One of the biggest complaints I hear from heads that can recall the two previous Golden Eras of Hip Hop is that mainstream/major label Rap/Hip Hop has strayed too far from what made many of us initially fall in love with it. Now, it’s almost 2012 and things still aren’t getting any better. If anything it seems things may be getting exponentially worse for Rap music quality wise. For those of us that remember better times this is hard to stomach and/or accept.
There were many of us (myself included) that pretty much abandoned mainstream Rap altogether circa 1997 instead opting to listen to underground or indie Hip Hop while waiting for things to “get back to normal” or for “that real shit” to return to prominence once that era ended. Going on 15 years later not only have things continued to deteriorate but the rift between the underground and mainstream that first began to open after the signing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 has also managed to widen exponentially with the passage of time until it has become a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon.
At one point in time the underground actually helped to fuel the mainstream and major label Rap industry and spur it on. The competition created by up and comers in the Rap game kept those in the spotlight on point for fear they’d get outshined by a hungrier young emcee or producer. Steel sharpened steel. Problem is, nowadays the dull knives in the drawer are the shiniest ones thus attracting the most attention and those with superior lyrical prowess or a higher syllable count are looked down upon. Boom bap production is cast aside as people gravitate towards Pop leaning Electro or Techno beats with weak, filtered out drums. This can’t be life! © Shawn Corey Carter
Since Hip Hop has turned into two separate scenes instead of just one with many different aspects, the old natural checks and balances that were once in place are all but gone completely. The industry has taken complete control of the mainstream Rap game and has all but removed the skill, artistic or innovative aspects from the music. Now only but 5 artists move any significant number of units or are even allowed to do anything remotely smacking of being “different”.
Since the mainstream or casual Rap fan is completely oblivious to any rappers or emcees that aren’t currently on the radio or getting spins at the club they stay in the dark. Since none of the more substance based artists with advanced lyrical content ever get heard next to the current crop of Short Bus Rap that’s all the rage nowadays there’s no direct competition between these emcees for the fan’s ears. Without that balance and that much needed direct competition between these artists there’s no chance we’ll ever see another Golden Era in Hip Hop.
In any profession, no matter what it may be you get better at it when you’re constantly pit against competition or forced to compete against the best in a particular field. Sink or swim. In each Golden Era of Hip Hop not only was the competition at the highest level between emcees, DJ’s and producers in terms of skill and innovation but to gain the hearts and minds of the fans. For the most part the best and the most respected in Hip Hop were the most relevant in each era. What a coincidence! Relevance depended on the quality of your music which in turn dictated the level of attention you got from music outlets (radio and video) and the Hip Hop press.
In conclusion, with the current status quo in place and given the current trajectory of the industry and the present mainstream Rap aesthetic there will never be another Golden Era in Hip Hop. Due to the fact that not only is there no balance at the major label level in terms of the lyrical content, subject matter or skill level of the rappers that get airplay or media attention while the entire underground Rap scene goes all but completely ignored by the majority of potential Rap listeners and purchasers.
Without both sides coexisting (like they did during the last two Golden Eras from 1986-1989 and 1992-1996) instead of this “separate but equal” Rap Apartheid/Jim Crow situation we have today nothing will ever get better. Emcees will never be forced to have to step their bars up. Producers won’t have to stop doing the same damn drum roll at the beginnings of songs for fear of being overshadowed by other producers that were once kept under wraps. Fans will never discover that lyricism actually isn’t dead and Rap publications will never be forced to stop putting mediocre rappers on their damb covers.
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