We Sold Hip Hop to the Highest Bidder (?)
Over the past 10 years, older fans appear to be more and more frustrated with the “State of Hip Hop.” People are upset about the content, images and behavior displayed in public and now on social media by the artists. There are older fans that cringe at what the culture has become and tune out a lot of the material. Well, it’s your fault that Hip Hop is the way it is right now. It’s your fault that each year the music is less about talent and more about popularity. When I say it’s “Your” fault, I’m talking about late 80’s and 90’s Rappers, Fans, Record Labels and Radio Stations. You can’t feed the beast and expect the beast to not grow. Remember one thing, in the beginning we owned Hip Hop (rapping, djing, graffiti art, and break dancing, etc) and there was no compromise.
In the early 80’s of Hip Hop, it was more about the culture and lifestyle of a Community. There were house parties and eventually people started talking on microphones to get the crowed excited. They were basically the “MC” of the party, the hype men. We have to remember, during the early days of Rap, it wasn’t looked at like actual music. It was viewed as a hobby to many outside of the culture. Even though Sugar Hill Gang and Kurtis Blow were popular, it wasn’t until Run DMC and LL Cool J reached prominence that Rap Music and Hip Hop overall started to be taken serious. This was around 1984-85.
During the next 5 years several monumental occurrences began to take place. Record Companies grew more powerful, Artists became international stars, and Radio Stations started receiving financial kickbacks from Executives who controlled the music. What happened during this time was Artists saying “Give me as much money as you can right now”, not thinking about the details in Contracts, Masters and freedom to dip into other endeavors with 100% immunity. Huge Media Corporations became the true "Kings" of Hip Hop. This is during the time we really started allowing Moguls to literally "Prostitute" our Culture. Look at Automobile, Clothing and Food Commercials, what do they each have in common now? They play rap music, dancing and link potential consumers to Hip Hop. Business is a vicious game. To be honest, money is new to our community so the thirst of obtaining it can be toxic in a sense. We started to sell our art to the highest bidders, not considering the consequences.
Record Executives, Corporate Lawyers and Business Sharks started to sweep Hip Hop as a Culture and Rap Music right from under our feet. The Artists were enjoying monetary success and the fans danced to the music. What we didn’t see was how the “Puppet Masters” started allowing us to self-destruct as long as they were heavily compensated off our talent and exploitation. The Party Music slowly transformed into Pimp Rap, Drug Rap, Strip Club Rap, Violent Rap as well as Socially Conscious Rap. Yes, in the mist of NWA (Niggaz Wit Attitudes) we did have Chuck D and Public Enemy. Both of these groups dominated the late 80’s but by 1992, Dr. Dre released The Chronic and Hip Hop changed again. The days of Queen Latifah, Public Enemy, Brand Nubians, The X-Clan and Poor Righteous Teachers were slowly becoming a thing of the past. The Records seemed like they were doing their best to promote negative aspects of inner city life. Black Pride and African Medallions were overshadowed by Gun Talk.
From 1985 to 1995, Hip Hop went through several extremes leading up to the deaths of Tupac (1996) and Biggie (1997). I will be honest and say these were my High School and College years and I absolutely loved the music. Unlike some kids, I could differentiate between fact and fiction. Rap Music is our CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, I definitely admit that. There are MC’s that paint vivid pictures of our reality but there is a responsibility in telling “our story.” The money encouraged a lot of Rappers to say whatever it took to become popular so units would fly off the shelves of Record Stores. Record Companies want to sell a certain image of us that make them comfortable. Our irresponsible behavior left an everlasting impression on the next generation. Hip Hop went from a Million Dollar Industry to a Billion Dollar Industry.
It would be intellectually dishonest to say that negative imagery and language don’t impact our kids. Music has “Energy” and energy is real. This is Science. At any rate, there are 2-3 Record Labels and the same “Usual Suspect” heavy hitters in Hip Hop who dictate major moves. I’m well aware of smaller Independent Labels and Artist who use YouTube and personal Websites for exposure and an outlet to release, market, and distribute their music. They learned to carve out their own destiny, which is great. With that being said, these aren’t the artist on the Billboard 100 or who dominate “Radio.” In the grand scheme of things it feel as though we don’t “OWN” Hip Hop, and we're forced to dumb down our content so Record Companies can generate their hits.
We sold Hip Hop to the highest bidder. Who are the most powerful figures in Hip Hop Music? Is it Sean Combs, Jay-Z, Master P, Dr. Dre or Steve Stoute? We know Russell Simmons no longer holds the same weight he held in the genre 20 years ago. Don’t let the Forbes Richest Hip Hop Artist list fool you. There is a level much higher for the likes of Jimmy Iovine and Lyor Cohen. There are several more on a very short list average fans have never heard about. We sold Hip Hop to the highest bidder and wonder why we don’t control what is necessary. We wonder why we can’t push artists with messages that are vital to our youth. We wonder why most of the popular songs are not educational to a community that's in need of positive reinforcement. As I previously stated, music has power and the energy is contagious.
I respect the fact that we’ve come a long way since Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel released "The Message". I appreciate how many lives have been financially upgraded because of Hip Hop and Rap Music. My point is we're “Renting” Hip Hop instead of “Owning” Hip Hop. What is our equity in Hip Hop? Nobody should be able to make more money than we do in Hip Hop at this point and time. We are the talent. Let me repeat that, we are the TALENT. We are the visionaries and artist. Our Community should not be leasing Hip Hop. We started selling shares (hypothetically speaking) of our music over 25 years ago and at some point, Hip Hop can look like Rock N Roll. Trust me, we've been here before. We have to re-establish the art and become totally independent of all things “MAJOR”, so that we're the ultimate decision makers. We have to force a “Buy Out” immediately.