Once upon a time in a universe far, far away, HipHopDX used to host blogs. Through Meka, Brillyance, Aliya Ewing and others, readers got unfiltered opinions on the most current topics in and beyond Hip Hop. After a few years, a couple redesigns and the collective vision of three different Editors-In-Chief, blogs are back. Well, sort of. Since our blog section went the way of two-way pagers and physical mixtapes, Twitter, Instagram and Ustream have further accelerated the pace of current events in Hip Hop. Rappers beef with each other 140 characters at a time, entire mixtapes (and their associated artwork) can be released via Instagram, and sometimes these events require a rapid reaction.
As such, we’re reserving this space for a weekly reaction to Hip Hop’s current events. Or whatever else we deem worthy. And the “we” in question is me, Andre Grant and Ural Garrett. Collectively we serve as HipHopDX’s Features Staff. Aside from tackling stray topics, we may invite artists and other personalities in Hip Hop to join the conversation. Without further delay, here’s this week’s “Stray Shots.”
Even Classic Albums Come & Go
Ural: Keeping up with the massive amounts of music released on a daily basis can be a daunting task. Between this year’s official kick off to the streaming service wars and artists forgoing traditional roll-out models, soaking up albums quick enough is damn near impossible. The Internet has become a large sea of music. With that in mind, it sometimes becomes difficult to appreciate albums that are even respected as classics. Looking at Metacritic scores, the best Hip Hop albums of the year include To Pimp A Butterfly, Surf(which was free on iTunes), Summertime ’06, DS2, The Documentary 2(2.5) and Compton. Despite having solid first week sales and downloads, the drop off afterward was staggering. There’s a reason why upper tier artists like Future have to release several projects within a short span.
Andre: Everything has become bitesize, snackable versions of their former fat-ass selves, and so even amazing albums come and go with the media cycle of a reality show sex tape. It’s awful. Who still listens to TPAB or Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth? Good for you. There’s a good chance that if you drop the names of those two albums on Twitter right now people might think back fondly on them as though they dropped in 2005. It’s completely unsustainable to think that these works of art can just be churned out at the pace of the web. And yet here we are. No wonder labels demand 360 deals and hamstring artists into putting out everything with a kind of pseudo R&B hook. Making great, fantastic, amazing music isn’t even really profitable if we’re going to sit here and be real. And so these artists are forced to move toward platforms and brands instead of sticking with the devil they know. But we can’t stop now. The genii is out of the bottle. Who would voluntarily move back to less music dropping on the reg?
Meme-able Moments Get More Love Than Music
Andre: Memes are those little artifacts that mean absolutely nothing and everything at the same damned time. They are nothing in their own right. But apply their meaning to some other notion of banal human goings ons and they suddenly become hilarious show pieces. Gut-busting props laid next to the two-dimensionality of the virtual experience. And they’ve become so popular as ways of communicating that they’ve become marketing plans in their own right. So the music takes a back seat. Where’s the .gif? Where’s the hundreds of other things I can lay this out of context moment on top of to create an absurdist juxtaposition? Moments in and of themselves can’t do that. We have to interpret it for ourselves. But memes can be anything we want them to be and as great as they are they’ve supplanted genuine moments for circumcised ones. And sometimes the meme travels so far away from the actual original thing that it becomes unrecognizable. A sloshy, barely there chimera masquerading as something meaningful while the music languishes in the ghetto of your iTunes playlist.
Ural: Drake didn’t have to promote the Director X video adaptation for “Hotline Bling” because social media did it for him. Moments after it dropped, there were various Vines, Tweets, Instagram post and everything in between giving their take on Drizzy’s entertaining two-step. Right now, someone out in cyberspace is creating their own “Hotline Bling” meme to the virtual eye-role of many who will probably end up enjoying it anyway. The same could go for iHeartMemphis’ “Hit The Quan” which recently saw King Kendrick pull it off alongside Terry Crews. There are some who would be pressed to recognized DJ Khalid’s “Another One” meme without understanding its origins. But music is all kinds of things, all kinds of experiences tossed together in a gumbo. So what of the transcendent experience?
The Ends Justify The Means
Ural: Drake taking large cues from D.R.A.M.’s “Cha Cha” for “Hotline Bling” didn’t stop it from charting on Billboard’s Hot 100 higher than the original. Then there’s that ghostwriting controversy that’ll forever be attached to October’s Very Own. Young Thug not only tried to use Tha Carter IV before Lil Wayne dropped Tha Carter V, but went along and renamed it to Barter 6. The Atlanta rapper also took Tokyo Vanity’s popular “Best Friend” track for his own as well. No one seemed to care much in the long run. As long as mainstream is totally fine, holding artists accountable just doesn’t matter.
Andre: Whether you think those two little-uns got jacked for their ideas or you think that it’s just the nature of the game or you don’t think and you just hypebeast whatever mental trend is chill, it’s fairly obvious that no one cares where or how you got it. They only care if the music is dope. Everything is fine! Your hit matters more than anything. To the winners go the spoils. And there is no recompense for it. You can’t sue because, honestly, people follow the rules. No one’s that dumb. They use less than the amount of the song they’d need to pay you royalties. Or they can just interpolate it or something (which is amazing and I’m highly in favor of by the way). Can D.R.A.M even get into a Drake album release party? If he can, color me surprised.
Social Media Determines The Winner Of Any Rap Beef
Andre: One of my worst fears is getting surrounded by an angry mob of strangers who wish me harm. That’s what the web is in 2015. So, yeah. Whoever is more popular will always win.
Ural: Meek Mill’s disappointing response to Drake’s “Back To Back” didn’t work out well because of the track itself, but due to social media declaring a winner before things really got started. Leave it to some, Sauce Walka of The Sauce Twinz did a way better job at coming at Drizzy, yet no one cared. The reason was obvious. What’s 26.4 million Twitter followers to Mill’s 5.2 million or Walka’s 17 thousand? The virtual society we all live in always relates an individual’s importance to their social media followers almost like currency. Then there are the followers themselves who are ready to attack on command.
Branding Trumps Everything
Ural: Packaging can turn someone on or off quickly. Like mentioned above, the music drops so frequently and at random. Artists just don’t deliver music, perform occasionally during promo runs and get an endorsement or two. It’s about synchronizing all of that with merch, web presence and much more. Those same expectations can sometimes make the music, unfortunately, become secondary.
Andre: Branding is everything. Everything. Every single thing. Look, take it from me, go out there and create a signature consciousness that people can buy into. They want your soul… neatly laid out for them in mounds like aisles at Target. Do it. Don’t complain. Walk that way but you do it with some damn style. You’re black and white, always. Or you are emotional, always. Or you are the “everywoman” or man, always. Or you are a sex machine, always. Whatever you wish to be, bring it forth and stick to it and style everything you can around it. Your car, your home, your walk and talk, your very being. And, soon, you will become an all encompassing, all feeling “personal brand” that spews platitudes that a certain group will always agree with no matter what. Soon, you’ll become a living, breathing corporation. 2015 is strange as hell in that way. All this information and all these ways of communicating and we can’t help but want everyone to be the same all the time. We can’t help but want everyone to be something that we can just plain recognize.
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.
Ural Garrett is a Los Angeles-based journalist and HipHopDX’s Senior Features Writer. When not covering music, video games, films and the community at large, he’s in the kitchen baking like Anita. Follow him on Twitter @Uralg.