Welcome to the future.
Some didn’t think Hip Hop culture would be a part of it. & rightfully so, given the amount of self-inflicted harm we do to ourselves. But, it is a part of the future, further proving that the lifestyle is here to stay, no matter what. If nothing else, throughout all the controversy & attempts to destroy it, rap music continually pushes the proverbial envelope. This is a main reason why the genre shows no indication of slowing down or stopping.
Hip Hop & rap music wouldn’t be able to continue to thrive if it wasn’t for the technological breakthroughs & societal advances that help to keep it relevant in the entertainment game. Namely the internet & all it’s bastard children. & as much as rap cats praise Hip Hop’s glory-filled yesteryears, compared to today, they’d seem archaic & docile. Today, we have all the tools needed to be the quickest, most efficient rapper you can be, but with power comes great responsibility. Otherwise, we become slaves to the very machines & concepts we created to work for us.
Rap music may be urbanized to it’s very core, but it’s not immune to the throws of technological revolution.
The internet has virtually (no pun intended) eliminated the need for geographic barriers in rap music. & whether that’s good or bad is still up for debate. Back before everyone made songs with everyone else, it wasn’t easy for two rappers from opposite sides of the country (& globe) to make music together. Now, a hot collabo[ration between artists] is a mere email away. Back in those days, a rap fan could tell where an MC was from by how he spoke & what he rapped about. Cats in L.A. weren’t using the same slang is dudes in NY, for example, & it wasn’t commonplace to see rappers from different states hanging out. Maybe at an awards show or something, but the first The Source Awards didn’t happen until 95. Prior to that, rappers didn’t really fuck with rappers outside of their collective comfort zones.
All that has since changed, though.
The emailed verse is now the requisite way artists do song with each other. No longer do cats hit a studio, smoke some weed, & get to know each other over a session of bar creating. Nowadays the producer produces the track, emails it to the singer’s home studio for the hook, rapper A’s lab for the main vocals, & lastly, to rapper B for his verse. Not only is there no need to travel, but everyone records with everyone else, digitally, regularly.
& speaking of “digitally,” take a look at the rap video renaissance. Hip Hop videos were once a lucrative avenue for Hip Hop musicians, directors, & labels alike. The rap video provided the director with an opportunity to display their storytelling skill(s), the artist a chance to play up his & peddle his brand of merchandising, & the labels obviously reaped the benefits of a successful culmination of the aforementioned. But, as the record labels began to lose momentum & precious marketshare power, so did all the branches of it’s familial tree, starting with the (major label-funded) rap video.
When happened next – after the recording industry had been thoroughly crippled – was a camera phone-based explosion of do it yourself rap videos from every artist trying to make a name for themselves. Not only was this great for grass root promotion, but without a major label machine standing over you, the sky is the proverbial limit. Imagination was the only parameter rappers had to restrict them. In some cases, that was good because it led to a grassroots movement of common-man likability. On the other hand, it led to an assault of generic, front porch/street corner thug music videos that became all too familiar. Coupled with the rise of reality-based gangsta rap & the popularity of WSHH, rap videos became the breeding ground for violence, threats, & confrontation, in the name of rap music.
During all this chaos, truly talented video directors & producers have been forced to ditch their million dollar, record label provided budgets to contend with the guy who has a couple of Youtube accounts & is just naturally good with a camera & film edit program. That’s who’s in control of the creativity now, for the most part. DIY or die being a tax write-off, so to speak.
& whoever penned (no pun) “The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword” must not have any idea what type of button-pushed ridiculousness ensues once one enters the unrelenting realm of the internet. Everyone is a critic, these days, & if you can’t locate one, it’s probably you. The hate – whether real or contrived – is nothing short of impressive & it’s all in the name of criticism or comedy. Some call it “shock value,” which worked before it became the trend. Don’t get me wrong; opinion – much like homicide & religion – is what separates us from the animals. & opinions are as old as the species of animal that invented the ideologies behind having them. But the internet has allowed for an influx of so-called theorists & connoisseurs – no matter what the subject may be – which limits the voice of those who really have something to say.
If you’re old enough to remember when Siskel & Ebert had the hottest points of view in Hollywood, then you can also recall how their show began losing virtual steam, partly due to cable television’s rise in popularity during the early 90’s. More access to other people meant more opinions, & by the time the show ended, the need for a person to tell you about a movie was non-existent. The internet took that job. Social networking, to a valid extent, is performing the same informational castration on rap music with it’s open-ended platforming. No need for a critic when a person is surrounded by them. Sure, everybody needs the hate for motivation, but I’m sure it’s nice to hear & feel the love every once in a while without having to search so hard for it, no?
Anybody remember street team promoters?
In case you haven’t noticed, street teams died & were resurrected as today’s online promoter. (Maybe not all, but most.) Between email blasts, twitter updates, facebook postings & now- text messaging, there’s no longer any need to create anticipation for an artist’s project. Pre-generation Skynet, the closest the people got to a real-time artist update was a magazine, & that was only once a month. Aside from that, bus stops, in-store ads, & word or mouth were what most artists relied on as promotion. Their street teams hit the city blocks with flyers, posters, stickers, & other goods, but that was limited by license laws & technicalities that targeted the mostly young Hip Hoppers trying to earn a decent buck. Like the records labels they represented, street teams eventually became somewhat pointless as the world collectively embraced the digital age.
Another byproduct of this new world is an incessant need to create music at breakneck speed simply because one can. Not only do rappers release songs by the fistful, but any hot track is up for grabs these days – thanks to the mixtape mentality – so there’s literally never a reason for a rapper to stop rapping?
Or is there?
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, & if your grandmother never told you that, she failed you. & of course, there’s a definitive difference between vacation & “time to miss you” but that’s beside the point. With so many ways to go about music production & distribution, it’s no surprise that songs have gotten leaned down to under three minutes per & 5-8 new joints hit the internet every week. & just think; the internet is only getting bigger, stronger, & faster.
I can only imagine rap music in 10 years.
Words by Tony Grands