Hip Hop in 2015 is a smorgasbord of options and a shortening of attention spans. Is Lupe Fiasco correct and the pressure to pump out hits almost necessitates the hive-mind song formula? Or are Hip Hop purists closer to the culture in terms of claiming that the emcee must be a lone gunman, six-shooter at the hip and nothing but their genius to carry them. This, in fact, may not be just a Hip Hop problem, but a “black” art problem in general. If we’d found out that Basquiat was getting help from Fab Five Freddy or Andy Warhol, would his legacy be as airtight as it is? Or would we relegate him to the pile of mediocrity for simply bouncing ideas? The list goes on and on in the world of “black” art. Coltrane, Davis, Coleman, Jay Z, Biggie, Tupac, Nas, Eminem and more, so much more. The idea of the singular genius may just be too much for us to bear.
But this thing is a business. And in a business you collaborate. You take the best idea, not just the individual one. There are so many people involved in the creative process that wasn’t it all the while absurd to believe that folks were spinning tales gleaned from their minds and their minds alone. I mean, wasn’t it? Isn’t it more reasonable to believe that the people in the room sharing their creative spaces had something to do with the end product in some way? Yet we hold on to the Dream of the kid in their room somewhere cobbling away. It resembles most acutely the lonely writer tap-tap-tapping at their keyboard with all their thoughts coming from some deep wellspring of creativity within them.
And consider the current state of things. We are all a hive mind. How many of our thoughts are truly our own in the age of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Tumblr? How much of our wit, of the things that make us shiny to others, are lifted expressions we catch wriggling out of the zeitgeist? In this collectivist age of viral videos and expressions, of ghastly shootings being shared endlessly, of everyone voyeuristically peering out from behind the virtual curtain why should it surprise us that a Hip Hop and pop star like Drake has “reference” tracks that are so detailed it makes you say, “Aubrey, really?” Everyone loves to take shots at the throne, and how many verses have Drake written for others? How many whole songs has he constructed for other people and you and I will never know? It is the state of things.
I had a conversation with a friend of mine and I asked her, glibly, fat with the glee of controversy, “So he’s a pop star now, right?” The phone lay there for a while without an answer as I was, again, on the scroll, jumping between Insta and Twitter when the thing buzzed. I looked down and she answered, “He’s Aubrey.” I didn’t answer. We’re so close to them (artists) now that the days of Lester Bangs saying, “artists are not your friends” are just so far gone. We obsessively follow them on everything, and anything they do is insanely fascinating. Though not fascinating for too long.
To be honest, how many of amazing albums this year have come and gone? Here we are, on to the next, and where is Kendrick’s masterpiece or Lupe’s or A$AP’s great commercial record or Joey Bada$$’s independent win or Oddisee’s grown-up brilliance or Future’s hazy purple glow? All of these albums have come and gone, somehow. And just like the light they give off in the acerbic, sarcastic dark of the Internet dims almost immediately, so will this. And I’m not saying that not writing your own rhymes is cool. But, look at yourself in the mirror and ask if you wouldn’t switch places with him right this second. And ask yourself why we aren’t so deafened by what could arguably be the best Hip Hop year of the decade so far to really throw rocks at Drake’s glass house. Again, I, too, am part of the contingency that believes in the lone genius, and I won’t stop believing. But this is not plagiarism, not exactly. And that’s something we need to all just accept.
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant that has contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Features Editor for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.