The Ongoing Battle of Hip Hop

Drake continues to reign supreme on the hip hop battle field. Photo Courtesy: Brennan Schnell
Drake continues to reign supreme on the hip hop battle field. Photo Courtesy: Brennan Schnell

By Paul Esquivel

Do you ever hear how hip hop isn’t at par or on the level it use to be? Or maybe you’ve heard how it sucks, it’s always sucked and it isn’t real music. We all know those people.

Every decade or so, fans become more cynical. Talks of how the genre is declining, it’s sold out, or straight up dead, get thrown around when speaking about the current state. Remember the phase when making up a dance seemed almost mandatory to put out a radio single? That wasn’t too long ago. Maybe you agree the genre is softer and lighter? Or maybe it seems people always have a reason to say why hip hop is decaying?

Currently some say it’s over the commercialization of hip hop, and glam rap artists who dominate the  airwaves that’s holding hip hop back from being better or taken seriously. Some credit the current diss of Meek Mills by Drake this past month as proof that hip hop is in a state of crisis. Enthusiasts argue that disses and feuds aren’t nearly as intense as they use to be, saying only casual listeners find it entertaining. Some argue that the court of public opinion’s verdict on Meek and Drake is proof “that gangsta shit is dead.”

Did A$AP Rocky have a point when back in April he said “rap is the new wrestling,” calling out rappers for saying bizarre and weird stuff to make money? Isn’t that kind of ironic though when you think about  it? What about Yasiin Bey a.k.a. Mos Def calling everyone in the industry out on YouTube, only to say “battling doesn’t excite me” when Lupe Fiasco accepted his challenge? Since when can one do that and not face ridicule?

But does all this really show that there is no remaining hope for hip hop? Has it been destroyed?

Does it show that hip hop might be dead? No, it doesn’t at all.

First off, hip hop never had pop culture ambitions. One cannot judge the state of hip hop by what’s played on the radio. Since its start, the genre was never welcomed, many thought it was just a passing phase. But looking around today there is no denying the impression it has made worldwide, and that may be the same reason it’s overlooked. Almost nothing is immune to falling victim of the “it’s popular, now it sucks” cycle, but there seems to be a double-standard for hip hop.

Since its rise in popularity circa 1988, the genre has been the perfect scapegoat for the media, almost 30 years now. The same hate that isolated it from pop culture also sent the genre on its way to the  mainstream spotlight.

While the majority of media saw controversy, hip hop as a whole saw itself reach wider audiences and evolve. Songs like “Cop Killer” by Ice-T, and almost anything Eminem made, were hated by moral guardians. Any positive message most artists in hip hop tried to convey were ignored in favor of having designated bad guys.

Yet, through all this, hip hop’s influence spread across music’s landscape, creating an incredible amount of sub-genre’s, innovation and diversity, breaking stereotypes and conventional molds. It seems hip hop slowly fell into bad habits after the 2000s, which lasted up until late 2010. Before the new tens executive meddling, censorship, and profit over substance gave “glam” and “swag” rap center stage. Suits not thinking alternative/conscious hip hop artists were profitable unless they were packaged to be radio friendly, like The Black Eyed Peas and Kanye West.

Like any other music genre, hip hop has people involved in it who just want to get the biggest piece of the pie they can. People who use the culture to gain from hip hop, but not give back, cough, Iggy Azalea, but that plagues every art form. Not every song on the radio is going to be poetry, but “Pop Hop” doesn’t define hip hop. Even here in Texas the local radio stations hardly play local hip hop from Dallas unless the artist becomes nationally known, with great acts like -Topic, Dustin Cavazos, Raw Elementz, and A.Dd+ receiving no airtime. The trend is for hits first that grab a quick spotlight for artists like Fetty Wap and Makonnen.

Enthusiasts complain that many fans are guilty of liking hip hop based on other factors more than the actual musical quality of the song. The masses feel political rap is too soap boxy and the fact that BET had a memo once that said NOT to play political rap videos because it was too intelligent for its audiences only proves the point. Still while all of this is true, it doesn’t automatically mean hip hop has stopped expanding in creative directions. Hip hop’s capacity for creativity is more powerful than ever with unlimited potential.

Social media and technology bring artists, who would otherwise not receive radio play for being more experimental, to listeners’ ears who desire different sounds. Artists like Danny Brown, Childish Gambino, Big K.R.I.T. and Lil B use social media to gain a following and build large fan bases. This allowed some to get the attention of the music labels or bypass them altogether. Rappers like Kendrick Lamar are bringing the competitive nature back into the spotlight while at the same time writing protest songs keeping conscious alive in the genre.

Hip hop always will have its hacks, its fakes, its yuppies that claim not to listen to anything past The Score by The Fugees, but it also will always have its gems, geniuses and biggest of all, its impact.

What used to be seen as nothing more than crude language promoting violence, is now as American as blues, jazz and country like it or not. Hip hop always has been at odds externally and internally, but its energy rages on. Collaborations between talent from old and new school like Ghostface and Bad BadBadNotGood serve as more proof how the genre withstands the test of time.

If anything needs to be addressed in hip hop, it’s the fact that the female MCs are not receiving the respect they deserve, rather they are judged on how they look versus their skill. The likes of Lizzo, Jean Grae and Snow remain obscure and sexism in the game is all too relevant. Nicki Minaj is queen, but female rappers do not receive near the amount of exposure as their male counter parts.

That doesn’t mean hip hop isn’t alive though, the MCs I listed are breaking barriers now.

The beautiful movement that started hip hop isn’t dead. In fact hip hop will never die, but you will.