When not talking about the NBA and pondering Too $hort’s influence on Jason Kidd beating his wife, producer/emcee J-Zone and I piss and moan about the colossal disaster that is the Hip Hop industry. Now Zone has taken the time to outline precisely what is fucked up and why it is fucked up, and if you didn’t know, he is dead right. Before you go on and read, please take the following advice to heart; stop rapping and get a job. J-23
“3 Things You Can’t Argue About: Religion, Politics & Hip Hop” – J-Zone
I realize that arguing about music is pointless cause we all got different opinions. A few people wanted my opinion on the “is Hip Hop dead?” matter and I just put my opinion on my sites. For some reason, it’s gotten a lot of unexpected feedback, but what I’m saying isn’t really new, nor is there is there a right or wrong answer to that question. If you agree with me that’s cool, if you disagree that’s cool, too. It’s music, not life and death. At the least, to read it is a way to kill some time.
Everybody’s saying it. Nas titled his album that. People are debating and a few brothers asked me for my humble opinion. So as I watch the Celtics lose their 17th straight on Sportscenter, I’ll do a music related blog for once. After all, it effects me right? 5 things I feel are the biggest culprits of rap’s downfall. Well actually before I exercise my freedom of speech and somebody gets upset for nothing, let me clarify.
A. I am NOT saying that there aren’t a batch of stellar records released yearly, or a group of dope producers delivering fly shit or a handful of rappers that still make you wanna listen. I also know music is subjective and it’s all opinion. The great music of today may be on par with the great of yesterday, but in the grand scheme of things, the negatives far outweigh the positives.
B. There’s three things you can never argue about: Religion, Politics and Hip-Hop. Cause no matter your opinion, somebody will tyrannically oppose and get all fuckin’ emotional. It’s just my humble opinion, relax. Who cares anyway?
C. For the record, the politics at major labels, press and radio are not listed here because they’ve been around since the beginning of time. And we have ourselves to blame for not manning up to take control of those.. Yo Flex, drop a bomb on that. OK, where was I?
5. CLANS, POSSES, CREWS & CLIQUES: WHO U WIT?
Safety in numbers. Movements, collaborations, big name guests, teams, crew beef, etc. The days of the solo roller are over. In the prime of Rap, you were judged solely on your music. Rakim, Nas & Biggie (early on), LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane: They all built their legend on music alone. Hell, Rakim had no guests on his first four albums. Sure there was Juice Crew, Native Tongues, Lench Mob crew, etc. But it wasn’t mandatory. Then for some reason, in the mid-late 90’s, it became totally necessary to have a movement. A crew with 1,000 different artists all on the same team. Touring together, crew t-shirts, beef with other crews, collaborations, etc. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it’s like people cannot identify with one artist, there has to be a movement or somebody else involved to validate them. Look at today’s most successful artists. They all have a movement. Roc-A-Fella, Def Jux, Stonesthrow, Rhymesayers, G-Unit, Dipset, Wu-Tang, Hieroglyphics, Okayplayer, etc. Or if you’re not part of a movement, you collaborate with other high profile artists. Doom, Danger Mouse, etc. It’s all about cross-pollinating fan bases. You don’t? You die. And for some reason, I see Da Youngstas album, Da Aftermath, as the beginning of this from a beat standpoint. That and Run DMC’s Down With The King (both 1993) were the first albums I can remember to use a lot of different producers with totally different sounds. It worked back then, they were dope albums. But it wound up being a cancer.
Nowadays you need a Timbaland track, a Neptunes track, a Just Blaze track, a Dre track, a Kanye track for people to really care and for the most part it sounds like a collection of songs, not an album. Why not let one of them just do the whole fuckin album? Can’t please everybody, why make a futile attempt? Good albums are about a vibe. Wu-Tang was a movement, but it was cohesive and made sense because they all vibed together and RZA was the sonic glue. Sans Illmatic, Ready to Die and a few others, every single great rap album had a maximum of 3 producers and 3 guests. In this fascination with movements, name association and special guests, we’ve lost album cohesiveness and the focus on just music. It’s no longer about how dope you are, it’s who you rollin with and who’s cosigning what you do. And usually 92% of the crew isn’t up to par with the few star artists in the crew. Quantity rules, not quality. You can have a 5 mic album, but nobody cares unless there’s a bunch of other people involved. 10 producers and 7 guests. And now so and so with a platinum album can put his wack ass brother or cousin on and cheapen the game, cause they’re part of the movement and its about who you with. Back in 88, Milk D said he had “a great big bodyguard” on Top Billin. But that was it. In 2007, there would be a Great Big Bodyguard solo album.
