On December 15, 2006, Nas, the most significant emcee from his generation, largely because he served as the bridge between what we have termed ‘the golden age of hip-hop’ to the next generation of emcees, released an album titled, Hip-Hop is Dead. The album title was startling, yet also touched upon a major discussion point that those of us who loved the culture dared to only speak about behind closed doors for fear of damaging Hip-Hop. That discussion point was the realization that Hip-Hop Culture, Rap Music in particular, had changed so much that those of us who had not only created the culture, but also nursed it through its growing pains, no longer recognized it. The rapper Common was seemingly listening in on the innumerable conversations regarding the demise of Rap Music when he pinned the ode, ‘I Used to Love Her.’
Although many of my contemporaries argued that there was no sign of life, let alone an indicator that when Nas released his aforementioned album that Hip-Hop Culture was still governed or motivated by any of the original values and objectives. I balked at such assertions and steadfastly maintained that Hip-Hop Culture was merely going through something that should be best considered an adolescent fit that she would emerge from in due time, she always has. I refused to consider the bountiful evidence that others hurled against Hip-Hop Culture when they pointed out the non-sense lyrics that were now passing for lyricism, the degradation and maligning of Black Men and Women in rap videos, and the disappearance of independently owned and distributed African-American record companies as valid evidence of its demise. I held out hope that the pendulum would eventually swing away from the materialism, misogyny, and lyrical tomfoolery that had so quickly become a fixture within Hip-Hop Culture and back toward politicized rap lyrics, progressive politics, and uplifting imagery of African-American men, women, and children.
Quite possibly the only reason that I was able to hold out while others lost hope was that I have been extremely caution regarding what I listen to. I tended to not listen to the radio for fear of what I may hear. So while others were spiraling further and further into a nihilistic view of Rap Music, my hopes remained buoyed because I was still listening to Rakim, Ice Cube, KRS-ONE, Queen Latifah, PE, MC Lyte, NAS, Scarface, and would slip in a little taste of contemporary artists such as Lupe Fiasco, Kendrick Lamar, and Big K.R.I.T.
I soon settled upon a belief that it was Big K.R.I.T. who was most equipped to be the emcee that served as the bridge to another glorious period of enlightened lyricism. So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that Big K.R.I.T. would be coming to Houston, Texas to perform. There was certainly no way that I would allow this opportunity to an individual who had already established himself as a lyrical genius pass me by.
Although my intention was to enjoy the show, and I must admit that Big K.R.I.T. did his thing lyrically, however, the most shocking aspect of the event was not anything that occurred on stage; rather, it was the audience. I was amazed at how many whites had flocked to hear K.R.I.T., from my observation whites and Mexican-Americans made up the vast majority of the audience. I quickly realized that just as Blacks and whites have varying views upon racial issues, there is another significant divide marring Rap Music, that being a widening gulf between those who are steeped in lyrics and those who are not. Big K.R.I.T.’s place as one of the best lyricist in the rap game is not up for debate, he displays an uncanny flow that he repeatedly displays on club bangers for those who simply want to listen to great music and beats. However, for others, it is K.R.I.T.’s introspective lyrics in tracks such as Something, I Gotta Stay, and Meditate that serve as the best part of any engagement with this emcee.
I was extremely amused by the whites in attendance as they attempted to catch what was apparently an extremely elusive beat to the music being played by DJ Mister Rogers between sets, more illuminating was the reality that their were classic tunes being played such as the Geto Boys’, My Mind Is Playing Tricks on Me, that shockingly did not move the whites, however, any song dealing with superficial bullshit such as drug dealing, alcohol, or shaking your ass was celebrated as if it were the best pumpkin pie that they had ever tasted. As the night went forward, I noticed that it was in fact the audience that was dictating not only what DJ Mister Rogers played, but also to a lesser-extent Big K.R.I.T.’s song choice. There was a lull in what came to resemble a hip-hop club whenever a lyrical song was performed; however, uproarious joy ensued the moment a song celebrating cars, materialism, or general bullshit began. It was obvious that the majority of the concertgoers and I had come to this event for vastly different reasons, I desired to hear a poignant lyricist and they, meaning both Black, white, and brown partygoers, wanted to merely have a good time, drink alcohol, and smoke marijuana. The entire scene saddened me beyond measure as I could clearly see what Hip-Hop Culture had denigrated into.
It was obvious that what others had been telling me for at least the past decade was true, a multiracial coalition of ignoramuses have captured Hip-Hop Culture and they will never willingly relinquish it. To see a lyricist such as Big K.R.I.T. have to shy away from introspective lyrical masterpieces was a damn shame. The entire situation ironically reminded me of one of K.R.I.T.’s most recent recording, Mount Olympus. Where K.R.I.T. responds to those who have ignored his contributions as an emcee for so long and only now are they becoming receptive to his music, not his lyrics, rather his music. Big K.R.I.T. states in this recording,
Rap battlin’ never got me out of no public housin’
You tellin’ me I can be King of Hip-Hop
And they wouldn’t give it to Andre 3000?
Nigga please, these awards ain’t got shit to do with us
God could physically come down and say “he the greatest
My favorite, y’all should listen, he have potential
To outlive the heatwave I’m a sit through this motherfucker
And rebuild for a whole ‘nother other culture”
And that wouldn’t be enough
So fuck these haters and fuck these hoes
Damn right I still mean that
Now they wanna hear a country nigga rap
5 albums in, I swear a country nigga snap
Thought they wanted trap, thought they wanted bass
Thought they wanted molly, thought they wanted drank
Fuck them niggas
Unfortunately, the audience is so dumbed down that it never dawned upon them that they are the people who are being addressed by Big K.R.I.T. in Mount Olympus. I guess that ignorance is truly bliss.
After experiencing the contemporary Rap scene, I am left with little choice to say that although I do not believe that Hip-Hop culture is completely dead, however, it is at best on life support. The descendants of those who created it have allowed outsiders to initially co-opt it and now take complete ownership of it; an ownership that allows for them to dictate what type of lyrics are put on albums and apparently what types of songs a great emcee like Big K.R.I.T. even performs at his concert. Today’s audiences simply refuse to move if it is something of substance aimed at uplifting Black folk; unfortunately, this fact includes African-Americans concertgoers.
A part of me feels like simply walking away from Hip-Hop Culture and Rap Music completely, however, the larger part of me wants to continue the fight to return Rap Music back to its original purpose of uplifting the Black community. And knowing myself, it will be the latter, the decision to fight, that emerges victorious; so I intuitively realize that I will always stand and fight for Hip-Hop Culture. So let me deliver the initial blow by telling all of those who oppose lyricism, in the words of Big K.R.I.T. “Fuck them niggas.” It’s on, let’s work to reclaim, redirect, and own our cultural creation.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III