Rap is currently in a strange space it has never occupied before. There are a wide assortment of relevant artists still signed to majors with careers that span more than a decade. From the introduction of the first Rap records in 1979 to the first legitimate wave of classic Rap albums in 1984 the landscape of underground and mainstream Rap has never before experienced such a phenomenon. Hip-Hop was originally a young person’s culture but it’s going to turn 40 next July. That means it’s currently going through a mid-life crisis.
In previous generations of Hip-Hop, the older emcees were essentially herded out of the game by the younger, hungrier, more lyrically and technically advanced emcees of that era. New Schoolers like Run-DMC ran off Old School crews like The Funky Four Plus One, Crash Crew and The Furious Five. Next Schoolers like Rakim, Kool G. Rap and Big Daddy Kane forced New Schoolers like Kurtis Blow and Busy Bee to tap out and ultimately even surpassed other New School legends like Whodini and The Fat Boys.
This continued on as a rash of younger emcees constantly entered the game making legends step aside and forcing many others to hang it up altogether in increasing numbers as the first and second Golden Eras of Hip-Hop progressed. When you have cats like Treach and Snoop Dogg to contend with what’s really the point of continuing anyways? Let them have it. It’s their time…
It was almost the natural order of things in Hip-Hop, an urban culture where new generations manifest themselves every three to five years (as opposed to every 20 years due to cultural shifts or advances in the technology used to make music). Suddenly something odd began to happen during the mid to late 90’s. Emcees that already had relatively lengthy careers began to hang around (such as LL Cool J) and others that are still around today began solo careers (such as Ghostface Killah).
Today we have groups like The Roots in the 20th year of their careers still signed to a major and cats like Jay-Z (whose career on wax began in 1990), Nas (his career on wax began in 1991) and Common (his debut LP dropped in 1992) still releasing chart topping albums with songs that instantly enter the rotation on mainstream Hip-Hop radio. Nas’ new album “Life Is Good” was just the #1 selling album on the Billboard charts not too long ago.
Busta Rhymes recently signed with YMCMB to release his latest major label album and his career with Leaders Of The New School began back in 1990. Veterans like Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and Fat Joe still record and it isn’t beyond reason for them to possibly produce radio hits in 2012. All of this in a Hip-Hop climate where late 90’s MCs like Jadakiss and Styles P to early 00’s cats like Ludacris and Fabolous are considered “old school” in comparison to newer rappers that presently have the ears of modern Rap audiences.
Underground Hip-Hop is rife with 15 to 20+ year veterans still recording quality material and touring the world. They are among the biggest draws at yearly Hip-Hop concerts and festivals worldwide and they regularly make the best albums each calendar year as well. Let’s not forget that they still manage to put on much better live shows than their younger counterparts in most cases.
In a group of elder artists that includes members of the Wu Tang Clan, Hieroglyphics Crew and Boot Camp Click, Redman, Pharoahe Monch, M.O.P., Large Professor, Cormega, The Beatnuts, The Alkaholiks, Blaq Poet, AZ, El-P, Ill Bill, J-Live, Talib Kweli, Elzhi, Yasiin Bey, Lewis Parker, Roc Marciano, De La Soul, MURS, Chali 2na, Evidence they’ve all amassed a loyal fan base of consumers who will buy their new material, support them and go see them when they tour and come to their town religiously. We are in a previously unseen era in Hip-Hop history in that particular regard.
Adding to this anomaly where newly relevant artists occupy the same realm as 20+ year veterans is a visible generational gap in approach and presentation of the art form. Now young rappers with a completely different value system in regards to the Rap world interact with those that still cling to the old tenets of the culture. Pete Rock was incensed at Lupe Fiasco for his lackluster take on his classic song. Lord Finesse, in turn, sued relative newcomer Mac Miller for recording over his instrumental then using it to promote his now burgeoning career two years after the fact.
On one hand I’m all for Lord Finesse suing Mac Miller purely from a Hip-Hop standpoint. But from this same exact “purely Hip Hop standpoint,” suing a rapper over spitting on your instrumental for his mixtape is extremely anti-Hip-Hop. Bringing litigation into the matter is extremely corporate, especially since he didn’t sue Joey Bada$$ who also spit over a Lord Finesse instrumental on “Funky Ho” for his mixtape “1999.” This lawsuit could potentially set a dangerous precedent where the entire mixtape culture could take another major hit just like it did back when the Internet first became prominent.
I totally understand why Lord Finesse would look at the big picture from a business and personal/financial standpoint. It’s the smart thing to do, especially if Rostrum Records just decides on a settlement and pays him a large sum of money. My issue from a Hip-Hop and a litigious standpoint is this could potentially start a wave of producers suing rappers, rappers suing other rappers and ultimately recording artists from outside genres suing them both. It’ll be just like the second Hip-Hop Golden Era all over again…except not in a good way.
We are currently in previously unexplored territory in regards to Hip-Hop’s history. There are lot of questions in front of us. What is the future of this culture in the face of an overly corporate landscape? On one side we have a post Internet Era fanbase as well as rappers/emcees that don’t share the same cultural views as either the still relevant on the mainstream Rap veterans OR the underground Hip-Hop vets that are still make excellent music year in and year out.
On the other side, we have a great deal of older, still capable emcees and producers that aren’t going to go silently into that good night. They previously usurped the wave of emcees and producers that came before them and if this generation wants to rightly claim Hip-Hop for itself and become the new torchbearers of this culture they must first understand that they’re expected to do the exact same thing that their predecessors did.
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