Highly Intellectual People Hovering Over Politics
A dedication to Hip Hop.
1975There I was, standing in the crowd cheering for the fact the war was over, and our troops were leaving Vietnam. Defeated, it felt as though America was going through a drought. I felt so sad that we had lost so many, but our patriotism was strong; I could tell you that much. I walked through the streets of New York City, looking to find meaning for all I have been going through. As I walked, I thought to myself how thankful I was for music. I couldn’t wait to get home and play my Captain and Tennille record, my personal favorite was “Love Will Keep Us Together”. What this world needed was a bit of love. I felt lost in a country which had strived off of unity. I, for one, had never seen our communities so divided. I thought to myself the one thing I was always able to lean on was music. I didn’t listen to much rock. My folks were big on church. I listened to a lot of gospel, and hours of blues tracks. Back then, I didn’t have much of a choice in what I was listening to. Come the late 70s, Bambaataa was the “firestarter of the hip-hop generation” (Chang 2005, 92). Hip Hop came to me at a very young age. What was Hip Hop? Something so unfamiliar to the masses, to my family. Back then, Hip Hop was a total of four elements. These elements were MCing, DJing, breakdancing, and graffiti art (Alim 2004, 272). This was seen everywhere before, but none of it had come together under the umbrella that is hip hop. A way to entice a young confused generation, I had never felt more connected to a genre in my life. I grew up to be an avid believer in the messages that resonated through my Walkman in the late 70s. I saw the potential of Hip Hop. The positive impact it held on me back then stayed with me until today, the day I chose to write about this growing memory of Hip Hop. Let’s be real, Hip Hop was created here, created in my city. “It's widely accepted that hip hop was born about 40 years ago at a Bronx house party on Aug. 11, 1973” (Lebeau 2013, 1). I felt it was essential to model what I had associated Rap to. Run DMC, huge in the 1970s, portrayed the ultimate look for B-boy fashion. As soon as I familiarized myself enough with what Run DMC was about, all I could rock were Adidas track pants with the sweater, bucket hats, with a whole lotta jewelry. I myself adored the Nike Cortez sneakers, which became huge after the 72 Olympics. I guess there was just something about Hip Hop that made me happy; Hip Hop made me feel hip, isn’t that ironic?
What a time, what a time. Life was a whirlwind of confusion now that Hip Hop was around. At the end of this year of 1980, an important figure was shot and honestly, I didn’t know too much about him but he was a good guy. After that, more and more people started coming out and expressing their discontentment with gun rights or why this person, evidently not well in the head, was allowed to get to this guy Lennon. The turmoil that trickled down afterward was scary. People seemed angry, more stressed. Hip Hop had been growing since the last time I wrote. More and more individuals were getting familiar with the sounds, the beats, the lyrics. Style started to play an important role in the early 80s too. Especially now, the chains of gold flooded both coasts, east and west, north and south. This wasn’t the only thing that was happening in the 80s. To this day, this era is regarded as one of the most influential. Who was influencing me at this time, you may ask? Easy: Big Daddy Kane became an icon to the young generation, wearing necklaces and gold plated names on chains. Think of how well Run and the Beastie Boys meshed and what they meant to early stages of Hip Hop. They are thanked by people like Eminem, Nas, and Jay Z, three of the biggest names in Hip Hop. Even if you didn’t like them, you respected them for all they have brought to 80s Hip Hop, whether lyrically or stylistically. Let’s not forget about the come up of Michael Jordan, a huge figure in Hip Hop even today. A more dominant brand in the earlier times was Adidas, but thanks to Jordan, Nike became the go to brand for rappers and artists alike.
With vice I hold the mike device, with force I keep it away of course, and I'm keepin' you from sleepin' and on stage I rage and I'm rollin' to the poor I pour in on in metaphors not bluffin', it's nothin' that we ain't did before we played you stayed the points made, you consider it done by the prophets of rage.
