4 Problems With Modern Rap Music That Have Existed Forever
Rap music. Once, it was known as the genre responsible for sending mothers all across the country into fits of worry over the fear that it might compel their kids to grow up and join a gang or, God forbid, date a black person. It was dangerous. It was threatening. It scared people. Not anymore, though! These days, rap is all pop tunes, dance tracks, and a nonstop competition to see who can wear the most designer labels. "There's no way any of this would have passed in the golden era of hip-hop!" is what people say. But those people are wrong. The things listeners hate about rap music today have been around longer than even most of the people doing the complaining. For example ...
No One Cares About Lyrics Anymore, Just Beats
This is probably the most common complaint about rap music today. And with artists like Migo$ (their spelling, not mine), Rae Sremmurd, and Young Thug getting heavy rotation on the radio, it's a hard one to debate. Especially when songs like this ...
He's barely saying real words.
... seem to be the only thing consumers are spending money on anymore. If I let anyone above the age of 30 hear that song, they'd spontaneously combust into an endless rant about how "back in their day" hip-hop was more than just hard beats and gibberish lyrics. Oh yeah? Are you referring to Sir Mix-A-Lot's timeless classic "Baby Got Back"? Probably not, because people were lodging the exact same complaints against that song "back in your day." That songs is three verses about ass, and it won a Grammy. Things weren't even sort of better in your day.
Or what about Juvenile's "Back That Ass Up"? Cry all you want about Cash Money Records making Young Thug into a nearly-impossible-to-understand star, but if the masses didn't embrace Juvenile rapping about asses so enthusiastically back in 1999 ...
... none of that would even be happening right now. That's not to say Juvenile is a bad rapper; in fact, he was one of the best from the South in the '90s. The point is that rap has grown so much from its early beginnings that it's no longer just two categories -- gangsta rap and more gangsta rap.
Even if you take none of that into consideration, you can't ignore history. When hip-hop was first was invented in the late '70s or early '80s (depends on who you ask), DJs were the Batman to the MCs' Robin.
Who knew they even had laptops back then?
A rapper's job was mainly to hype the crowd up with "yes, yes, y'alls" and such. The DJ did the heavy lifting by mixing the records and keeping the party moving. Because most fans were just there to have a good time, the acts that garnered the most attention were those who could keep people dancing and having a good time. Sounds familiar, right?
Only The Terrible Rappers Get Radio Play
The Beastie Boys, Eminem, and Macklemore all have one obvious thing in common: They're extremely popular rappers. Oh! And they're white. Every single one of them. Google it if you don't believe me. They've also won a ton of awards between them, if you're looking for more similarities, which you're probably not. It's the white stuff that stands out, though, which is kind of stupid, seeing as how it's 2015. No one cares about a rapper's race anymore; just whether or not they can actually rap. Eminem definitely gets a pass on that front.
As seen in 8 Mile.
As for the other two, well, the Beasties sold a lot of records, but skilled rappers? Nah, not really. I've had more rap debates than the NFL has had domestic abuse cases, and I've never heard anyone mention the Beastie Boys (and definitely not Macklemore) among their top five rappers or groups. But these acts never seemed to have a problem getting on the radio. Same with Iggy Azalea. What's that all about? It seems pretty obvious, right?
It's that they all make pop music. Yes, they're rapping while they do it, but it's still just another form of pop music. That might not have been the case with all of those acts throughout their entire careers, but they got there eventually. Pop music gets played on the radio. Even in the days when there weren't any active white rappers that anyone cared about, there was still plenty of pop-oriented rap to go around.
DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince are an obvious example. Same with Kid 'N Play. When they were dominating Hollywood with movies like Class Act and the House Party franchise ...
And the best hair.
... their comparatively average music was tearing up the radio. Or what about MC Hammer? Do you think "Can't Touch This" blew up because he was selling independently-pressed copies of the single out of his trunk on the streets of Oakland? No, the radio did that. Mediocre artists get the most attention. That's just how radio works -- be it rap, rock, or whatever else.
Besides, what are you doing listening to the radio, anyway? If you have a radio at all, the technology that makes using it to listen to pretty much anything you want possible is readily and cheaply available. If you're at work, you probably use a music app of some sort. Complaining that your favorite rapper doesn't get enough radio play is like complaining that they don't get written about enough in your local newspaper. It's fine, no one's paying attention to those things anymore anyway. If you're annoyed by what's being played on the radio, that's your own doing. Suffer in silence or get an aux cord like a functioning adult.
