September 23, 2010

Hip-Hop’s Natural Selection

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Hip-hop’s rebellious adolescent years are over. The genre that was once none for its gun-toting, gang-affiliating, gangster roots is now being dominated by the mainstream. Hip-hop is no longer solely a representation of hating the police, dealing drugs and street life, but has now been deemed an art form. Critics are taking it seriously and rappers are exploiting this to bring their music to the general pubic.

Hip-hop’s metamorphosis began as it started to be accepted by the masses. While groups like N.W.A. were singing songs like “F*** the Police” it was hard for many audiences, that yes, consist of vast amounts of white people, to fully embrace the music. Most listeners with the money to buy records, t-shirts and concert tickets were not in fact “Straight Outta Compton.” This type of barrier between audiences and the music prevented the major sales and recognition that gangster rap artists deserved for pioneering the genre.

Even into the early 2000s as rap music started to gain in popularity, the same barrier continued. Emcees like 50 Cent and Dr. Dre allowed the tone of their music to shift towards the mainstream, creating club hits and adding more musicality to their beats, but the content of the lyrics still kept their songs from being true sing-a-longs. Even Eminem, one of the best selling artists of the last decade, stirred controversy over his performance with Elton John at the 2001 Grammys because of the homophobic and misogynistic content of his lyrics.

In the last couple of years, though, a new generation of hip-hop has emerged that has rid itself of the violence and crudity of its forefathers. Political and social commentators like Mos Def, Talib Kweli and The Roots are gaining prominence, while crossover artists like B.o.B. and Kid Cudi are toying with the boundaries of hip-hop, blending it with pop and rock alike to widen their potential fan bases. Some new emcees like J.Cole and Curren$y have stayed more loyal to their hip-hop roots, but have made the shift by leaving the excessive violence and money-flaunting behind and embracing a cleaner style. J. Cole jokes in his song “Who Dat?” “[people ask me] Where … yo chain at?/Guess it’s something like your girl, n***** it ain’t came yet.” Sure, the flashier, more violent side of hip-hop still exists, but it’s becoming a laughable fringe consisting of “rappers” like Wacka Flacka Flame, Gucci Mane and Rick Ross, pushed aside by artists that have learned to take advantage of the potential audiences that appealing to pop-culture can provide.

A key factor in this shift is that artists are beginning to realize the potential of the feature, incorporating artists from different genres and backgrounds to gain new fan bases. Emcees are daring to work with or remix musicians of all backgrounds, trying to spread their music to fans that normally would have never picked up their album. B.o.B. and Wale especially have become masters of the feature. B.o.B.’s first album, released earlier this year, was perhaps the most diverse and feature heavy hip-hop album to date. Likewise, Wale, in an attempt to appeal to critics that have decried his music for so long has worked with a variety of artists, including Lady Gaga, K’Naan, Daniel Merriweather and Chrisete Michele and has even based two of his mixtapes on the hit TV show Seinfeld. Even old school rappers like Snoop Dogg have caught on, made apparent by his work on Katy Perry’s recent hit “California Gurls.”

Some may be wondering whether or not hip-hop is selling out? Well, for fans like me, it’s not. I grew up loving the hip-hop that my parents would never let me sing along with. The fact that it’s finally socially acceptable for me to jam out with my favorite artists has me rapping my heart away (ask anyone who has driven with me for more than 15 minutes). In my mind, we are reaching a rap renaissance that has gone into full force in 2010 with promising albums from many of the genre’s finest musicians.

This year has already seen solid examples of this rap renaissance. Kidz in the Hall (a group that met at that inferior Ivy League school in Pennsylvania) released Land of Make Believe in March, an album that, despite mixed reviews, showed real progress for the group. Curren$y showed his shift to mainstream with the release of Pilot Talk, a fantastic album that features Mos Def in his poetic element on the hook of “The Day.” Big Boi, once considered the less pop-friendly half of Outkast, dropped Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, one of the year’s best hip-hop albums that features an eclectic mix of beats and a hook from the relatively unheard of group Vonnegutt.

In the final months of 2010, rap will see some of the most anticipated releases of the last few years. Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager has high potential to be one of the year’s best. Multiple tracks have already leaked off of the album along with the release of the single “Erase Me,” a track that can almost be considered pop-rock. J.Cole is set to release Cole World, his long-overdue first studio album, and Lil Wayne will drop I Am Not a Human Being, complete with, as expected, extensive Drake features. Skyzoo & Illmind will offer up Live From the Tape Deck and, last but certainly not least, who could forget Kanye West, who will drop Dark Twisted Fantasy in November. The album will contain his single “Power ft. Dwele” and it promises, like everything that Kanye touches, to somehow breed public spectacle.

Hip-hop’s evolution is going into hyper drive this fall and we as listeners get to sit back and watch the metamorphosis. For those of you who are not rap fans now, let’s just see what you have to say come New Years.

Original Author: Adam Lerner