--Posted by: Jay Abstract

Much to my father's dismay, I've always been a radio hog. Even since my younger years, barely old enough to see over the snow-covered dashboard, the second that seatbelt clicked in and we pulled out onto icy I-95 for the drive home- I was in control.

It was the 90's- The Golden Era of Rap- And I couldn't have been more hooked. While my father couldn't have been more disgusted.

" 9 to 5 is how you survive, I'm not tryna survive, I'm tryna live it to the limit and love it a lot. "
- Jay Z

Lyrics like that filled my head with dreams of pursuing your passion and succeeding despite all odds, while the center console in the car served as the midpoint of 2 complete opposite ends of a spectrum- My father's thought process and my own- Neither right nor wrong, just stemming from a different base experience of the human existence.

"Do you really like listening to a guy putting down people like me and your mom who work regular jobs to keep food on the table and clothes on your back? This guy's on the radio bragging about how much more he has than you- Do you really find that interesting to listen to?".

I did.

I related to Jay-Z not because I came from the same struggle as him. I was raised a prime example of middle-class: Well fed, well clothed, I had the best childhood anyone could ask for.

But like Jay-Z, I always wanted more. It didn't matter if our starting points were different, because our destination goals were the same. I had a desire to achieve greatness.

Now I have to admit, my hip hop obsession back then was a bit of a blind following of the "In" thing at the moment. I gave every artist in the genre a pass no matter what they were saying, frankly because it sounded too cool to doubt.

However, as I grew and matured, and the music seemed to go in the opposite direction, I began to feel less and less of a connection to it as what had attracted me in the first place seemed to slip away more and more and be less prevalent in songs- Originality.

It is the realization that this music is on it's last leg that forces me to have to explain how it got this way. It is a wounded dog limping between the legs of it's unsure master, shotgun in hand. Current day Hip Hop doesn't stand a chance to the fan who goes into it with an unobjective opinion, giving it the benefit of the doubt to see what it can offer.

Hip Hop has become a portrayal of character archetypes. But it wasn't always this way...

The Beginning

Hip Hop is a culture that sprouts forth from seeds planted in slavery. From a people who have been told since their birth that they are lazy, sick, worthless, inferior & stupid. New words such as the N word have even been created for the sole purpose of defining their inferiority.

Positively outnumbered and unsuccesful in the "No I'm not", "Yes you are" merry go-round, Hip Hop did an interesting thing. Instead of fighting it, it flipped the tables and turned the negatives into positives.

If they were the N word, then that was a positive thing. If they were dumb, then that was as well.

" I was dumb glad, this **** didn't fit in one bag "
-Big L

"Why are they calling each other the N word but they get mad when someone else says it?", my father would ask. And believe me when I tell you, the reasoning goes much deeper than one word ending in 'a' and the other in 'er'.

Artists have been successful at converting their negative experiences into positive ones for decades. Artists such as Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Common & Lupe Fiasco spin musical tales of overcomming the worst of circumstances.

Of course, not all artists in the genre wanted to end it at turning their negative experiences into positive ones. Others wanted to show you exactly what you, as their oppressor, had created. It was a big middle finger to the America that had forced them into such a dismal existance.

Enter Gangster Rap

Artists such as NWA popularized a violent musical culture that would take the world by storm. There is a reason 90% of news stories are about negative events. It attracts attention. And this is exactly what gangster rap did as middle-class Americans all over the country couldn't turn away as a life they had never even dreamed of unfolded in front of their eyes in every form of creation the senses could take in- Audio, Video, Literature, etc.

This would eventually culminate in the assassination of 2 of the gangster rap genre's biggest and most influential stars- Tupac Shakur & Christopher "Notorious BIG" Wallace, 2 former friends caught up in a partly media-influenced East Coast-West Coast rivalry that would eventually claim both their lives in the late 90's.

The music industry, like any other, requires money and financial backing to run, and the front page of the Boston Globe returns a lot more on their investment than an article in the obituary column, and thus began the slow decline of the original, free speech music of Hip Hop. It hadn't been perfect to this point, but it was original.

The Southern Takeover

It wouldn't be long until the "Party Anthem" and "Club Banger" era arrived in the early 2000's, ushered in primarily from artists in the southern regions of the country. It was at this point rap became more and more characterized- Archetypes of the gangster, pimp & loose female.

Characterization makes marketing simpler for the record companies, who now get rich off an image that deteriorates an entire community. There's no more free speech, there's just similar character types of the individuals that once did really speak their mind before labels stepped in and forced them to "dumb it down".

Hip Hop has now become exactly what my father had previously thought it was, and I find myself with less and less ground to stand on as I have to quote time periods now nearly a decade old to prove my points, even losing my own connection to it as time progresses forward.

Will I end up like my own father, constantly quoting the music of my "glory days" while trying to convince my son why my music's better than his generations?


But I can tell you, I will definitely speak freely when I do it...

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  1. Anonymous Said,

    well said my friend, it always seems the big suits at in the big buildings have to have a say in what has to go into the music. hopefully one day some artist will break through and reach the top by being themselves, without selling out to the labels.

    Posted on February 22, 2011 at 3:31 PM

  2. Anonymous Said,

    I don't know how I got linked to this but it is very amateur. I felt like I was reading a 4th grade book report. Kill yourself Jayabstract. You will never win a pulitzer!

    Posted on May 20, 2014 at 7:32 AM


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