Rap and Hip Hop’s Dark History: Anything For Money   Leave a comment

I want to preface this post with these two videos:

 

…Let’s be honest: This was what fueled the sharp rise of Hip Hop in the U.S. in the 1980s, the deaths of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur in the mid-1990s, the industry’s implosion during the mid-2000s and the mostly watered down stuff we see in the mainstream today.

Now me, I’m old enough to both remember and appreciate The System (The Government) and the Music Industry’s carefully laid out plans to indoctrinate, manipulate and brainwash the unsuspecting masses with African Americans as the primary focus. Most Blacks stopped listening to and playing Rock and Roll after Elvis Presley and Jerry Lewis made it famous among White Americans during the 1970s. The politics of the time and the start of Reagan’s “War on Drugs” during the 1980s left many African American youth without a healthy outlet to ease pent-up frustration.

That all changed when Hip Hop was “re-discovered” in The Bronx in the early 1980s. Its popularity in African American cities exploded almost overnight. It came in at just the right time: Many young African Americans were researching their ancestors. Hip Hop, which survived in Africa was virtually unknown in the U.S. The self-appointed keepers of Hip Hop Lore, the original grandmasters and DJs of the early 80s still living in the Bronx often talk about how far Rap and Hip Hop has gone from its early years.

Here’s Kool Moe Dee’s Wild Wild West:

…And N.W.A.’s Express Yourself:

One thing both songs have in common is they tell a clear, concise story or message. THIS was Rap and Hip Hop’s original purpose. It’s like I said before: Rap is poetry over beats. Like other genres of music, Hip Hop is used to tell a story or message, usually about the times or who you are as well as uplift and empower.

…How then did we go from the above to this:

 

…Given I talked about the first song two years ago, my opinion of this type of music has changed since then. I now consider both Silento’s Watch Me Whip/Nae Nae and Soulja Boy’s Crank That to be fake Hip Hop and actually do more harm than good to the history of the genre. Why? Because they’ve become the blueprint for how to make “Safe Hip Hop”. You know, stuff that won’t offend privileged White Americans who don’t want to be reminded of how good they have it compared to many African Americans.

The real problem with both of these “songs” and the copycats they spawned isn’t the dancing. The dancing is freaking awesome. The REAL problem is both “songs” are not real songs. I mean that literally and that’s why I threw in the quotes. Recite The Alphabet. Now Recite The Birthday Song (“Happy Birthday To You”). Notice how both songs don’t just have rhythm but have subtance and is purposeful. The above songs lack both substance and purpose. The focus of both songs is the dance and this is why they’re both so “simple”. All you hear is what would be the chorus in a normal song the whole time.

Let’s take a look at PSY’s Gangnam Style, which was recently dethroned on YouTube for Most Watched Ever:

Yes, it’s goofy and in Korean but this is still a full song. I’ve seen the lyrics translated into English so I can say that. Yes, the focus is obviously on the Horse Dance but it’s still a full freaking song.

All that said, let’s now look at the song the put the U.S. Government on edge:

…I decided to go with the full version so you have the full, political context of the song. Public Enemy put both the U.S. Government and the Music Industry on notice with this song: To empower young African Americans to become politically involved, politically engaged and demand change from both themselves and the system. Believe it or not, this scared The System even more than N.W.A.’s F*** tha Police. They shut down that song by simply saying anyone who listens to it hates police and the mainstream ate up that lie like candy.

As the 1990s began, Hip Hop Artists realized they were being forced to do one of two things: Avoid politics and increase their chances of making alot of money or dive into politics and risk not just being blackballed but even killed. Most picked the former. All you need to do is look at popular rap music from about…I wanna say 1992 to now. Most of it is about glorifying money, sex, drugs, violence, alcohol and guns. It wasn’t until about…I wanna say 2007 Artists started to avoid the subjects of drugs, alcohol and especially guns. They knew the history so…yeah.

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Back then, those who did weave politics into their music had some success early on but not for too long. The lucky ones survived the 90s. The unlucky ones…well, this brings me to Biggie and Pac. Let’s be honest, Tupac Shakur was killed because of his mother’s affiliation with The Black Panthers first and his early political messages second. The Notorious B.I.G.’s death was also politically motivated, as was the “so-called beef” between them. THAT was carefully orchestrated to ensure whichever was killed first, the other would automatically blamed so their death could be written off as “retaliation”.

…And both of them knew it. Listen to The Notorious B.I.G.’s last album Life After Death. At a glance, it can easily be written off as your standard rap beef mixed with sex talk. It wasn’t until AFTER he died people began to realize he’d actually foretold not just his death but the reason why he would be killed. Look up Notorious Thugs, My Downfall, What’s Beef?, You’re Nobody (‘Til Somebody Kills You) and Somebody’s Gotta Die on YouTube as I won’t post them all here to be nice to those who don’t have high-speed internet (LOL!). Overall, there is a reason it is considered his greatest masterpiece and one of the greatest Hip Hop Albums of the 1990s. Yes, it’s the same one Hypnotize is on as well (third song on the first disc).

All that said, sadly the overwhelming majority made their choice: They chose profits over principles. They chose to give in to the system they knew could care less about them or their fanbases. There is a certain irony with most of those rap videos of the 1990s and early 2000s: The jets, cars, mansions, clubs and and jewelry prominently featured in them? They were all rented. The scantly clad women and backup dancers were hired or volunteers to shoot the videos as well.

For what purpose?

Simple: The system wanted to present a false narrative and a false reality to African Americans. The reality of the 1990s: Bill Clinton’s Mass Incarceration Policy. It wasn’t until during his wife’s Presidential campaign last year he admitted it did more harm than good as African American men were unfairly profiled in large numbers. The rap videos and music glorifying guns, violence, drugs, alcohol, sex and money were all things many African American youth desired but felt would always be out of reach unless they pursued one of two paths: Music or Sports. Again, the irony being few actually made it in either. I see young artists trying to sell their music in Downtown Boston, Dudley Square and Grove Hall almost every day and have for 15 years.

The sad truth is there are no guarantees in either. While it IS true some of these artists used to sell drugs, the overwhelming majority of them never have despite rapping about it. It IS true some artists recorded while high on drugs or while drunk, though. Most out of their own admittance years after the fact.

It wasn’t until the late 2000s artists in general realized The Industry was taking a bigger and bigger cut of the profits from their music. Some artists didn’t write their own music and that made it easier for record labels to “own” an artist’s blood, sweat and tears. Turns out being indie or starting your own label is the smart thing to do. Few artists in general could pull it off and it was virtually unheard of in Hip Hop. Artists like LL Cool J and Ice Cube reinvented themselves as actors, leaving music entirely. The advent of social media changed the game. Now, artists could cut out the middle man and get their music to fans directly, keeping 100% of the profits.

This actually proved to be an interesting and unexpected perk for indie, underground and new artists as now they could record a song and sell it online by themselves. At the same time, established artists use Social Media to connect with fans and promote their music. Hip Hop and Rap have certainly come a long way. Given the recent politics of America, the time is right for a true revival of the genre with a new generation of promising talent driven not by greed but by passion.

In my next post on the subject, I will talk a bit more about how much Hip Hop has changed since 1979 and where it may be going. Here’s a video to check out you may find interesting until then:

…That cover picture. Really is something, isn’t it?

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