As an underground Hip Hop artist extraordinaire and songwriter in my past life, watching annual music awards shows was always a given. Nevermind the freakishly overt attempts to be extra-weird, the Grammys by far were my favorite because it was expected that I would get to see my favorite songs of the year performed live by my favorite artists. I would, in my expansive Indie Hip Hop artist mind, imagine that I would some day approach the stage with some trendsetting, urban attire to accept an award with my crew beside me. Finally, the world would take notice of all of our hard work! Back then, it took a great deal of work to make it to center stage. Afterall, we had barely stretched far enough for our music to reach an entire coast but still we worked.
We were underground because we were truly different; our music told stories from different walks of life, our music inspired change, our music empowered, our music was born from influences like KRS One, Erik B. and Rakim, GZA, Nas, Black Thought, and Biggie. We were anti-commercial, yet wanted to garner all of the fame and success that comes along with what else? A commercial hit.
Above all else, we were Hip Hop. My crew, consisting of the most raw talent would spit elaborate bars spontaneously; yet somehow it all made sense; we could relate, and we had a purpose. My crew, would collaborate and create, joining minds to develop sounds that trumped any sing-song pseudo rap by a pop culture celebrity. Our tales were unbelievably real as they were drawn from our experiences as young scholars, teachers, minorities, artists, friends, children, siblings, lyrical scientists, as we navigated through the muddy waters of life, aspiring to be successful, overcoming social adversity and stereotypes, wishing to have influence, possessing hushed voices needing to be heard. We were not narrowly focused on one style, our mixed influences and exposure to multiple genres were evident in our sound therefore creating a hybrid of honest music from the streets but, always staying true to the underground. We didn’t pop bottles and push whips although it would have been grand. We instead envisioned, we dreamed, we wrote, we created, we produced, embracing our own climb to wisdom through music.
So, I get young artist Lorde‘s attempt at “keeping it real”, with her single “Royals” yet, somehow hearing it rotated on urban Hip Hop stations makes me cringe if not feel the overwhelming need to vomit as do many of today’s mega hip hop hybrids that excel to the top of the charts. Often times, these songs are truly meaningless, overproduced, and so overpowered by bubble gum popping beats that you would expect from a children’s jingle instead of a true work of art. I understand the need of an artist to chart their own path and “stand out from the rest”, but when you haven’t a clue about the origins of a genre neither through direct experience or taking the time to learn it, what you end up with is a lack of authenticity, which is exactly what the song “Royals” represents.
While it is clever to poke fun at those who enjoy popping bottles of Cristal and pushing Maybach’s, while shinning up some gold fronts and then finally deciding to write a rap song about it; I’d have to wonder about a 17-year old who basically has aspired to do the same. Imagine, a neophyte, attempting to make a statement, while making a mockery of thousands before her. Had artists before her time not ventured down the road of shiny whips and new kicks, young Lorde would not have had the content needed to write her hit song, a song that is about as far from Hip Hop as Miley Cyrus’ single “We Can’t Stop”. Word of advice, perhaps you can’t stop, but you probably should. Rocking faux fronts, big ass hoops, and twerking is about as far removed from hip hop as a gothic-like comedian insinuating that their music is more real than that of the “wanna be royals”. Let’s face it, it isn’t music that matters, its money and in the grand scheme of things, many artists today are extremely in the dark, or are they?
From windy blocks in New York City where b-boys and b-girls battled it out with boom boxes on full-blast, to emcees beatboxing in the subways while their herringbone chains swayed in unison, to cypher battles at underground shows, the lines of Hip Hop have indeed become a little too blurred (no pun intended). From a sound that supposedly incited violent acts and rage against the police in the “hood”, music once considered evil and a bad influence, all the way to the kids in the midwest who embraced artists like Eminmen, making hip hop somehow more acceptable, the lines of Hip Hop have blurred. With varying shades of black, to grey, and white, yet somewhere along these traces lies a world of misunderstanding, lack of knowledge, and lack of unity that the music and culture was once deeply rooted in. We continue to incorrectly categorize, creating sub-genres, of sub-genres of a style that when it was in its most uncut form, provided a voice of empowerment for those that may not have otherwise had one. Now overshadowed by comic relief from remote islands, oceans away, in an age where a single Top40 hit that garners enough spins can place a once unknown face in the forefront of influence, on the worlds hip hop stage, the lines have certainly been crossed. With the money and fame earned at the expense of music’s pioneers, the silencing of Indie artists struggling to make it to the top, what is the message that will be sent to the masses, and how will it be received?
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