selling out is pushing it. it's clear he's tryna access the mainstream crowd with thoughtful lyrics. esp with going all political and starting that anti-obama shit. I think every situation should be looked at on a case per case basis but internet niggas will never do that, and it's always gonna be about the "old style" they preferred.

  • Anonymous

    You have to sellout just to eat at all now, even the sellouts have a hard time going platinum

  • ETK

    you know, many people think the word "classic" gets thrown around too much, well the word "sellout" just as well; I think sometimes part of it has to go with nostalgia filter. everything was the shit back then and we could see no wrong because we were young then. you got posters all over the site salivating at the time Pac and Biggie was alive, cause they're clouded by their rose-tinted glasses. nostalgia is the same for everything; you remember mostly the good shit. Tupac/Biggie will forever remain timeless because they ain't had a chance to "sellout". or choosing not to. changing styles is subjective for each artist, and people on the internet shouldn't be too quick to judge on an album or ONE damn song as to whether the guy "sold out" and "hiphop is goin down the drain" etc etc.

  • Neazy

    The problem is that you're comparing 3 Stacks and Cee Lo to Nicki Minaj. They both had damn near 20 year careers before Nicki even got signed to YMCMB. Music changed a lot since the 90s. She's also a female making music for females, so most hip hop heads are already gonna be turned off by it because that's just not what we like. But you even said it yourself: her verse on Monster was fucking hot. I'm sure you can pick out some other hot songs from her albums. You can't call her a sell out for taking advantage of her situation and trying to be the biggest artist she can be when she still makes those rap records you talk about. Black Eyed Peas sold the fuck out. No argument there.

  • Assassin221

    To me the issue isn't whether you're doing pop music but whether you're doing something new and original. Dre and Cee-Lo's shit is catchy as hell, but part of the reason "Fuck You" and "Hey Ya" hit so hard is because they didn't sound like anything else out. Black Eyed Peas and Nicki Minaj were more or less trying to follow the sound that's hot already. Busta signing to Young Money is some sell-out shit for real. The difference is staying in your own lane vs. joining the main lane. I don't have a problem with artists evolving. Even though I miss the old OutKast sound, 3000 is a weird dude and it's not surprising he would move onto some different shit. I like when artists stay true to their sound like Wu-Tang, but those dudes are really the exception that proves the rule. If you're in the game for a decade plus, of course your mind, and therefore your music will be in a different place. I guess if you spend your time being rich and hanging out with other pop stars, record execs, or whatever, you'll gravitate toward the same sound. That's why both these artists and execs need to take a cue from 3000 and Cee-Lo and them and stay students of music and keep trying to innovate instead of following the herd. But honestly, maybe most of those dudes just aren't talented enough to really make some original shit.

  • Boomasta

    Dre 3000 sold the eff out...stop making excuses for that clown...and for no reason, he's nice on the mic...

  • hmmm

    Interesting points. I really can't say I learned anything, but so many cats introduce themselves as ART and then SELL OUT for sales. I really hope this industry doesn't fuck up Big KRIT and Kendrick Lamar the way they did with Lupe Fiasco and Eminem.

  • goodbay hip hop

    im not going to be underground all of my life so fuck it sell out make some money and after do anything u fucking want the game is all set up so its not hip hop anymore its hip pop i know it sucks but what can we do just stay undergrond and die as artist fuck keeping it real i wasted 4 years for this real pure hip hop shit so i gusse im going to sell out soon after i understood how this fucking game works get that money man thats it i love you hip hop but at the same time fuck you goodbay my friend

    • anonymous

      you must have a pretty good idea what life is all about: money actually, you sound very ignorant, i was being sarcastic: sellout and you'll regret it one day or another. people who love making music just make beautiful music all the time, they don't even need to sellout stay underground and do it for the people

  • SC

    Another example of this could be 50 Cent. He was the hottest thing out when he dropped GRODT and The Massacre. But when he released the Curtis album alot of people turned their backs on him and said he sold out because he tried to expirament with a different sound and style.