4. TOO MUCH MUSIC
Like the crew theory, this is about quantity. People want more, even if it means a dip in quality. Some people can put out music quickly and do it well. Some people just want to bombard the market for the sake of doing it. Rakim did albums every 2 years. EPMD, Scarface and Ice Cube did it every year and that was considered fast. Nowadays, if you don’t have 2 albums, 5 mix tapes and 10 guest appearances a year, you’re slippin and people forget you. This attempt to keep up with the rush has cheapened the music. Now you have regular mixtapes marketed as albums, just a bunch of thrown together songs for the fuck of it. But to survive these days, you have to do that to stay in the public eye. There’s far too many slim line case CD-R mix tapes out, and as important as mix tapes are to rap, the very vehicle that helped it grow is now playing a part in killing it.
Now everybody has forgotten how to make cohesive projects, so we cover it up by labeling it as a mix tape. The value and pride that full length albums used to symbolize are no more. Mixtapes now triple the number official albums in artist’s catalog and never has music seemed so cheap and fast food. Not to mention, when the majors went completely awry in the late 90’s, the indie rap scene went out of control with too much product. When I debuted in 1999, there were maybe 25-30 other indie vinyl releases out that mattered. And mine was one of the only full length albums. So it was only a matter of time before I got a listen, it didn’t matter that I had no big names on my record and came outta nowhere. Try that now. To go to a store and see the foot high stack of one sheets for new records, mix CD’s and DVD’s dropping weekly makes you see you have a snowballs chance under a fat girls ass to survive in that world. Look at how many releases a week are on Hiphopsite, Sandbox, Fat Beats, UGHH, etc. The high profile artists get some attention, and everybody else gets ordered in ones and twos, if that. So today’s new talent making his debut is in for an uphill battle. Great records go unnoticed. Rap is now a disposable art. Mr. Walt of Da Beatminerz once said “you work 16 months on an album and get a 2 week window of opportunity. After that your record is as good as dead for most people.” That sums it up.
3. TOO COOL TO HAVE FUN/NO BALANCE IN RAP
When rap stopped being fun, I knew we were in big trouble. Not too many people are doin music for fun anymore. Ask yourself, “would I still mess with music as a hobby if there wasn’t any money in it?” Too many people would say no. We all wanna get paid. Shit, I got bills too, I love money! But too many people just seem like they’d rather be doing other shit. You read in interviews, “I don’t care about no rap, I’d rather be hustling. I just do this cause I can.” Hey, whatever floats your boat, I can relate, there’s been artists like that since the beginning of time, but they were never the majority until now. Having fun is nowhere near as important as your life before you got signed. And there’s plenty of battle MC’s, political MC’s and killer thugs but it seems there’s not many funny artists no more. Like on some Biz Mark, Humpty Hump, The Afros shit. Not afraid to go to the extreme and have fun. God forbid you use your imagination or rap about something not involving Hip Hop, the hood, you bein the shit, the end of the world or what color your car interior is.
I live in Queens, less than a mile from 50 Cent’s old house. Nobody really knows I make music over here. Some kid from over here saw me in The Source a while back and said “Yo I ain’t know you was in it like that, yo why you ain’t tryin to pump your shit out here and let people know, you should rep the hood. 50 did it” Why should I? I’m not on the block tryin to push weight, I’m out there walking to Walgreens for my Grandmother, on my way to the park for a game of 21 or to watch a game at the local high school. I’m a grown ass man with a college degree and I like my neighborhood, but I choose to rap about my beat up car, not dancing in clubs, women with bad hygiene and too many kids or ball playin rappers with limited ball skills, cause I ain’t a street cat and I’d rather show the lighter side of life. And that was never a problem back in the day.
