"In rock you have metal, alternative, emo, soft rock, pop-rock, you
have all these different strains, and there are different strains of
hip-hop, but record companies aren't set up to sell these different
strains. They aren't set up to do anything more of a mature sort of
The war against and within Hip-Hop is so convoluted at this point it's difficult to parse the levels of dissent without the conversation devolving into circular reasoning and trite rhetoric. Aside from the scathing attacks on the genre from folks like Sharpton and O'Reilly, there's an internal struggle within the community. Those valuing artistry over sensationalism find themselves in the delicate position of defending the music to outsiders while harboring their own reservations about what's played on BET and terrestrial radio.
Both rappers and music execs are clamoring for solutions. Russell
Simmons recently made a tepid call for rappers to self-censor the words
nigger and bitch from their albums. But most insiders believe that a
debate about profanity and misogyny obscures a much deeper problem: an
artistic vacuum at major labels. "The music community has to get more
creative," says Steve Rifkin, CEO of SRC Records. "We have to start
betting on the new and the up-and-coming for us to grow as an industry.
Right now, I don't think anyone is taking chances. It's a big-business
might sound absolutely Utopian to suggest we remove the "profit"
element from Hip-Hop, but money does seem to be a primary cause of why
things are in a slump right now. I interviewed NYOIL for Hip-Hop Crack last year, and he nearly contemplated distributing his work for free in the interest of his message being heard. We often cite the existence of entrepreneurs as an example of Hip-Hop's evolution and influence, but it comes at the risk of integrity and respectability. Sure, a lot of our brothers are making endless amounts of paper, but true evolution doesn't always hinge on monetary gain and conspicuous consumption. The momentum has to be of an artistic nature.
"When I first signed to Tommy Boy, [the A&R person] would take us
to different shows and to art museums," says Q-Tip. "There was real
mentorship. Today that's largely absent, and we see the results in the
music and in the aesthetic."
Q-Tip's 2002 Kamaal the Abstract was shelved when his label didn't think it was commercial enough, which prompted fans to launch an online petition for it's release. Those that were able to "obtain" the album are indeed in possession of a classic. Free of pop-sheen and bling, the Kamaal album not only harkens back to a hunger that was present in the earliest ATCQ recordings, it also employs live instrumentation and some of the same alternative sounds Andre 3000 would later use for The Love Below.
At the end of the day, the debate over language comes off like a smokescreen. Many of us that grew up with Hip-Hop are more concerned with the bastardization of our music, and how it has been used to not only promote ignorance, but artistic laziness.
Q-Tip's Renaissance is due out later this year. Corporate meddling is expected, but I'll take what I can get at this point.
Hip-Hop's Down Beat [TIME]