Every Song Sounds The Same Nowadays
Admittedly, this complaint seems pretty legitimate, but it's really just an extension of the also-stupid "only terrible rappers are on the radio" argument. If all the songs you hear sound the same, you're just listening to songs in the wrong place. Yes, in the last three to five years, the trend of trying to sound like you're a rapper from the South (and more specifically Atlanta) has exploded, with rappers like Young Thug, Future, Rich Homie Quan, and Migo$ all using relatively the same flow and recording techniques (a less slanderous way to say "Auto-Tune").
Fifty-seven million views!
Given their success, their methods seem like an easy-to-copy means of getting your song on the radio and played in the club. It's true that this sometimes leads NY rappers to neglect their Yankee heritage in favor of a more Southern style, mostly in the name of selling enough albums to buy cars and shit. And while it does take me having to check iTunes to see who even made some of these songs when I hear them, it's still mostly only a problem if you're listening to the radio or happen to be at the club. These songs are avoidable, is what I'm saying. If you're hearing them, it's probably because you're the exact market they're shooting for, whether you like it or not.
Furthermore, the problem isn't even as chronic as people make it out to be. People throw it around a lot because, again, Southern rap is so huge right now. But what names come up when people talk about the best rappers of today? Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean, J. Cole, and Future. Of all those rappers, exactly one is from the Deep South. One of them isn't even from this country.
And he used to be in a wheelchair!
And not a single one could be confused with each other, because their styles are so different. From their delivery to the production they choose, it all sounds different.
Even if this complaint held as much merit as it seems, it's nothing new. Rap is a trend-driven medium. Once something gets huge, no matter what part of the country it emerges from, it's going to be copied by scores of rappers hoping to use it to achieve similar success. When West Coast rap was dominating the charts, veteran New York rappers like Masta Ace suddenly started rapping about rims and low riders and whatnot.
That song is so Los Angeles that it's got a known Scientologist in the video.
Or how about the curious case of Ice Cube littering his third album, The Predator, with all kinds of iggity-diggity stuff just because Das EFX was huge at the time.
Fact: Before the remix you know and love so much, "Check Yo' Self" sounded exactly like "Shoop" by Salt 'N Pepa.
The point is that these are just trends, and they aren't always a bad thing. When they are, they gigitty-go away. Incorporating influences from different styles is how any form of music evolves. Sure, there will always be those who overdo it a bit or clearly just take up a new style for financial gain, but people see through that and those artists eventually disappear. No trend will ever kill rap music entirely, regardless of what Nas says to the contrary. In fact ...
That You Hate So Much Current Rap Music Is Actually A Good Sign
No matter how refined your palate may be when it comes to rap music, no doubt you have a few artists you hate with the intensity of a Cleveland resident who's finally come to the realization that LeBron is never going to win them a championship. But seriously, it's great that you hate a lot of the rap music you hear, because that means you also love rap music. You care about it. You want it to be better. That's great!
It's not 1995 anymore -- something I mention for two reasons. One, I'm young as shit, so that's about as far back as my memories go. Two, and more importantly, it seemed like in those days, you had to rap about how (or in most cases, pretend that) you sold crack and were ready to bomb first at yo' enemies.
Not every rapper is built for that, though. And most listeners enjoy a little variety in their life, and lot of people let that be known. Sure, the Internet wasn't what it is now, so they had to do it by sending letters to The Source magazine and shit. But still, people complained.
You can go back to any point in rap history and you're likely to find a similar dividing line -- be it gangsta rap, collaborating with R&B singers, Auto-Tune, or any number of other trends that were viewed as scourges on the industry. Again, this is good, because all of that complaining eventually forces people to seek out alternatives to whatever it is that they feel radio programmers are forcing on them. That's why those same mid-'90s years that valued selling drugs and shooting guns so much also happened to be the only point in history when The Pharcyde mattered to people in any kind of major way.
Over the years, those alternatives have flourished to the point that rap is a lot more like rock now. There are dozens of subgenres. If you don't like something, you can just not listen to it. It's a luxury that all those years of complaining have afforded rap fans. That's not to say people should stop complaining when it's clear that a trend is getting too out of hand. I'm just saying it's nothing to lose your mind over.
For more from Jawn Louis follow him on Twitter @brucebond007.
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