Check out this piece written by a dear friend of Wordplay for www.livemusic.fm
RAP MUSIC OUTSELLS EVERY OTHER MUSICAL GENRE AND DOMINATES CHARTS ACROSS THE GLOBE. LIVEMUSIC EXPLORES WHY RAP HAS BECOME THE DOMINANT FORCE IN MUSIC AND EXPLORES HOW IT HAS ADAPTED TO CATER FOR THE MAINSTREAM.
My love for hip hop can be traced to two key moments in my childhood. One, the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and two, when I found Wu Tang Clan’s ‘Enter The 36 Chambers’ under a bush at the age of ten. I have felt a strange spiritual connection with the changing face of rap music through the nineties and into the dreaded noughties ever since that discovery. It’s like it was destiny or something. The trouble is hip hop has become such a gargantuan filth spewing beast that it is nigh on impossible to pin down and contextualise. Trying to fathom exactly why rap music has become what is has can be likened to theorising a new religion. Droves of rap fans live, eat and breathe hip hop culture. Whether they are fans of krunk or Anticon, UK backpackers or 2-Pac diehards with the posters on their walls and ‘THUGLIFE’ tattoos on their bellies.
Before we get sucked into the sub-genre rap mire, let’s take a second to consider why rap is HANDS DOWN the most commercially lucrative form of music on the face of the planet.
IT ALL STARTED WITH MTV…
News that MTV has taken the unprecedented step of revisiting its roots by announcing the return of Yo! MTV Raps, should act as a reminder that hip hop music was once both creatively and artistically leagues apart from the music that is currently polluting the billboard charts from England to Israel.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Yo! formula, the weekly 2-hour show ran from 1988 to 1995 and played a key role in taking hip hop from the street corners and positioning it in the living rooms of middle America. Hosts Dr. Dre, Ed Lover and Fab Five Freddy took relatively unknown rappers (N.W.A, Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, Eric. B and Rakim, Wu Tang Clan, Notorious BIG to name but a few) and transformed them into household names. Weekly cyphers, video showcases, interviews and album features made rap a consumable product; a new mode of entertainment that would kick start the revolution and turn rap into a dominant musical force. Speaking on the re-birth, Yo! host and hip hop legend Fab 5 Freddy said:
“In order to appreciate how far hip hop has come, you have to pay respect to the songs and artists that helped catapult the genre from a small community of fans to world domination.”
If one considers the fact that MTV initially blacklisted hip hop and soul music when it took its first steps as a Music Television network, and that the first episode of Yo! quickly went on to become the most watched show in the network’s history, then the historical significance of Yo! cannot be questioned. However, the evolution of rap music that Fab 5 Freddy touches upon is where it becomes puzzling.
Just how far has it really come since the golden era Freddy?
The return of Yo! will celebrate the roots of the movement by focussing on a selection of classic hip hop joints, but at the same time educate a new generation of rap fans about how it all began. The question is, to what extent will a new generation of whippersnappers be interested by the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, Ice Cube and Geto Boys when the rap music they have been raised on is 80,000 leagues away from the aforementioned artists? While it is great that Yo! MTV Raps is being given a final swan song, it will get no nearer to explaining why the world of rap has been overrun by an artistic and stylistic approach that would leave Biggie turning in his grave.
If the nineties saw the rise of the multi-million dollar gangster rappers; the guys with the drugs and the guns (and subsequently the Bentleys and the mansions), but most significantly, rappers with real skill and verve, then the noughties has become a breeding ground for undiluted pop acts that walk and talk in the same fashion as the golden generation, but either cannot or choose not to showcase their rapping abilities on their biggest hits.
At times majestic, but most of the time appallingly bad, 21st century rap music has a lot of explaining to do. Are these idiots still selling as many units as the legends of rap? Yes? Should they be? That is up for you to decide. Have a listen to what Ill Doctrine has to say about virtuosity in the modern rap game.
“To be lyrical or not to be lyrical. That never used to be a question…”
In order to figure out exactly what the fuck is going on in 2011, let’s focus on both the good and bad in rap music today. The most exciting and the most retarded.
THE MOST EXCITING
It is sad to say, but the legends that Yo! MTV Raps championed back in the late 80′s and early 90′s have grown old, grey and boring. That, or they are no longer with us. Rap music grew stale and sorry for itself until OFWGKTA kicked the door off the hinges to breathe life back into the scene. Odd Future were born in the noughties. They represent the high-speed bandwidth generation. Their ‘we do not give a flying fuck’ attitude has galvanised an army of fans across the globe and said following has seen the gaggle of LA reprobates achieve overnight legendary status. In the same way that Yo! MTV Raps took rap music and introduced it to television audiences, Odd Future have done everything in their power to build an unrivalled internet presence. Tumblr pages, the militant use of Twitter, free album downloads in their dozens, everything.
