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Well, it’s actually rap music that’s dead

January 7, 2007

I only made the same New Year’s resolution I’ve made every year since 00′, lose weight and finish a screen play. However, now I’m thinking I should add one, to smack the next fool who complains about people who say that “hip hop is dead.” Noz at XXL is the latest to bravely step forward and proclaim that hip hop is not actually dead, it’s only different. Really. I’m shocked.

Of course, what the “hip hop is dead” crowd (and Nas) are really arguing is that rap music sucks ass lately. And yes, for most of the chart toppers, that’s true. (I’m going to have to copyright this next line since I’ve got so many biters on it now attributing it to “a friend”) Rap music is the new hair metal. I’ve said it a few times over the past five or six years. Nelly = Winger.  Compare some currently popular rap video with the one for “Cherry Pie” from Warrant. See?

This isn’t about a lack of “substance.” Usually, that’s what people think this boils down to, that no one is making records like PE anymore. It isn’t that trite. Even Ludacris can take a stab at making a song with “substance” and not do a terrible job of it.

“Swagger” is the problem. It’s become the most overused word in rap music criticism. It’s become, at least among those for whom rap began with Tupac and Biggie, a prerequisite for a good MC. It’s also become a prerequisite for who gets signed and who doesn’t. I suppose many thought Lupe Fiasco would herald a new age of swagger free MCs, and that his album flopped (sort of) could be seen as a testament to the power of swagger.

Hair metal was about swagger, too. Rock was about who could do the most smack, sleep with the most groupies, down the most JD. How high is my hair, Brett Michaels may have asked, just as Paul Wall may wonder how iced out is his grill?

Cars, clothes, and hoes have become apparently far more interesting than the music. We have rampant ghost writing and beat jacking. It’s all terribly boring and tedious on the Billboard 100*.

Noz, this is not about people getting older, either. there’s vital rap music being done young cats that old heads can appreciate.  If I can still appreciate the goofiness of Three Feet High and Rising or Rakhim’s harder than you navel gazing on “Don’t Sweat the Technique” there surely must be something to like these days, right?

Change is exactly what rap music hasn’t been doing a whole lot of lately. That’s the problem. 

*There are of course very many artists out there doing interesting things. With selections as diverse as POS, Swollen Members, Mos Def (his new disc is pretty challenging and good), Count Bass D, there is a lot to like and good reasons to say that hip hop is not actually dead. I think by pointing this out, you can make a better argument that hip hop is not actually dead.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. January 7, 2007 8:29 am

    One school has it that rap (rhythm and lyric)came along when record companies decided the melodywriters weren’t doing it for them.

    What! Is melody coming back again? Should melodywriters being hearing the phone ring again?

    Just asking.


  2. January 7, 2007 8:35 am

    Great rant! I love the comparison between Bret Michaels’ hair and Paul Wall’s grill.

  3. January 8, 2007 6:42 am

    Could you please put your titties closer to the 22s

    I actually think that last year was a pretty good year for hip-hop. Lupe, Danger Doom, The Roots, etc.

    I haven’t picked up Mos Defs newest yet, but I heard it is pretty good too. I like that he actually included Katrina Clap on the CD.

  4. January 11, 2007 9:28 pm

    Keep up the good work!

  5. April 9, 2007 12:17 pm

    Yes- rap music has fallen off — sales are down 20-30%. Two major problems with rap music.. Cost of production and airplay. Simple economics… you can’t keep increasing costs for production and not increase price….Meanwhile, low concert revenue is driving down the profits, thus, artists don’t have the paydays because they can’t get label promotion like they used too. Vicious cycle.. no sales, no concert revenue. No concert revenue, no real pay day for rappers. Anticipate that downloading will make labels aggressively cut rap stars with the big salaries that squeeze profits.

    Meanwhile crunk, dirty south costs are in the basement compared to rap, plus, it doesn’t need radioplay, which means lower marketing costs. This will feed the death of rap, because dirty south doesn’t need mainstream support like traditional rap does. Expect more promotion of dirty south with low costs and high profits to labels.

    Overall, rap stars like Ice Cube, Snoop, etc. in their effort to re-brand themselves as mass-market actors/products (not rappers) have not helped sales either. When you make a niche product mass market, you inherently generate backlash from your customer base.

    I predict sales to fall off precipitously into 2010… save for a retro producer that can bring back the older sound and re-package it. Maybe it can change again and survive. But I think that is the problem. Frankly, I think it has changed too much and has become too many things– r&b, pop, rock.. hooks for slow songs, etc. At its current pace, it will be watered down to nothingness inside of 5 years unless it establishes its differentiation again, and its loyal audience.


  6. April 9, 2007 12:51 pm

    I think the CD sales decline is much simpler. Rap has always been a singles medium. Casual music fans typically find one or two songs per record they like on any given rap record. Now that you can get that one song via download, why bother buying the entire disc? Like, who in their right mind would buy the entire D4L CD, only being interested in “Laffy Taffy,” which IIRC was one of the top five selling digital singles the year it came out. I haven’t seen numbers on digital sales for rap, however I’d bet they are rising as much as music of other genres. I’d say that DRM is likely preventing digital sales from rising as much as they should.

    More and more rap crews are avoiding the major label thing, using non traditional means to promote themselves. Why do you think record companies are going hard after the mixtapes for infringment cases?

  7. Cameron permalink
    May 2, 2007 10:12 am

    What a werid coincidence….I have often compared the state of rap music today to where rock was in the late eighties with hair metal. Glad to see Im not the only one who has come to this conclusion. THe times, they are a changin….

  8. January 4, 2008 12:13 pm

    Retro clothing is the bomb! My favorite place to find it is Goodwill or any thrift store. Ebay is also a great place to find what you are looking for.

  9. Rap lover from the 415 permalink
    January 13, 2008 6:14 am

    Well first off not all mainstream rappers are whack. Ludacris and T.I., while both are mostly known for making hits about blings, girls, and the finer things in life, can also make important and positive hits at the same time. Hair metal on the other hand I don’t have much knowledge for, I’m pretty sure some bands had made positive hits themselves, but overall I thought hair metal was cheesy and down right lame, which I can say the same for crunk rap and snap music!!

  10. March 18, 2009 10:09 am

    Good Article. Even more accurately, not rap music, but rather MAINSTREAM rap music is dead. I remember when it coughed around 94 / ’95, then got on full-on sick around ’96. It fought, but in the end it flatlined.

    Luckily, his brother REAL-MC’s were still around and continues to live to this day, healthily. Not as strong as in his youth, but still kicking.

    As for Mos and Lupe and the like – ditto.

    Also, long live the “GrindTime” battles ( and all the other undergrounders keeping hip-hop fun and interesting.

    GO HEELS!!!!


  1. links for 2007-01-25 at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture
  2. But What about middle aged black guys? « Dork Nation

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