    • anonymous

      well, he's a commercial dude, can't deny that he sold out, but i think this moment was when signing to aftermath. I really like his potd style

  • Vagabond

    I'm not against or hate when my favorite artists make Pop shit. I understand this is America and they want money. I just choose not to listen to it but i respect that they just tryin to use their talent to write music to pimp the industry for some dollars. i'm sure they know its bullshit music. but if you were at your job and your boss said hey i'll pay you double to half ass your job what would you do? I say that because our favorite emcee's/rappers put in work to deliver a quality product. and you may see some that put out quality product but its not successful. so then i cant blame or be mad at my favorite artist for tryin to eat. What I am disappointed with and truly miss is the days when artists would drop the studio album and the mixtape that was better than the album. Sort of like their message to the fans that says hey the album is for the mainstream this mixtape is for you. Mixtapes that werent flooded with beat jacks. Now mixtapes are even mainstream. The so called underground is either far more underground than most of us know or right at our fingertips on the internet. And the mainstream will has and does infiltrate that as well. Just time to accept Hip Hop is mainstream. There are different lanes including Hip Pop, Gospel Rap, Trap Music, Conscience Rap, that dance shit, battle rap, etc. But people need to stop gettin mad cuz rappers get to a point where they feel like man I been doin this too long to not have x amount of paper. how many righteous people out there work a 9 to 5 but eventually feel like fuck it i gotta slang on the side. Pitbull one of the greatest sell outs of all said it best on a pop track " I aint tryin to keep it real I'm tryin to keep wealth and thats for real" dont think for a second all the folks you think sold out dont have the music they really wanna make or listen to at home for themselves and their immediate friends and family. Being a rapper is their job.

  • Anonymous

    Andre and Mos Def destroyed a good thing to have a B list acting career.

  • Ty

    simply put, a great read. realy well written. good job.

  • L-Boogie

    Kanye and Jay are very guilty of this as well and they both haven't had solid albums since 2007. Hip hop is just a disgrace now a days, it's dying out like Soul music. Real hip hop heads gotta go to the underground for lyrical content now. (Dr. Dre voice) Fuck rap ya'll can have it back!!!

    • Anonymous

      MBDTF Was a hiphop classic ???? Idiot!

    • spheres

      yea MBDTF was a solid albulm and the same w/WTT. Some think MBDTF was a classic, I dnt but to see it's the same as everything else jus isnt a smart statement...BP3 wasnt much to brag about but had some decent joints. WTT was solid jus like MBDTF.

    • Anonymous

      MBDTF wasn't decent ? lol what is decent to you ?

    • jg

      wtf are you dumb? Kanye had a solid experimental album with 808s, and MBDTF was a fucking hiphop classic. Jays BP3 was pretty solid and WTT was hot too. You musta been sleeping for the last 5 years b

  • HH analyst

    Great article man and this is really a big issue in hip-hop 2day. I believe that the mixtape lane has created the apparent formula for success. An artists has to drop countless mixtapes(unless their first one is really good)to build the buzz than a label will evetually sign them & their fans wait for their debut LP. But all the labels really want is a huge piece of the pie(im guessing way more than 50%)so they pressure artist to follow the trend dat we see in radio music. Then fans claim their favorite artist has "sold out". I think what labels/artist fail to realize is that good music will sell as much as this "hip-pop" music if it gets marketed the same way. Ofcourse, choosing the right single to release to radio isnt an easy decision but if we raise the level of mainstream rap, we raise hip-hop as a whole. There needs to be a balance of club music, hip-pop music and then hip-hop music. Right now, there's only music for the clubs or hip-pop...It wnt be easy but if artists who have influence(Wayne,Drake,Jay,Kanye,Em,T.I etc.)released more actual hip-hop music it could help bring hip-hop back to being balanced.

  • Mr Flamboyant

    And before anyone gets to trying to "hate" my Minaj comments...do know that I was one who actually said she has infinite talent and actually did herself an injustice with signing to that label she's on. She had talent but she is with the wrong people for her sound. She should have gotten with more boom bap and hip hop producers and would have been an icon. However, she goes to the label of microwave music and just is mishandled badly. Also, I have to place blame at her feet because she obviously seemed to not care about the hip hop craft and is using it as a stepping stone to other venues. She's raping the culture in essence and is doing so without putting any bid in with being a nice and consistent MC. Oh well. She's feeling it now. She'll be gone in 2 years max.

    • Vagabond

      I agree. I feel the same with Wayne. Too talented to be putting out bullshit music. Ask yourself this....if Nas made every album as pure as Illmatic was would his career have lasted this long? If Jay never puts Aint No Nigga in the middle of Reasonable Doubt and shoots a video where is his career today? or without Hard Knock Life? 2pac wasnt spoken of as one of the top rappers until 80% of his songs was on some murder shit. How many rappers kept it real and fell off and are broke now? As fans we're selfish. These guys gotta make money too. like EDImean of the Outlawz said on Bomb First " if you aint this rap game for the muthafuckin cash mane that what is yo muthafuckin purpose" Yeah you can do it for the love. Thats great. thats what makes artists like Krit special. but after a few years if your a Krit fan eventually you wanna see him blow up. The great music he makes and puts his heart into one day I wouldnt mind if he made some pop shit and grossed 10plus mill in a year cuz he deserves it after all that great music. At least I do. I'm a fan of T.I. but I cant be mad when he makes a track like Whatever You Like. I just dont listen to it

