Before I get into this, let’s get one thing clear.
I’m a biter, not a writer. Blogging is not my thing and perhaps never will be. This is merely an opinion on hip hop culture, a culture that happens to be very influential in the lives of many in my age group and demographic.
But this is an issue in hip hop I feel should be addressed with greater courage, especially seeing as the epidemic is becoming more widespread with each new artist that breaks out.
Get to the point, Lex.
Question: What happened to the beat?
Allow me to rephrase…what happened to the “BEATS”?
What happened to variety in musical samples and selection? What happened to creativity? Where are the pioneers of producing and why have they gone into hiding? We can’t hear them over the sound of today’s distorted 808s.
“It was in the wind when he said Dilla was gone, that’s when I knew he’d live forever through song…”
Common said it, but in reality, creativity and competition died right around the time J. Dilla did, maybe even before…perhaps this realization led Nas to drop “Hip Hop is Dead” that same year. Let’s face it, lyricism has BEEN gone out the window. Yes, Kendrick is promising in his album debut, Lupe finally stood up to the label for Food and Liquor 2, and there will always be “conscious rap” that no one ever hears…but today’s hip hop creativity is more production than anything else, and we see how well THAT’S going…
Timbaland recently went on the Breakfast Club and did an interview with Power 105.1 along with Missy Elliot and talked about the state of Hip Hop and their place in it. You can watch the video on YouTube if you like, but all you will see is two legends completely depressed and disenfranchised by the state of a culture and art form that they helped take to the next level.
I can’t blame them for feeling that way.
Michael Jordan made a comment in 2005 about how athletes of today are rewarded off potential vs. productivity. Perhaps the same is true of artists and producers. Let’s use examples.
Lex Luger (no relation): Had a string of hits with some mainstream artists and enjoys a healthy clientele now that he has those cosigns. But can you really distinguish one beat from another if you had a playlist full of his instrumentals?
Shawty Redd: Known for his collaborations with Jeezy most famously, and don’t get me wrong, does make bangers, but has a very strict lane that he stays in, which feeds into the same style of non creative rap that has turned hip hop into one extended strip club soundtrack (shout out to the dancers though. Make your money we know you’re probably saving for college – next semester).
I’ll take it one step further. In my opinion, even semi musically literate producers like J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and Kanye have fallen victim to what I am calling “Template Tracklists”. Basically an artist puts together an album with 1 or two big features with “boss music” beats, then a few joints for the ladies, a single or two for the clubs, and finally the almost corny “Reflect during the ride home” track to close it out. If you think about it you can put a few of your favorite rappers in this category. Producers fall into their “category” and become complacent.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a businessman. A good artist knows what sells and also how to maximize talent.
But hip hop isn’t JUST a business. It’s an art form. When art comes to a point where it is pushed through a cookie cutter…hip hop IS dead.
Don’t think I just glossed over Kanye by the way. I support all Chicago artists, from Chief Keef to Common because I know what each brings to the game. But that does not mean I have to stand by and allow laziness to take over, and you are kidding yourself if you thought Cruel Summer and WTT lived up to expectations. That’s another discussion, however.
There are so many more tangents on this topic I could go on, but we have jobs and stuff…right?
What’s the moral of this story?
Hip hop has always been about freedom of expression. Hunger has to come back into the production game and it’s going to take a few young cats that are willing to push the envelope and swim against the ever growing mainstream bass heavy current of today, the same way new lyricists are challenging the repetitive hooks of the rap game.
Now my ear isn’t as close to the ground as some, so perhaps there are some producers that are already taking this to the next level. If you have a favorite, speak on it and be sure to let me know @LexMathew.
The wind took Dilla away from us; let’s hope it also carries new life back into the production game.