Monday, August 18, 2008

You Ain't Sayin Nuthin: Rap Music's Lost Message

"People thinking MC is shorthand for misconception"

Talib Kweli-"Definition"

Maybe sales are down because nobody wants to hear what you have to say...

"I think I chose to become a rapper because I had alot of things I wanted to say and I wanted to make sure it reached the people. I didn't want it to go over the heads of people, and at that point R&B music wasn't really being used to make any statements. It was was message music. I was inspired to have a conscious statement, a conscious message in my lyrics....That's why I started rhyming, that's why I started rappin." Lauryn Hill

Hip-Hop is NOT dead. (Just wanted to get that out the way.)

But it is missing something.

We still have rappers talking about their paper chase. We still have the gun-toting, drug narratives being rapped about. Videos still have cars, jewelry, and (of course) the video girl(s). There's a bit more dancing, a little less head-nodding. And there's no decline in rappers who "put on" for they city (or at least think they are); reppin your block, hood, or city is still mandatory.

But where are the rappers who want to do more than that? Where are the rapper who see themselves as more than rappers?

What made Hip-Hop grow beyond a "fade" or another form of artistic expression, was it's ability to produce social commentary. Rappers were literally the Master of Ceremonies: they were in charge of telling the greater public about the reality of urban American life, particularly the daily reality for people of color in this society.

And that is why stories of drugs, guns, and the sort came forth. It is not the entire reality, but it is certainly a part of it. Rapping was an exercise in truth-telling, not fantasy.

This isn't to box Rap music into one category. Of course it could more than that. Of course it could be different than that. Music can be whatever the musicians decide it to be. Culture can be produced by a variety of experiences, opinions, and expressions.

What made Rap music so special was that is could provide social commentary. Delivering a message is at the root of being a MC. A conscious message about the social condition of a people; a people who historically have been underrepresented and faced political, economic, and racial injustice. It is that power that made rapping more than just music; it is what made Hip-Hop a movement.

This is the core of what made America stand up and pay attention to Hip-Hop. This is what legitimized it.

Today we see less acknowledgment and engagement of Hip-Hop's social consciousness. A large part of it is that now the culture is big business. The beauty of the artform is that it allowed those who have financial difficulty access to MONEY. Money that would address many of the struggles chronicled in their music. You can't blame rappers for protecting their economic interest.

And you can't blame consumers for not buying it.

The height of Hip-Hop records sales came when the music was at it's most diverse, most introspective, and most creative. You have MC's who could construct stories as good as any novelist. Rappers who could craft narratives and string words together like a poet laureate. They could bring alive vivid images and detailed storylines just like a skilled film director or a gifted storyteller. They could speak about violence, murder, hope, and family all in the same breath; and that is a gift indeed. The music was art because the musicians respected its artistry and its skill.

People wanted to hear that. Masses wanted to share in the cultural, musical, and artistic excellence Hip-Hop provided.

But it is undeniable that we have lost that strive for excellence. Perhaps it is because music doesn't share a message anymore.

Maybe people want to hear about how gentrification is affecting the residents of inner-city communities. Maybe people want to hear how South Bronx, Brooklyn, and Harlem residents feel about condos being built in their neighborhoods. Maybe they want to know how young Black and Latino women feel about HIV/AIDS and why they are the disease's number one victims. Maybe people want to hear how Obama's Presidential run in influencing Black youth. Maybe people want to hear about how these hard economic times is affecting the hood. Maybe people want to hear what a generation of wealthy rappers plan to do to provide economic opportunity to a community of people who still struggle financially. Maybe listeners want to hear about what is going on in our society.

Perhaps MC's, rappers, and Hip-Hop need to remember it's roots as message music.

Michael Partis

1 comment:

Rush said...

i think hip hop lost its soul thats why i cant listen to alot of american artist these days i drown myself in hip hop from other parts of the world and africa.remember when we were eager to hear the latest releases,i dont have that feeling anymore