DJ Ipod and I frequently go on random journeys through my pretty extensive hip hop collection. Once when his battery died and I made the colossal mistake of listening to the radio and was reminded of what’s passing for rap these days. At the risk of sounding like the crotchety old man that I’ve long been accused of being, I just don’t enjoy rap music like I used to. Actually I’ve felt this way for a while; the love affair between me and rap has been over for a long time.
When I was younger hip hop could alternate between being fun, clever, educational, uplifting, ignorant or offensive. Or it could be all of those things at once. Now it mostly focuses on being offensive and ignorant. It seems like every song and video are basically variations on the same theme: “Look at me I’ve got a lot of money from days as a drug kingpin and I’m surrounded by half naked women all the time.” Really? Is this the best rap music has to offer?
I came up in the era of Public Enemy, Eric B and Rakim, NWA, Run-DMC and EPMD. In that period we’d spend whole days listening to hip hop radio stations. We engaged in pitched debates about who the best rappers were, we discussed every rap video in depth and relished finding a new song from a new artist. Rap music opened my eyes to worlds and ideas I barely knew existed. It also helped me appreciate music from the 60’s and 70’s. Some of the love was due to the joys of youth, but mostly it was a genuine love of a musical art form that we felt represented us and spoke for us.
These days most rap music doesn’t speak to or for me at all. What I miss most is the variety and innovation in hip hop of that time period. A group like Whodini couldn’t exist and sell records in hip hop today. No mainstream artist is making a song like “One Love”. As great as A Tribe Called Quest was do you think they’d get play in the current musical climate? I for one have serious doubts about that.
Record executives find something that works and repackage it a thousand times. One recent summer I think 8,000 songs about dances came out. All the dances looked exactly the same to me. I couldn’t tell that Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em dance from the Walk it Out. They’re the same thing right? Radio stations and their desire to play the same seven songs over and over add to the decline in good rap music. Rappers are almost encouraged to copy something that somebody else did so they can get airplay. With variety and creativity are out the window the vitality of a once great form of music is lost.
Sometimes I think my favorite rappers are just spitting in the musical wind. I know there are other rappers out there making good music but it’s beyond frustrating that they go completely unnoticed. Nobody buys their music and radio stations pretend those rappers don’t exist. I once thought the internet would destroy the music industrial complex and we’d be overwhelmed by new venues to listen to rap and other forms of music.
I’ve lost that hope. Instead I support my favorite artists when they release new music, search the internet for new stuff, and cling to my hip hop oldies. I just can’t take anymore of the junk radio and video channels try to tell us is popular. I’m even planning to convince my daughters that rap ended in 1997. So far so good on that front, my oldest is starting to appreciate the artistry of Rakim.
Sorry rap music, I just don’t love you anymore…