Is It Too Soon to Celebrate a New Rap Renaissance?

kanye common kweli

Recently we asked the SoulBounce Team and a few friends if they felt Hip-Hop was making a return to form. With Common and Talib Kweli's recent offerings doing uncharacteristically high numbers and Kanye's Graduation seeming to have a lead on Curtis, is it safe to say the masses are no longer blinded by the paint-by-the-numbers Hip-Hop that has dominated the charts over recent years?

Funbongo, SoulBounce UK Editor:

It appears that the 50 Cent bubble has finally burst. A lot of the record buying public that are not naturally in tune with finding  'real' hip hop are not interested in him anymore. He has lost his audience by consistently releasing bad records. At first the hype won, no longer. 50 Cent gave the world G-Unit, those that bought into it were short changed by poor music. As a consequence (not the rapper) 50's reputation is now as a rich man; not a good rapper. Eminem and Dr Dre have been less involved which hasn't helped his credibility. 50's loss is Kanye's gain as he has released two strong commercial and credible albums; the fans trust him and his product is lasting and genuine. 

Its wonderful to see Talib and Common performing well but its not time for celebration, its a time to build. Talib and Common have been around for years, who new is coming through that we can trust to deliver 'real' hip hop to the masses?

Butta, SoulBounce Editor:

I think that is it a beautiful thing that "conscious" hip-hop has been getting some chart shine in the past few weeks. But before we go poppin bottles, though, we just need to take a quick look at the Hot 100 and the hot hip-hop messes that dominate the top 10. When Kweli's "Hot Thing" rises to snatch that number one spot out of the clutches of "Crank Dat Soulja Boy" or Common's "Drivin' Me Wild" bests Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls," then hip hop will really be doing something. Until then, we have to take these impressive CD sales as a small victory while the battle still rages on.

Quentin, SoulBounce Editor:

Honestly, there isn't a resurgence, but more of a polar opposite finally coming back into its own. I think that the real hip-hop movement is starting to be a bit more "vocal" in its approach & not just settle for sitting back to "dime bag hip-hop" as I call it. But, it should be interesting.

nOva, SoulBounce Managing Editor and Publisher:

It might all be in my head since this is all I listen to lately. Or it might just be a coincidence that all these albums are being released within the same season. Whether this sort of Hip-Hop ends up dominating or not, I'm glad that these guys are getting some attention.

J. Brotherlove:

It is curious, ain't it?

I sort of don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth by over-analyzing it. But as we know, hip hop is limping through sales. I think people are realizing how easy it is to make their own pedestrian hip hop. I mean, 50 Cent? Isn't he just this era's MC Hammer?

Common, Talib and Kanye, on the other hand, sound "fresh" because they're on some different shit. Also, have you listened to Guru's Jazzmatazz, Vol. 4: The Hip Hop Jazz Messenger: Back to the Future? Despite doing that shtick since the 90's, it still works (in my opinion).


Backpack rap is back.

It didn't go anywhere really. It's just that for a minute, violence and crunk and snap songs ruled. But on the real, I think that older people are buying music again. They're tired of seeing artists like Chamillionaire win awards.

The grown and sexy is in. And even today's average 17 year old prefers R&B to the latest UNK song. People are always going to love one hit wonders. They make great music for the club. But if people want something to vibe to, to sit down and have conversations about, and to say, "hey, I have that latest Kweli in my collection," -- it's because it's not only about the beat or the catch hook -- it's about having a collectors album, words with meaning.

Considering that white teen boys supposedly comprise the average hip-hop music buyer, it's saying that they're no longer fascinated by the gangsta', and well they could never really get those dances from the south anyway, but they can ride their skateboards to -- and sit back and puff an L to Common. And they can pretend to be intelligent rappers by imitating the likes of Common, Kweli, and 'Ye -- three of the only right now to put more syllables into a bar than anyone else out there. Well, except for Lil' Wayne. He's still your favorite rapper's favorite rapper -- and when his next album comes out, we'll watch the tide turn again.

DJ Stylus:

I had been meaning to tackle this one myself. Glad that it's being done by committee.

first theory is that Common is reaping the benefits of a very targeted
and deliberate image making campaign. Common has created a brand for
himself and has diligently been cultivating it since at least Like
Water For Chocolate,
although the seeds were planted with One Day It'll
All Make Sense
. The image of black masculinity in popular culture has
long been monopolized by the scary yet alluring hyper-sexualized thug
(See Byron Hurt's film) and when there's only one product on the
market, folks eventually clamor for choices. Common's brand is that
alternative. He's on some grown man shit and he stands out because he
pretty much stands alone, at least on the distorted playing field of
the entertainment industry. When I saw him on the cover of Ebony with
Harry Belafonte I knew it was a wrap. This theory doesn't explain
sales. Black folks want to rally around Common for the reasons stated
above but they alone can't make a record hit #1 on Billboard. Why is
Common's brand appealing to white folks? Because it's sexy (refer to
Will Smith).

I'm still working on my Kweli and Kanye theories. The only
thing I can say about the latter is 50 is just played out. The cycle of
what's popular keeps shortening and thugs are in their twilight.
Kanye's just more interesting.

