Hip-hop is one of the most underrated and contested musical genres.
Since its inception in the 1970s, hip-hop and its associated culture have grown considerably. Yet, with growth comes change. Gone are the days of velour suits and Adidas canvas shoes with no laces; they have been replaced with sex, guns and crack cocaine.
The general feeling regarding hip-hop is it has turned negative in recent years. How is it that such a promising musical genre has been distorted to the point where its integrity is continually attacked?
Modern-day hip-hop has become a commercialized shadow of its former greatness. No wonder everyone thinks hip-hop is dead.
“I love real hip-hop that has a message and is hot at the same time. As a DJ, a song that can teach something while simultaneously getting me hyped is amazing to play,” DJ Chedo, hip-hop DJ on CHRW’s The Come Up Show, says. “But right now people don’t want to hear music that has knowledge; they’d rather just hear something that’s simple with a hot beat.”
Upon further examination, even with the cookie-cutter, one-hit wonder nonsense like Soulja Boy and T-Pain souring the airwaves with their blend of monotonous beats and weak lyrics, the status of hip-hop isn’t as bleak as it appears to be.
Dr. Norma Coates, professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, reveals there is a lot more substance and culture behind hip-hop than it’s credited for.
“It boils down to several figures who become the focal point of hip-hop and you don’t get a real picture of what’s really out there,” Coates explains. “Rappers like Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent are iconic, and consequently, their lyrics share the same status; it blurs everything else going on in the genre.”
The MCs and DJs who occupy the periphery of hip-hop use the latest technology to propel its vibrant, dynamic sound and sample older records as a way to innovate their craft, not sell records.
“Hip-hop is a ‘digging’ culture. Many DJs and producers go to the record store and look for old vinyls to experiment with,” Coates says. “Hip-hop isn’t concerned with hiding the origins of its beats. The culture is built on returning to past artists. There’s also a lot of expertise in hip-hop because of the role of sampling, not to mention the required dexterity of the MC.”
Canadian rapper and London native Shad agrees hip-hop is rooted in other categories of music.
“That’s an essential characteristic of hip-hop because it directly references the past,” Shad says.
Sometimes an artist releases an original composition that garners massive amounts of attention, however, there is the threat by other artists to imitate rather than innovate.
“The record industry doesn’t care as long as the artist is selling records,” Coates contends. “If Gnarls Barkley is selling, the executives would say ‘Let’s get three more bands out there that sound the same.’ It’s nothing new; it’s been around since the ’50s.”
Hip-hop’s fixation with sampling also suggests a younger generation of music listeners will grow without recognizing the original works, subsequently crediting the artist for work that isn’t theirs in a cyclical pattern of ignorance.
“The younger listeners and even sometimes myself, to be honest, don’t know where the original is from, but if I hear a sample that I really like I will go back and listen to that artist,” Chedo says. “A person that doesn’t listen to techno and is strictly hip-hop might go check out some more Daft Punk [which Kanye West sampled in ‘Stronger’].”
Like Chedo, Shad sees hip-hop as a platform to expose listeners to different musical forms.
“A kid is going to enjoy music whether or not he knows what the driving force behind it is. Hip-hop has turned people on to older music. Sooner or later some inquiring mind is going to find out where that sample came from. That’s the power of hip-hop. It exposes a wide variety of genres.”
With a seemingly limitless amount of musical vitality, hip-hop is one of the few genres where the driving force of the music isn’t singular, but rather a plurality — and the music industry is aware of this. The creation of variety television programs that showcase artists is an attempt to mimic hip-hop’s powerful influence.
“Television is one of the last places where you can get a large amount of people together, like American Idol, who will hear this music and go buy it,” Coates explains. “We are a world of niches. How many people have picked up songs off of The O.C. or Grey’s Anatomy that aren’t on major labels?”
For many hip-hop fans, it’s difficult to stomach the garbage frequently churned out, but they can take solace in the fact it accounts for a small margin of the scene. Past the cheesy underbelly of commercial hip-hop, there’s a more stimulating world — sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper.