This Seattle Times story about the ill effect capitalism has had on hip-hop in the last decade or so commits all of the basic cardinal sins before we’re even out of the intro. Namely treating the notion that “rappers are now as much businessmen as artists…if not more so!” as some sort of newsflash and then going on to editorialize about it in the voice of an aghast PTA meeting. And yet, it’s not entirely off the mark:
With such varied interests, it’s sometimes easy to overlook what put 50 Cent in a position to pursue those opportunities in the first place: music. Yet music in the hip-hop era has ceased to be its own end.
The rap game in particular is increasingly just another hustle, a starting point for would-be moguls seeking to establish themselves as brands and cash in on their names. It’s savvy, from a business and marketing standpoint, but it’s having a deleterious effect on quality and creativity, especially in the mainstream rap world.
Indeed, the title of 50 Cent’s 2004 debut says it all: “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.” Still, Fiddy is not to blame. Like any good businessman, he’s responding to the marketplace. In this case, it’s a marketplace that emphasizes hit singles over lasting careers, the homogenizing reliance on the same group of record producers to supply those hits, and the continuing dominance of bling-rap tunes obsessed with violence, subservient women and status-symbol possessions.
And on it goes, noting that hip-hop is no longer a strong album format thanks to the 10-different-producers-per-album trend, that white folks are suckers for a good racial stereotype, that hip-hop is the new hair metal and it needs a punk rock or a Kurt Cobain to boot it in the ass, and other complaints we’ve heard a thousand times before.
Still, we’re at a weird time for talking about hip-hop at the moment; daring to point out any of the genre’s possible flaws or failings is tantamount to treason, whereby you’re forced to hand over your Team Hip-Hop membership card. It’s not cool to mention that, even if you take current mainstream hip-hop as straight-up bubblegum, the endless stream of mercenary hacks and half-assed “businessmen” going through the motions of releasing a single in order to count their stacks can be wearying as hell. That even if you take hip-hop as just dance music with strings of rhymed words between the hook, the artless icewater “reality” of those words can make your flesh crawl if you’re not just numb to it at this point. At the same time the last year or so has seen a flood of similar articles, most based around the post-Imus grumbling over rap’s conent and some obvioiusly more credible than others, which seem to be emboldening a growning number of hip-hop fans, people who had previously resigned themselves to mainsteam rap’s omnipresence, into voicing their complaints about the genre in public.
On the one hand, you read hectoring articles like this Seattle Times story–articles where the shocked and appalled tone makes it impossible to take even the reasonable sentiments seriously–and you realize the hip-hop ostriches have half a point. On the other hand, if we weren’t drowning in horseshit like “Party Like A Rockstar,” it might make it easier to completely shrug off bubblegum hip-hop’s haters as simply out of touch, instead of worrying that these fogeys may be more right than anyone cares to admit. Much like the less hysterical condemnations of hip-hop’s lyrical concerns, you find yourself agreeing with the basic thrust (i.e., no one needs to say bitch that much, no one needs to keep putting out shitty pop records if they can make just as much money selling sugar water and leave our airwaves alone, etc.), while wanting to distance yourself from the way these things are being discussed. I doubt we’re looking at an upcoming internal war among hip-hop fans, but there’s a growing sense of dissatisfaction with rap’s content and business model that’s butting up against well-entrenched “this is the way things are” mentality that should make the dialogue that much more interesting, if occasionally embarassing, over the coming months.