Saturday, March 10, 2007

R.I.P. Hip-Hop 1979-2007

Dearly Beloved,
We are gathered here today to pay our final respects to Hip-Hop Music.

Rap has always been around in African-American culture and in all musical genres. Hip-Hop was created by the street and club DJ's of New York. It was fun, infectious party music that quickly gained a following in the rest of the country thanks to the monster Sugarhill Gang hit 'Rapper's Delight'.

The Sugarhill Gang were quickly followed to hit status by other New York rap pioneers such as Kurtis Blow, Melle Mel, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Big Daddy Kane and Kool Moe Dee. Hip-Hop began to address social issues in the early 80's as it struggled to gain more mainstream acceptance and airplay and break the pejorative label of radio programmers and music critics that it was 'just a fad'.

The pioneers were eclipsed by emerging talents such as LL Cool J and Run DMC as it continued to evolve and gain new fans. Hip-Hop began to grow from its New York birthplace and expand to Houston, LA, Atlanta, Miami and the rst of the country. Showmanship was added by MC Hammer as the ladies began to step up and rock the mics. The battle of the Roxanne's gave way to Salt and Pepa, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Monie Love and Queen Pen as the music began to appeal to groups outside of the African-American community.

The West Coast began to be heard with NWA, Ice Cube and Doctor Dre. Public Enemy not only gave us serious beats but biting social commentary infused with Black pride as they dropped science on us along with KRS One. Digital Underground and Will Smith (AKA the Fresh Prince) gave us humor. De La Soul and others continued to push the creative boundaries of Hip-Hop as West Coast based rappers Ice-T, Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dog became household names.

In ten years Hip-Hop achieved its Holy Grail of mainstream acceptance. Videos were being played on MTV and BET. Arsenio Hall opened the door for mainstream television show appearances by featuring rappers on his Emmy award winning late night talk show. Hip-Hop artists were soon making guest appearances on network TV shows or having shows and movie scripts written for them. Hip-Hop got its own category in the Grammys in the late 80's in addition to its own media magazines, TV shows, formatted radio stations, nationally televised awards shows and clothing lines.

Then the Hip-Hop up-from-the-hood American Dream turned nightmarish. The East Coast-West Coast Hip-Hop War with its focal point being the simmering hostility between Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. It boils over into violence that results in the senseless shooting deaths of both men. Rappers going to and spending more time in jail than they did on concert tours and bragging about it. The positivity of the female pioneer rappers being overshadowed by the antics and raunchiness of Foxy Brown and Lil' Kim just as Eve and Missy Elliott emerged as their creative heirs.

The large record companies bought out the Def Jam's and Sugarhill Records of the world as they sought to shoehorn their way into the music form they dissed earlier in the decade. Unfortunately the quality of Hip-Hop declined as the misogony, homophobia, glorification of criminal life and disrespect of women escalated under corporate ownership.

The late C. Delores Tucker tried to warn rappers in the mid-80's that they were treading on dangerous ground in terms of the content and direction of Hip-Hop. They dismissed her and others as 'haters' and 'sellouts' as they counted their cash and penned their expletive-drenched rhymes glorifying excessive materialism and hypermasculine sexuality liberally sprinkled with unfettered use of the n-word and b-word. The floods of megacash from record breaking sales numbers obscured what Hip-Hop started out to be and warped its base values.

Sadly, Hip-Hop lost its way and became all about the money instead of kicking positive lyrics and good times. Music executives with no emotional, historical and cultural investment in Hip-Hop continued to sign and promote more whacked rappers that deluged the airwaves with more negative rhymes and video imagery.

As Hip-Hop becomes less popular with African-American teens it is bought and listened to in increasing numbers by white teenagers. It has the effect of giving them an even more skewed impression of African-American life and culture than they already possess. Rappers morph into neo-minstrels and live action cartoon characters instead of eloquent street poets.

We increasingly lament the shift in some rap artists attitudes toward women from Sir Mix-A-Lot's ode to Black womanhood to increasingly negative ones. We also deplored the hypocrisy of dissing sistahs while using those same sistahs to pose half naked while shooting soft pornesque videos to promote their CD releases. The outbreaks of violence at Hip-Hop concerts and Hip-Hop awards shows disgusts more and more people.

Today, Hip-Hop is a shadow of its former self with sales down 21% in one year. While you have some artists that recognize what they need to do to resuscitate and restore Hip-Hop to its former glory, others such as 50 Cent refuse to see the light and tragically don't care as long as they 'get paid.'

Farewell, Hip-Hop. I've long since gone back to the music form that some of you boasted was dead in the early 90's. R&B and Soul still lives and is better than ever.

Ashes to ashes, mixers and turntables and dust to dust, we now commit our old friend Hip-Hop to the ground as we pour Cristal on your remains for all the dead homies.

It was an exhilarating ride while it lasted. May Hip-Hop rest in peace.


Jackie said...

Absolutely excellent! Thanks for the history and the analysis of what happened.

Monica Roberts said...

I just hope that rap artist get it together before it's too late.

It may already be at that point.