Is Hip Hop Dying?
by Davey d

I hate to say it.. but hip hop is dead or its dying a slow and painful death. It’s yet another art form that has been severely corrupted by the Big Willies of the world. Why do I say this? I got to thinking about this the other day when I stumbled upon an old Big Daddy Kane lp and I began listening to it.. It got me traveling down memory lane and pretty soon I was pulling out all sorts of music from a by gone era.

Kool G Rap & DJ Polo hit my tables…old school EPMD hit the tables… Old Super Lover Cee and Casanova Rudd hit the tables..Old NWA and Ice T blew out my speakers Old Roxanne Shante hit the tables.. I even went back it dropped some Stezo on the techniques.. It seemed like to me after listening to these artists who were really in full stride between ’89-’92 that their material was far better and more creative then the material on the shelves today.. Hip Hop back then seemed to have a certain flair and a certain vitality that is lacking today in ’97. Oh yeah, there are some good songs… but very few good hip hop albums..

It seems like artists aren’t hungry any more and the moves they make are calculated business decisions designed to net them some maximum returns for their dollar.. I can’t fault one for trying to get paid in ’97… Why shouldn’t you get some loot for the things you create… especially when everyone else is getting paid..? However, hip hop has really lost its edge.

Lets look at Hip Hop in the following ways.. First you have a greedy, unfeeling, exploitative industry that has made moves which has led to hip hop being less creative.. The first area to peep is sampling.. Back in the Golden Age of hip hop ’88-’92.. artists sampled whatever they wanted seemingly to satisfy their creative endeavors.. One guy would take a James Brown grunt..loop it with an Earth Wind And Fire bassline and complete the song with an Average White Band drum beat.. This sampled montage led to the creation of some really good music..

Nowadays that’s all changed.. Folks wanna get paid for what you sample.. Hence when an artist comes to the plate and starts creating they may find themselves having to severely compromise. Yes.., I think artists who’ve been sampled should get compensated.. But often times its not the artists being sampled who are feverishly taxing today’s hip hop artists.. It’s these publishing companies and in some cases record companies who have brought up the rights to certain songs just so they could make money off of the samples.. For example, you get a small NY based label like Tuff City Records. The CEO Aaron Fuchs has gone out of his way to buy up the rights to songs put out by a James Brown and others for the sole purpose of being able to collect money from other artists who sample. You got publishing companies who have gone out and hired kids to sit in a room and listen to hip hop record after hip hop record for the sole purpose of catching a snippet of the music contained in their catalogue.. You have some companies that won’t even let you sample from their catalogue and if they do the cost is so much that it economically isn’t worth it…

The problem gets laid out like this.. You get an artist like George Clinton who is down for artist to sample him.. He feels it helps revitalize his career.. The only problem he no longer holds the rights to the popular songs people like to sample from ..Hence while George is with the hip hop nation.. the people holding the rights to his songs are out to make a killing.. The result is some artist sampling three different songs… Each company approaches his label and demands some outrageous sum plus 75% of the publishing for the use of that song. Pretty soon for one song.. an artist has to pay 225% for the use of samples..plus some crazy amount of money… and that’s for one song. Hence he winds up taking out all three samples.. and he resorts to replaying maybe one of the songs… and he still has to pay for that… The end result is a song that was nowhere like the original.. It lost its edge. Even groups who I think have true intentions like The Roots or Original Gunn Clappazz and numerous others lose their edge because the business of music forces them compromise…. That’s overall problem # 1 … the sampling issue…

The second concern effecting hip hop involves the movers and shakers who are heading some of these labels and making A&R decisions on behalf of a group.. You get folks who will conversate with major radio stations and video outlets all over the country. They wanna see what’s it gonna take for certain key stations to get behind a particular artist or song. The radio folks will tell a record executive… That their targeted demo are females between the ages of 21-30… The songs they play need to appeal to that audience.. The record executives comes back and will either look for a song on an lp that fits that criteria or strongly push the artist on his label to construct one… Hence you start to see a lot of rap records made specifically for the radio.. Folks will go and get a familiar song and just loop the beat… and have someone rap over it…

There are too many artist to name who’ve gone that route.. Think Coolio and Notorious BIG for starters.. Other artist will find themselves trying to appease radio by getting someone to sing a hook… They’re trying to make the songs more melodic.. Don’t get me wrong there’s nothing wrong with doing that…if that’s how you are as an artist.. But when its a calculated move designed to secure air play… hip hop inevitably loses something…

Hip Hop artist made the big mistake by not resurrecting their own media outlets… They became too dependent upon the commercial stations in their market to play their material and take their careers to the next level.. What they didn’t realize was that radio while working them for the moment always stayed focused on its own agenda.. Hence you take a station like ours…KMEL.. Two years ago we found ourselves playing a lot of local rap groups.. It worked for us.. It helped keep us number one.. But when the winds of change came.. we found ourselves not playing the locals folks and moving in a different direction.. It was what we as a station had to do to maintain our dominant position.. A lot of the local artists began raising a fuss.. ‘Why are you abandoning us?’ they would whine… All of a sudden you would see one of two reactions.. Either the artists got totally pissed off at the station or they would show up and basically ask for the formula so they could go home and construct a record for the radio.. What a sad move..