(Power of the people say)
What a way to roll through the last 5 years of the 80s. A time of the people. In regards to their lyrics, Public Enemy became one of my clear favorites in the late 1980s. With a bunch of controversy in the lyrics they spewed, politics was always at the head. A great indication of how culture was present back then. Similarly, Beyoncé’s Superbowl performance in 2016, or like many other artists, often African Americans, discussed political issues in America. For an example and a start point to this, Public Enemy’s members dressed differently; some traditional, others in military costume to prove the points they wanted in regards to politics and their rights and freedoms. I remember receiving my first pair of Air Jordan 1s. Working in a sneaker shop, I got dibs on the shoe. Little did I know, they’d have a huge impact on culture and Hip Hop today. Jordans have become massive and over-popular in 2016. Back then, this became a statement shoe; I felt proud to have owned these Breds. I compared the colors of my shoes to black power. Red for the blood being lost, Black for the sombre reality the African Americans had/still have to face. Hip Hop became less so about the beats and the lyrics, and became very in tune with social consciousness of young Americans. Black Nationalism rose during this time period, involving color schemes of Jamaica, traditional head scarfs or hats, Hip Hop grew to be something African Americans adored and ruled. Was this necessarily a bad thing? I don’t think so. I think for a lot of people, they would agree that Hip Hop got them off the streets. Often times, people of color had a harder upbringing, less access to schools, more police violence and interracial wars, it seems as though they have been facing this struggle for too long. The last group that I should discuss for now is N.W.A. You may know them through Straight Outta Compton, but how I knew them, was through hard tunes and lyrics that hit home. Legendary: That was the only word to describe them.
Let’s talk about the style of women here. Think of Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill, Monie Love, Vita… These women often dressed like men. My how that has changed since then. Women today have become more sexualized. Perhaps this has to do with “video killing the radio star” excuse the expression. The film medium has allowed women and men, to care less about what they say and more about what they see and HOW they appear. The 90’s man. Have you ever seen the Mighty Ducks and the bright colors that are seen in the trilogy? Just consider this to be the style back then for Hip Hop. Bright and Bold. Prints and Patterns. Staples of style were exemplified through film and through artists like TLC. This was the time for great music and great times. Minus the baggy clothes founded by the members of Kriss Kross, music had seldom seen a better decade than the 90’s. So much was happening. All I can remember is my kids watching MTV and imitating every dance routine or dance step they found. This was the beauty I came to know from music, this is what it was all about. “If the Punk movement represented the rage of a generation that felt displaced from their societies, then Hip-Hop became the home for the alienated and displaced (Alsalman 2011, 25). Many artists would agree that Hip Hop was not a commonality. In fact, it was almost strange to discuss the genre to people who just didn’t get it. I face it today when I urge people to listen to the words and not just judge. However, people don’t budge. It’s sad how judgemental some people are. In the 1990’s up until today, Hip Hop was and is a misconception. This is a harsh reality, and a sad one at that.
It’s impossible to ignore two rappers around this time. Biggie and Tupac. The rivalry that is unmatched. New York versus L.A. These two cities have and always will be in competition for who produced the best artist. 1995 was the year in which big record companies like Death Row and Bad Boy were at the pinnacle of their success. This was also when baggy clothes were less prevalent. More artists started to buy name brands, think Versace, BAPE, it was all there. Hip Hop started becoming about a look, a trend. Wearing sunglasses indoors, wearing a fedora when it rained. All was fair in the game of Hip Hop. This is a term coined as Gangster fashion. Exemplified by Snoop Dogg, Tupac, and more; artists wore suits, shoes with animal skin, fancy hats, and yet again, big chains. Remember me mentioning women earlier? This was a time where women in Hip Hop gained confidence and their own sound/style. It was not common for a woman to walk around in a suit. Instead, most decided to go follow a racier type of style. Tight clothes, bright colors, metallic. The 90’s were an essential factor when discussing Hip Hop. So many artists were around trying to get their voices heard. Unlike today in 2016, artists have an easier time due to streaming or simply by being discovered on YouTube. At this time, the goal was to be played on the radio, or a shout out in a song by a legend. “Hip Hop was the quintessential example of a conciliation that can exist to internalize an experience and externalize it as a second-tier rendition of what it is to be affected by this packaged soup we call multicultural society” (Alsalman 2011, 35). Giving the example of Eminem, “people began to listen” (Alsalman 2011, 35). This meant putting his color aside and taking the time to listen to what he was saying.
LUDA! I think of this time as Ludacris, Lil Wayne, Jay Z, Nelly, Eminem, Outkast. Have you seen the movie You Got Served? This was style for me back then. Jerseys, Do-rags, chains (yes, still), and lots of diamonds. Too many great artists succumbed and dominated the early years of the 2000s, It still amazes me how many of them double ventured and created clothing companies, for example.
I think hip hop changed for good and for bad when it became cool. Hip Hop used to be rebellious like how Rock and Roll started. Both eventually had their time in the lime light the 90s was when you'd hear the most profound rap lyrics over mediocre beats and it would sound amazing because the background wasn't as important as the story that was being told. I don't think Hip Hop developed in poor taste it just seems like the longer it's in the limelight the more non-rapping artists become acceptable. I've been listening to Hip Hop my whole life and I loved experiencing the change because I got to listen to the gods and OG of this industry lay bars, I studied their music and everything their story told and I've moved to doing that in newer artists as well. Early 2000s rap was much more the gangster era, in my opinion, you had people pretending to be gang gang and street just to get into rap. You literally had people catching bullets or gun felonies just to catch mainstream hype off the famed write and sometimes an album while in prison come out and you're now on the billboards. Early 2000s rap developed into the rap we have now and I love that. You now have sonically pleasing from artists and if that's what it took to get here I have no regrets.
Gangster rap has been dominating the landscape… Here at HOT 97, we almost exclusively get requests for the hardest Jay-Z or 50 cent records. That whole Nas beef really helped Jay establish himself as the man to beat in the city, and in the game in general. Producers from every corner of America are lining up to try to get their beats onto one of his albums, as is the case with this guy who’s generating a ton of buzz… Kanye Omari West. If you guys aren’t familiar with this guy, he’s the single outlier to this entire gangster rap trend, and he seems to be the one best positioned to transform Hip Hop and save it from it’s current state of monotony. He’s in this position because not only does he produce, but he also raps, which leaves him complete creative control over his own work. Last year, he dropped his debut album, and let me tell you, the College Dropout has changed radio forever. His lead single was a song about Jesus and his struggles as a Christian African American… It was the polar opposite of the murder and pimp heavy lyrics that had characterized the genre up until that point. Not to mention the beautiful choir and gospel arrangements he incorporated into his productions. He truly brought back soul music, as far as I’m concerned, in his own, sped up, chipmunk, signature fashion. Mr. West would eventually go on to have two even more historically important accomplishments. The first was in 2008, a year that would prove pivotal to the evolution of Hip Hop as a genre because both Kanye and 50 Cent were releasing their new, respective albums, on the same day. Tensions were high because Kanye and 50 Cent had just put everything on the line. They had made a bet that whoever got outsold would have to retire, and Kanye triumphantly defeated 50 by approximately 300 thousand copies. This is now almost universally regarded as the day Kanye West killed and ended gangster rap. His second, and perhaps most influential accomplishment in my opinion, came in the form of 808s and Heartbreak, an album spawned from the deep depression he fell into following his mother’s death due to a plastic surgery that he had paid for. 808s saw Kanye sing, yes… a rapper singing, I know… with the help of auto-tune. This may sound strange, but it laid the groundwork for rap and pop as we hear it today. In other words, Ye’ made the use of auto-tune and passable singing an art form. A respectable concept that is being mimicked up until our current day and age. Inspiring hundreds and acting as a trailblazer for the likes of artists such as Kid Cudi, Drake, and Kid Cudi.
As a producer working out of Montreal, it is really nice to see Hip Hop as a genre being embraced by our country, thanks to, in large part Drake. Before 2015, being a producer really did feel like a pipeline dream, but now that the movement’s “capital” of sorts is moving north, toward Toronto Canada, I feel so much more in touch with the industry. It feels much more close to home, and the music itself speaks to me more as an individual. Artists like Drake also serve as a beacon of hope. He’s just one of the first of many Canadians who’s been able to make it in a historically American industry and it shows us as producers that anything is possible. Look at his producer for example, Noah 40 Shebib, who is currently in high demand and extremely busy. Meanwhile five years ago, he was just a frequent collaborator on some washed up child actors Myspace mixtapes. It just goes to prove what I love most about Hip Hop; that it is a genre that rewards the most perseverant and hardworking individuals, in spite of nationality, upbringing, and social class. That is why it’s important to keep perfecting your craft, and to always be prepared, because you never know when today will be your big day. 2015 has also had its fair share of downs, in regards to Kanye ranting, losing some artists from years ago, and also intensifying the game and what it means to be a rapper. I consider people like J Cole and Kendrick Lamar to be rare forms of artists, as they shy away from mainstream music. Look at how big Chance the Rapper has become, he too has revolutionized sound. It’s crucial to remember the hardships of all they go through.
It has become difficult to talk about Hip Hop and not mention the evolution it has faced. Like many other genres, it has transcended through time and has allowed for more individuals to showcase sound, style, and love for music. Although many of these artists create different sounds today, I think many of them can be stemmed from the past; after all, it is the music of the mid 70s and 80s that started it all. I’d like to end this paper by a quote…
“Hip Hop is the voice of this generation. Even if you didn’t grow up in the Bronx in the 70’s, Hip Hop is there for you. It has become a powerful force. It binds all of these people, all of these nationalities, all over the world together” (Alsalman 2011, 35).
Alim, H. Samy. Hip Hop Nation Language, Chapter 11. Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-first Century. 387-409.
Alsalman, Narcy. The Diatribes of a Dying Tribe. 2011. 13-133.
Chang, Jeff. CAN’T STOP WON’T STOP. A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. 2005. 7-381.