Tyler The Creator and his gang of Odd Future compadres insurmountable rise can be linked to their active disregard of the golden era of rap and the holier than thou pillars that made up hip hop culture. It can also be closely linked to the fact that rap music was screaming out for an Odd Future shaped injection, basically a good old kick up the arse. The pillars do not exist in the commercial rap world anymore, as they no longer define success, only credibility, and let’s be honest, credible artists rarely take the charts by storm.
Odd Future represent revolution. The LA skater kids have split the scene with their utterly captivating output. Regarded as too ‘unorthodox’ and ‘gimmicky’ by hardcore rap fans and too ‘outlandish’ and ‘childish’ by the left field backpackers, they have reinvigorated rap by doing something entirely new and refreshing. Comparisons with Wu Tang Clan only make sense when considering their youthful and nihilistic angst.
THE MOST RETARDED
Here is Livemusic’s top five list of ‘The Most Retarded rappers in the game’.
5 – Lil B
Lil B has to make this list, but that does not mean I dislike him. There is something strangely entertaining about the music Lil B is responsible for churning out. Sure, technically he rhymes like a 9 year old boy with learning difficulties, and he has a penchant for calling himself “a pretty bitch”, which if you are searching for superlatives (as rappers do 24/7) this isn’t really the best thing to coin yourself, however, his music makes people laugh, usually as no-one can tell if he is being serious or not. In a world where most rappers take themselves far too seriously, Lil B is actually a breath of fresh air. The trouble is, it seems everyone is laughing at, rather than with him.
4 – Mike Jones
There is absolutely nothing wrong with repetition in rap music. Repetition is prevalent in all forms of music, but this guy takes it to another level. Is it just me or does repeating your name over-and-over again not really constitute rapping? Maybe he is onto something? In a world where everyone is rapping, embracing a relentless name dropping tactic in an attempt to DRILL your existence into the deepest recesses of rap fans cerebrums seems to work for Mike. Mike Jones is rap music’s first cold caller. He is like a double glazing salesman. Genius? Or just plain annoying?
3 – Gucci Mane
Gucci Mane is another shit rapper who recently spent a spell in prison for throwing a woman out of a moving car because she refused to have sex with him. One of his more famous tracks is called ‘I’m The Shit’, however, it would be a far more appropriate title if he had removed ‘The’ from the title. He thrives in the 50 Cent ‘I got shot 9 times’ / ‘I killed a man’ bracket to sell units. It seems to work.
2 – Waka Flocka Flame
Waka Flocka Flame is a 25 year old rapper from Georgia. He is the perfect example of everything wrong about the world of rap today. Even though this guy says absolutely nothing on absolutely every single track that he has EVER released, he was still named the eighth hottest rapper by MTV in 2010 even though he only started rapping in 2008. There is very little one can do to explain what motivates Waka Flocka’s output, but having read several interviews it is clear that he started rapping not for the love of the craft, but more in the pursuit of substantial amounts of money.
Waka Flocka Flame sounds like your drunk buddy trying to kick freestyles even though they have never once rapped before. In fact, scratch that, Waka Flocka is not even as good as that guy down the pub. Has anything ever been more bamboozling than someone proclaiming they are a rapper but refusing to acknowledge that they have lyrics?
1 – Pitbull
If there was ever an emcee that took the fundamentals of rapping (speaking rather than singing, saying yo occasionally, talking about having money and girls) and turning it into a successful formula for the pop charts, then this guy takes the entire packet of biscuits and eats them in one greasy gulp. His verses are made up of random spurts of inane wordplay that finish in a flash / queue an RnB singer / then back to a little bit more of Pitbull and BLAM!! Number one in seventeen countries. Pitbull currently has three different singles in Spain’s Top Ten chart. Pitbull personifies everything that is dark and depressing about what has become of rap music today, he may as well be a stumpy little robot.
MTV lost interest in championing true grassroots music when the network realised that reality television drew a bigger viewing audience. What did we expect them to do? ‘Youth Culture’ attracts greater viewing figures than music videos. In this regard, MTV has been a sinking ship ever since the cataclysmic success of ‘The Real World’. Let us hope that the rebirth of Yo! will trigger someone in the board room to re-jig the programme schedule, even just a tiny bit. Now while it is fantastic that Yo! MTV raps is being granted one last opportunity to educate a new generation of fans, some of who think that the Lil B’s and Waka Flocka’s represent the beautiful art of rap, the chances of it making any difference whatsoever are slim to none.
Let’s leave this debate with an enlightening outburst by respected hip hop critic Neil Portis…
“I just suddenly lost it…I couldn’t live with the lie any longer. Rap is horseshit…What the hell was I thinking?…”You know, I’ve just been giving out three stars to every new rap album—and I can’t tell the difference between any two”…“I was sitting there, listening to God knows what, and I suddenly thought, ‘What is this shit?”
Yo! MTV Raps airs on MTV2 on December 4th @ 11pm