Zillz, SoulBounce Editor:

I think it's fantastic that Common and Kweli sold so well. But I'm not
surprised. They've always created high quality music and exemplify that
hard work, talent, and more hard work would reap benefits.
Common is doing movies now. So he gets his face out there to new
audiences. Kweli tours constantly and is always providing free music,
contributing to blogs, and talk panels.
So his visibility was definitely there this time. Swizz on the other
hand, I have not seen ANY promotion beyond the video for "It's Me
Snitches!" In a recent conversation, Swizz acknowledged the
status of his sales and attributed it to poor promotion and stores just
not having his product. When confronted with the idea that the masses
are not looking towards the producer/rapper combo, Swizz shrugged it
off. "I'm an entertainer, not a rapper." He responds.

Common and Kweli's
albums were top notch work with singles just as hyped as Swizz. 50 will
sell well of course.
Jimmy Iovine isn't going to let his numero uno money-maker tank. Kanye's
product is better than Mr. Cent's. After reviewing "Curtis", 50 has
already spent the summer (informally and formally) releasing 5 different
singles. "Ayo Technology" and "I Get Money" being his biggest hits on
the album. 50's cd isn't terrible in any way, one just can't listen to
it after "Graduation" and expect to hear greatness on that level. His
best bet is to drop a remix to one of those tracks and pray for miracle.
Even Eminem phoned it in. 50 is also mega-entreprenuer. He's hands-on with everything...So when you got
big dogs phoning-in verses, and your mind split between the different
avenues of your empire, the focus is off. This is the same thing that's
happening to TI right now!

Nevertheless, I don't see a renaissance. I
think alot of individuals have finally caught on to how these artists
have been putting it down,
and soulful, intricate beats are returning. Hip-Hop goes through phases.
But the climate does seem to be changing to more introspect rather than
Can we thank Don Imus? Ummm no...
Props have to be given to Jay-Z for that. Hip-Hop's audience is getting
older. There's a need for contemporary category in rap. Previously I
dogged "Kingdom Come", but it had to be tough creating the first adult
contemporary Hip-Hop album. And other emcees are seemingly following
that path.

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7 Responses

  1. You know I have to agree with Quentin on that. The balance in hip-hop was missing for a long minute. I mean there was always some type of gangsta' music, always some kind of party & bullshit music, and always some kind of real MCs (and I'm not agreeing with anyone that Kanye is a real MC, but anyway...) -- what happened for a long time though, is that one type dominated on radio and charts and awards so much and other artists weren't getting the right type of promotion or attention.
    It's really the music industry's game. If you always look at the popular vote, ATCQ is still very much a blueprint. And The Roots and their ilk are always the favorite.
    Record sales and music industry promotion are an entirely different thing, and it's about more than music than simply keeping up with racist stereotypes.

  2. This conversation is fascinating to me, and I agree with most of what's being said here. But Zillz, you gotta know that Jay did not create the first contemporary hip-hop album. You have to know that it was De La Soul.
    Peep Easy-Chair Rap.

  3. Good point about Kweli, Zillz. In this day and age where the industry is crumbling right before our eyes, good old-fashioned hustle counts for a lot. Kweli tours relentlessly, has built up his internet presence after initially being reluctant, dropped mixtapes and exclusive material and generally makes sure his face stays fresh in front of the public. He's locked down his core audience and attained just enough recognition with the mainstream to gain a helpful boost.
    As for a renaissance, I wonder if the market is just too fragmented for such a thing. I think the days when everybody likes and buys the same thing(s) are behind us. Radio is dying. It's all about multiple pluralities of popularity, not a majority. The best we can hope for is further long tail activity, where niche artists can better connect with audiences and have successful careers without having to do the huge sales numbers that defined success up until very recently.
    And Lynne, The Roots and their ilk are always the favorite of whom? The only solid answer is critics. Most general hip-hop listeners couldn't tell you who Black Thought is and The Roots survive off of their shows because their records never sell.

  4. I think these artists are really trying to expand themselves by getting out of the "underground hip hop" box. Talib working with Justin Timberlake, Kanye with Chris Martin, Common....just being the Common that most people dig regarless....I think they artists realize the importance of being able to expand themselves and their creativity.
    However, I must say that Talib seems to be the most stagnant. I'm not really happy with his new album. He hasn't really grown as an artist IMO, regardless of working with a few well known producers and artists. But I'm happy for his success nonetheless.

  5. I would say it is a bit too soon to be celebrating. The artists mentioned have been consistent in their quality so their success isn't all that suprising. Again where is the new quality talent? Seems like the industry isn't investing in tommorow's quality artists.
    50 Cent's album bombing would be/is a very nice start though.
    Very , very nice.

  6. I didn't know my words were on SoulBounce. You owe me a check (heh). I do like this committee deal though.
    I agree with neobanzia; there needs to be some reach back. And was there any mention of Talib in tonight's Timberlake + Kanye + Timberland + 50 lovefest at the VMAs?

  7. DJ Stylus says: "And Lynne, The Roots and their ilk are always the favorite of whom? The only solid answer is critics. Most general hip-hop listeners couldn't tell you who Black Thought is and The Roots survive off of their shows because their records never sell."
    But that's exactly what I meant. They like the Clipse are a critics favorite. They get written about a lot. No they don't sell. But they tour a lot -- and they have a huge following in that regard. People may not buy their records, but they definitely buy their tickets.