The mistake they made was not taking advantage of their 15 minutes of fame to began empowering media outlets that would stick by them.. I witnessed many local artists right here in the Bay Area who would by pass community radio stations like KPOO who had always championed their music to come directly to our station..These artists would bring jackets, bumper stickers, treat us to pizzas and would feature our DJs in their upcoming videos and record interludes.. Now from a station stand point that was cool for us… The more publicity the better.. But for hip hop it meant certain death because these artists had put all their eggs in one basket.. They didn’t take some of their juice and start singing the praises of a KPOO where they would always have access.. They didn’t make heroes out of some of their local college jocks.. They didn’t even have the foresight to invest in their own video shows or magazines.. They expected a multi-million dollar commercial entity to always be there for them.. Heck a lot of these artists didn’t even invest and buy stocks held by our station.. The least they could’ve done and come and say.. ‘Hey I brought some Evergreen Media stock.. It’s like so many artists get caught up in trying to get their loot on via airplay or video play they stop short of executing all the steps to an effective business plan.. The result is ..it’s killing hip hop.

It’s killing hip hop because the artists have handed the guardianship and the music to folks who have never really had an interest for the music until it became necessary for them to keep a number one rating.. You can’t fault anyone at a commercial station.. that’s what they’re supposed to do.. Stay up and know about the latest trends and be able to present them to their target audience.. If only more rap artists knew that then you wouldn’t have such glaring mistakes happening…

Here’s an example.. When KRS-One released his last lp.. The first singles weren’t leaked to those die hard KRS-One fans on community and college radio.. They were released to commercial DJs.. Some of whom didn’t even own a KRS-One lp.. His record label flew a bunch of people out for a huge listening party in New York.. None of them were the die hard fans who had his 7 previous lps. I recall running into Kris when he came to the station and he asked me why I hadn’t gone to his lp release party.. I told him I was never issued an invitation… But there were folks who did go who didn’t even recognize the South Bronx beat that Puffy sampled for his R&B group Total… This incident was not unique to KRS-One.. It happens all the time…

What often happens is that label executives will do things for key commercial DJs in order to maintain a good relationship. So even though KRS-One may not have been the staple artist for some of the commercial jocks who were flown to his listening party.. the decision set the stage for other product from other artists on that label later down the road.. The people left sitting down and scratching their heads were all those KRS-One fans who couldn’t understand why they couldn’t get the interview much less invited to his stellar listening party.

I use this example to make a point that hip hop has a bad habit of killing itself off by not reinvesting in the very things that help give it it’s start… Far too many artist get caught up in the vapors of the industry that they don’t take some practical steps like getting their own venues to perform shows, Developing their own insurance, security and sound companies for these shows. They don’t try and set up their own video shows.. and they don’t invest in radio stations that they have continual access to…. Hence when I say hip hop is dead… I mean that its creativity has been squelched and that its become more of a business… Everything seems so contrived and calculated with the overall objective of netting big bucks and not necessarily to satisfy an artistic desire or to please fans..

What’s even more ironic and sad about this situation is that there seems to be a new breed of hip hoppers who are determined to ‘keep it real’.. Their goal seems to keep hip hop situated in the underground.. However, that in itself seems contrived and at best a futile effort.. I hate seeing rich kids with loot in their pocket pretending to be poor and bummy talking about they’re trying to keep it real.. I hate seeing kids from the proverbial suburbs running around trying their best to adapt a negative ‘ghetto mentality’ all under the guise of keeping it real.. Even worse are the pseudo experts who run around and some how try to politicize and philosophy the actions of hip hop artists in ways that have no connection to the realities of the artists they’re supposedly ‘down with’.. You know the type…? It’s the kid who runs around talking about revolution and tearing down the establishment… but then won’t share any resources, power or incorporate the perspectives and concerns of the hip hoppers who hail from the inner city.

So what’s it gonna take to bring hip hop back? It’s a hard question to answer… Whatever the method use to achieve this.. I firmly believe it will have to be rooted in hip hop becoming independent of these outside business controlled mediums.. It will also have to take some hug steps and start maturing… There are far too many within hip hop who refuse to grow up and take on the responsibility of protecting and defining what we create…Too many of us are making a living off the music and culture and not reinvesting back… It’s something to think about…

What do you think it’ll take to keep hip hop from dying?

written by Davey D
c February 1997

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