Okay those ain’t completely new topics, but it’s like rappin about those things these days gets you marked as novelty rap. Biz rhymed about a lot of this same shit back in the day, but it was still accepted as legit Hip Hop. 2007? He could never do a song like The Dragon. Little Shawn & Father MC rapped about the ladies with some R&B beats. De La Soul were labeled as hippies. But all those dudes would beat yo fuckin ass if you got out of line! They were soft by no means, they just wanted to do the music they enjoyed, cause rap is supposed to be a way to have fun and get away from the everyday stress, while not limiting yourself. The thing that made rap so dope in the “golden era” was the balance of styles. You had clown princes like Biz, Humpty Hump, Kwame and ODB later on. You had political brothers like X-Clan, PE, Lakim Shabazz, Poor Righteous Teachers, Kam, etc. You had the explicit shit on Rap-A-Lot and the whole 2 Live movement in Miami. Hip-house like Twin Hype, new jack shit like Wrecks-N-Effect, the whole Native Tongues thing, the hard South Central LA shit, the Oakland funk, and they all co-existed, were all dope and they all had fun regardless of their style. King Sun made On The Club Tip and then did Universal Flag. Lakim Shabazz, Twin Hype and Wrecks-N-Effect had raw battle rap, Geto Boys and Ganksta Nip were hilarious, PE had the yin and yang of Chuck and Flav and ODB was a ferocious battle MC.
Even the more serious political Rap, everybody seemed to be enjoying making music. Gangsta rappers had a fuckin sense of humor back then. Mob Style might have been the hardest group I’ve ever heard and they lived it. But them dudes also showed other sides and sounded like they enjoyed music, because it was an escape from everyday bullshit. Tim Dog, was hilarious and hard at the same time. Even if it was a joke to some, the shit was good listening. Suga Free is an ice cold pimp for real, but he has a sense of humor and approaches his music doin what he feels. Who says rappin about a girl with no teeth or going to the store with coupons ain’t “real”? Everything is “real”, people forget that. Everybody is so concerned with being feared and taken seriously, they can’t come off those insecurities and do some guilty pleasure shit. Even the producers. If you can’t show your other sides and bug out in your music, where can you do it? Stop being scared and break some fuckin rules. Put some 300 pound girls in your video for once! Laugh at yourself dog, you ain’t no killer 24/7. You ain’t battling MC’s and being a lyrical lyricist mixtape murder 24/7. Havin fun is almost hip-hop faux pas these days. Rap is dead without balance…period.
2. LAW & ORDER: MPC
“Boop Boop, it’s the sound of the police!” Yup, the legal police. Hip-hop is based in illegality, but not maliciously. Ironically, many people got into it to stay out of legal troubles (a life of crime), but technically this positive move is also seen as a life of crime by the powers that be. Mixtapes, remixes, sampling, parodies (somewhat), the appeal of hip-hop was always rearranging the old to create the new. It’s the lifeline of the music. One man’s treasure is apparently another man’s trash. In the wake of DJ Drama getting busted by the Feds for selling mix tapes that the labels and artists themselves approve and benefit from, it has never been more evident that the RIAA and their legal vendetta have just pulled the IV. We all knew that the late 80’s way of taking 8 bar James Brown loops and not clearing was bound to catch up to us. I can live with that. You have a platinum album and loop somebody’s whole shit, break ’em off some money and publishing, its only right. But then the lawyers and courts got tyrannical. Now 1/8 of a second sample can run you the risk of legal action. Ouch. I remember having a beat placed on a TV show and the music supervisor panicked after the fact because he swore the snare I used sounded like it was sampled. Wow. I understand melodies, but somebody can own a snare sound now?
This is pretty lousy, but to this point it only affected some of the major label stuff and big corporate gigs. No more. Myspace is now shutting down pages that post remixes. WHAT!? I find that completely ass backwards. I know a few dudes that were warned, and others shut down without notice for posting remixes of major label songs with COMMERCIALLY AVAILABLE ACAPELLAS!. WELL WHAT THE FUCK IS AN ACAPELLA AVAILABLE ON A RECORD FOR?! TO BE REMIXED! DING DING: MESSAGE! Now to take that remix and release it on a major label and make 50 grand is one thing. But to have fun with remixes and post them on a myspace page, where ZERO DOLLARS can be made directly off of it, is completely harmless promotion for all parties involved. Not anymore.
Back in the day to be on a Kid Capri, Double R, S&S, Doo Wop, Silver Surfer, etc. mixtape was the best thing to happen to an artist and their label. An unknown producer leaking a dope remix to a popular artists record was a way to get buzz and a way for the industry to find new talent. Taking pieces of old music and creating something new (like the Bomb Squad) wasn’t looked upon with the seriousness of a gunpoint mugging. But in a day where album sales are down, no artists or labels are seeing any money, CD’s have foolishly been raised in price, interpolating one line of Jingle Bells in your song can get you sued and you can’t post a remix for promotional and listening purposes only, you can see the music and legal industries have officially declared war on rap as a knee jerk reaction to their own failures. And as idiotic and unjust as things have become, they have the loopholes of law on their side.
1. THE INTERNET
Oh boy. Talk about a double edged sword. Never has it been so easy to get your music heard. If I make a dope beat, I can put it on my myspace page and it’s up in an hour (depending on the servers, it may be “processing” for about 3 years). No more spending money and wasting time for records and test presses. Now people in Arkansas that only have MTV and the internet can hear my music. Limited distribution isn’t as big a problem as before. Everybody is almost equal, shit we all have myspace pages. But look at the flipside. Everybody is almost equal, shit we all have myspace pages. There is so much shit out and the internet lurks with a million people doing the same thing, it’s virtually impossible to stand out. Back in the day, you had to work your way up in the business. Havin a record was in most cases a privilege and a reward for your hard work. Catalog meant something. We’re in an MP3 world now, and somebody in their bedroom is on an equal plane with somebody that’s paid dues and worked hard. That’s great for the kid with talent and no vehicle to get heard. That sucks for the no talent hacks on Myspace that post advertisements for their wack music on your comments page.
The internet also killed rap’s number one asset. Anticipation. How many can remember buying a mixtape and hearing 3 dope joints from an upcoming album on a mixtape? You couldn’t wait to cop the album. And you didn’t hear the album 3 months in advance cause there was no way to spread it that fast. And in rare cases where the album leaked, you had to get a tape dub and even when you did, you still bought it. I remember hearing Lots Of Lovin, Straighten It Out, TROY and Ghettos Of The Mind from Mecca & The Soul Brother 2 months before it came out. But I couldn’t find any other songs. That drove the anticipation up and got everybody talking. We were all eager to support. In 2007, the album would leak months in advance, you burn it and that’s it. I’m not complaining cause that won’t change things, but that was a large part of what appealed to me and many others about music, especially rap. No more. No artwork & physical cd to read the credits and shoutouts (remember those!?), no anticipation, it’s old news by street date, the shit don’t sell and here we are. Tower’s closing, the legendary Beat Street is closed, Music Factory is a wrap, people don’t realize that rap as we know it is done. Labels are fuckin suing common civilians for file sharing! A physical copy no longer matters unless you’re a collector.
Back in the day, you would never see internet beef. It’s just stupid junior high shit. People leaving threats and talkin shit via myspace, people getting hurt over e-beef at shows, kids on message boards flexin muscle and actin hard. Great! Now that we have a bunch of killers on wax, we got a bunch of em posting in forums. Cute. You can sit in a bedroom in Mexico and talk about knockin out somebody in Finland and it will never come back to you. Hip hop bravado and the anonymity of the web, it don’t get more junior high. The internet was the blessing and the curse of rap music. I may catch heat for this, but I think the best thing is to blow up the industry and start over. There is still great music and I will enjoy making this music til I pass on, even if only as a hobby. I will still be diggin for records, makin beats, playing instruments and watching old movies for inspiration. But sometimes things need to fall apart to give birth to greater things. The fall of rap in its current state may give birth to something bigger and better. It’s what I’m banking on, cause realistically, how much longer can it go down this road? I’m not saying go back in time. Classic rap artists may have been influenced by Cold Crush and Melle Mel, but they took that influence and added something different on to it to create something new. “We need to bring it back to 88!”. NO WE DON’T! Ultramagnetic didn’t say ‘we gonna bring it back to ’74’ They just did them, and until that principle can be followed again, I say fuck fixing an abandoned building. Hit it with a wrecking ball and rebuild!
– J-Zone (www.myspace.com/jzoneoldmaid)