    • dx fan

      Uuuummm YMCMB is obviously the right label to be on if you wanna sell records and make money. I would sell out too for the kind of money Nicki is making. And it seems like she enjoys doing the pop thing so shes in her own lane. That said I think she's fucking wack

  • Mr Flamboyant

    Ronald Grant is a cool man who has a keen sense of what is what. I agree with every verdict that he stated. Cee-Lo and 3 Stacks set new bars unintentionally with doing something out of the box in the name of creativity simply because they were quite bored with rap at the time. Cee-Lo was always the multi-talented one out of the Goodie Mob likewise 3 Stacks was the obvious shining star in Outkast (no diss to Big Boi who is a beast himself). I remember when The Love Below was on the verge of dropping and the talk of Dre not rapping at all went around and people's reactions to it. Me personally like a bunch of us that bumped Outkast and understood them from day one to day two (the pimp ish to the alien ish...just impeccable and understated in itself) looked forward to Dre's LP simply because we knew there would be some story and concept with it. Needless to say, EVERYONE bumped TLB over Speakerboxxx and it wasn't even close. 3 Stacks set a bar which wasn't there at the time and executed it so damn perfectly. Heck he even broke down the album at the end with what probably was the rhyme of the year! LOL! That's just talent. Now on the flip side....the Black Eyed Peas just should be ashamed of themselves...but they did find a niche for themselves and rode with it. In a way, they created a lane by selling out but they really don't get called out on it because quite simply, that's them. No one takes them serious outside of their target audience anyway, yet, they do make hit songs. Can't knock them for that. Last but not least...Nicki Minaj. She needs to stop. She is CLEARLY doing what a lot of young artists are trying to pull nowadays. Sadly, she's not the only one in her camp that does this (Drake is also guilty). She's sold out and when she has sold out...she is trying to pull wool over people's eyes, including even her core fans from day one, and trying to use the "creativity" excuse. First off...it's not creativity, it's just bad music. Second, this is nothing other than money grabs when she looks and listens to what is "selling" and what can get her visible on these different outlets. Sad thing is, this LP hasn't sold as much as her first one and she's more visible this time around. That's the fanbase speaking in protest and not buying the bullshit you're trying to sell them literally and most importantly figuratively. Whenever she says something, I always have that EPMD classic "Crossover" playing in my head. I won't even get to those who have raped hip hop in the name of sales/branding themselves and keep providing subpar shit that the sheep keep following and grazing (cough) Jigga (cough) Drake (cough) Wayne (cough) YMCMB (cough) Kanye (cough) That's another story to be written. But man... a lot of things must be done to call out bullshit for what it is. And a huge problem is the industry itself...especially with the hip hop culture. Stop with this copy cat shit. Start getting back to letting artists be artists and making music that is them and stop promoting all this wack shit. Give people variety on the radio. Come with provocative shit. Dope rhymes and beats. Boom bap shit. I spoke my peace. Carry on with the day, man.

    • Anonymous

      Well said Mr Flamboyant. At the end of the day, we all understand the lack of balance is due to major label payola tactics. They show and play the same artists all over the media. On a Rakim vevo video, you have a Nicki minaj advert by the side. Turn on the radio, same song, slightly different lyrics played again and again. I still question what happened to the generation of people that bought into groups like ATCQ and why they cant come out now and support people that trying to maintain the integrity of this culture? Its one big mystery.

    • Anonymous

      Damn that was the realist post I've seen on here

  • Anonymous

    interesting read. imo, i think hip hop fans will ride with you when you're making good, groundbreaking music for so the sake of pushing boundries (ie andre 3k). it's when it's very clear that a rapper is following popular trends just to appeal to pop audiences that hip hop fans start to question whether it's just about pandering for a pop crowd and not about creating great art and representing hip hop culture(ie nicki). if nicki was able to cross genres by producing great, cohesive albums in the way lauryn and missy did she wouldn't be getting the criticism she's receiving.

  • Anonymous

    How much of a distinction is there between mainstream and underground anymore though? The internet has broken a lot of those boundaries down. The real question should be whether their radio-played stuff is shitty music: It isn't with Cee-Lo and Andre 3000 but it absolutely is with BEP and Nicki.

    • ETK

      they have, some among the fanbase are getting just too nitpicky and it's even getting to the artists/DJs ears(or eyes).