The vitality of Hip Hop music is not what I’m calling into question. To the left is shown a negative advertisement. Moreover, what I am calling into question is the survival of rap music from generations past. Allow me to outline a draft of the most popular Hip-Hop artists of the nineties, according to Billboard. In the nineties, the following were on the lips of MTV VJs and radio station disc jockeys:
3. Ice Cube
5. Naughty by Nature
6. Geto Boys
7. A Tribe Called Quest
8. Dr. Dre
9. Public Enemy
10. Three 6 Mafia
11. DJ Quik
15. Digital Underground
16. Heavy D & The Boyz
17. Wu-Tang Clan
18. Snoop Dogg
19. Gang Starr
20. Das EFX
23. The Notorious B.I.G.
24. Mobb Deep
28. Brutha Lynch Hung
30. Big Mike
32. Mac Mall
34. Busta Rhymes
36. Warren G
37. Cypress Hill
38. Black Sheep
40. Method Man
41. Ghostface Killah
42. Ol’ Dirty Bastard
43. 2 Live Crew
45. Big Daddy Kane
As of this writing, most of the aforementioned have failed to release any new material, moved on to other occupations- such as acting, have declared bankruptcy, been murdered or declared members of a dead artform. Quite simply, most of them are filed in the “where are they now category.” Whereas other genres of music, there remain a network in most cities, which broadcast classic music of said genre, this is unheard of in Hip Hop. So, does that imply that Hip Hop has an incredibly short lifespan? It would be unfair to compare anyone of any genre to The Beatles, but the question holds merit: does Hip Hop have their own comparative to The Beatles? Is this a timeless form of music, which deserves the deepest care and preservation, or a dying star and the epoch of bygone era?
Why does there exist eighteen principles outlined in The HipHop Declaration of Peace? Quite simply, because although there are other forms of music with extremely violent lyrics, and outrageous cover art, the others aren’t declaring war with each other in their lyrics and in their interviews. These questions and hypothesis demand a response from someone extremely knowledgeable in the history of Hip Hop, as well as an objective opinion. Take note that The Beatles were mentioned, but nowhere is any other genre directly compared to Hip Hop. To this end, I remain neutral and without bias and wonder what happened to all of the names in the list.
So, I received an answer to my question by an authority on this matter, who regularly checks his facts and is indeed an historian in the area of Hip Hop. The following is what he has to offer as a brief clarification of many of the questions posed throughout the article:
There’s a few different ways to reply to this post, most lengthy but I’ll try to make a few points and be brief at the same time.
“So, does that imply that Hip Hop has an incredibly short lifespan?”
The short answer? Yes. BUT it’s more complicated than that. On the surface, Hip Hop (used strictly as a genre of music here, not the broader subject of Hip Hop culture) does have a very short life span. Radio and the various music tv channels play a song/video when it’s new, maybe a 2 to 4 month span. After that it will sit in a purgatory of sorts until it can reach a designation of “old school”, then it could be appropriately brought back on the various “Old School Lunch Hour” programs on our “urban” radio stations. How long until a song is considered old school depends on the overall popularity of a song, the more popular a song is, the faster it seems to become old school and acceptable to play as a “throwback”.
“Does Hip Hop have their own comparative to The Beatles?”
I guess, begrudgingly, we could call Jay-Z “The Beatles of Hip Hop” in that his music is most universally accepted by the various subcultures of Hip Hop, he’s had the most commercial success (with Eminem basically neck in neck), and with his music seeming to achieve that throwback/old school acceptance almost instantly as it’s acceptable to play any song from his discography at any time garnering him almost constant airplay. Do I think in 40 years that radio will still play Jay-Z music? Yes, I do.
“Is this a timeless form of music, which deserves the deepest care and preservation, or a dying star and the epoch of bygone era?”
Definitely a timeless form of music, as should be all music. Every genre of music has evolved greatly. The rock of today sounds nothing like Little Richie. Should it? Of course not. Since music was created, I dare to say that no genre has ever been created. It’s all evolved from a previous form of music. The process continues and will do so as long as there are people to make it. It’s up to us to go back and remind ourselves of the the roots we came from, all the while blazing new trails musically.
“Why does there exist eighteen principles outlined in The HipHop Declaration of Peace?”
Now, that’s moving from a musical question to a cultural one and to answer that I need to expound on the mindset and culture from where Hip Hop has risen.
Think urban desolation for a moment. Let your mind sit there. Think of the inner city and the mindset of it. “I am nothing unless I’m the baddest, toughest, most ruthless person on my block. If I don’t seem strong and dangerous, I will be taken advantage of, robbed or killed. The government doesn’t care what happens to me and my family, There isn’t a job in miles to be found so what can I do? Sell drugs, protect myself, and find a way to live like a king, all on my own terms.”
I’m not saying that is the truth of the matter, but that’s the prevalent mentality. So how do we escape this cycle of drugs, sex and violence? We make music about the drugs, sex and violence. And in a culture that either glorifies or accepts this lifestyle, we must live the way we portray ourselves in this music. Hence you find something such as the eighteen principles, trying to counteract this mindset.
Like I’ve already mentioned most terrestrial radio has an “old school hour” of some sort to find those artists mentioned, but also on digital radio, satellite and online radio you can find whole stations dedicated to old school.
To be concluded…
(Update) This reader comment was so useful, that it was only common sense to insert it into this very article as an addendum:
Out of that list of artists, I have listened to and/or still listen to at least eight of them. I’m glad you listed Ice Cube and Eazy-E separately as they are an entirely different beast outside of NWA. When I was in grade school I was a pretty big rap fan then once I hit the 6th grade Black Sabbath ended that real quick. Afterward I had completely written rap off as BS up until recently, I guess about a year or so ago, when I became a fan of Eminem. Of course, over the years, I’ve always kept NWA in my iTunes collection. I’ll always be a fan of them, particularly of Eazy-E.
So when I finally discovered Eminem after the rest of the population had ten years prior, I had this almost instant respect for him. Not for a performer or whatever but his ability to write. His lyrics are convincing and he can tell a story like no other. My problem with rap isn’t even the violence or whatever. Some music I listen to, such as Marilyn Manson, often promote violence whether its intentional or not.
Now… with that out of the way… Out of the rap or hip hop I’ve listened to in my lifetime thus far, none of it has ever touched me emotionally, with the exception of a few Eminem songs. And even with that, those songs never emotionally clicked with me like say Pink Floyd’s Time or David Bowie’s Five Years or Van Halen’s Eruption to name a few, those songs, among others have this emotional attachment to me that I never could find with rap. Obviously this, like a Top 10 list you’d see in my site, is more subjective maybe.
Then there are live performances. I think in a lot of categories rock has rap beat. Rock may not have certain background stuff that’s as rich as rap but whatever. Again, this is me and the next person may feel the complete opposite that I do. That’s why blog discussions are great! On the same hand, rap can touch someone that’s been through a certain life whereas a band such as Pink Floyd can touch not only someone who a song may directly speak to but an entire group of people. Case in point; Time which is basically the inevitability of death. But we can breakdown lyrics in Part II!