Hip Hop music has changed a lot since becoming what we have grown to know and love. While at its core, Hip Hop is all about being nice on the mic and the competition aspect of who has the best raps. But today, it has very much become all about the money and what will sell and we mean literally anything. This makes us question how was life growing up when the likes of Jay-Z and Nas were just reaching the height of their careers; before they became living rap legends.
To explore this idea, we would have to throw ourselves back into the 1990’s and probably land somewhere in New York. It is well known that the genre, first thought to be only a fad like Disco, was born in the Bronx. From there it spread like wild fire to the other boroughs in NY and went on to become one of the world’s most influential genres. Hip Hop all around has influenced our style, the way we dress, the way we talk, art and what we think is cool at any given time. And when rappers like The Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Biggie Smalls, Big Pun and Jay-Z were entering the rap game, corporations and other people in power were just starting to realize how much of an impact it truly had.
I’d like to think that the mid 90’s to early 2000’s was when Hip Hop was last at it’s essence. The rappers that came before this era had to struggle to be heard and taken seriously, especially by mainstream media and corporate sponsors. However, this struggle would make the next generation of talented rappers and MCs very rich and in some cases practically over night. The thought that we could do it too, raced through the minds of every intercity kid that came from the bottom and brought hope that one day they too could make it to the top. Rappers were given crazy advances, record deal contracts and it was nothing to have a video that cost over $1 million to make.
But that is not why we wish we were in the mix at the core of this era. The music industry has changed drastically since this time in Hip Hop and has just become something else. It is completely trash compared to the previous era. A lot of music is just put out and the art of creating something meaningful is missing and has been taken over by greed. Artists are often signed after one song without even seeing if they have the potential for longevity. They are then sucked dry by the industry and tossed to the side when they no longer have anything to offer. In a nutshell to say that Hip Hop is oversaturated with wannabe artists and rappers would be an understatement!
But when Jay-Z and Nas were in their prime, Hip Hop was real and gave you a totally different feeling. The struggles that were never talked about before, were sustainable and in the world’s face to see.
From life growing up in the projects to police violence to having to sell drugs to survive, for the first time in music, no topic was off limits. It was real, it was raw and sometimes even heart breaking.
Before it was cool to rap about killing people, many young rappers were actually experiencing it. Their fight to provide a better life for themselves was the most interesting part and to see young black men show the world that they refused to be the forgotten.
The music in that era was authentic and being an actuality, the songs were pure. It was just different. I go back in my mind to when songs like Hard Knock Life (Jay-Z, Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life, 1998) and If I Ruled the World (Nas, It Was Written, 1996) came out. While I was a kid, I still remember how it made me feel. Even if I did not understand the meaning behind being black in America at the time, I without a doubt do now, and it is enough to know what we hear now, just isn’t the same.
That era provided a foundation of array of different songs as well as sounds of Hip Hop. It eventually spread throughout the nation and now is an international phenomenon. As it reached different parts of the United States, different sounds were birthed like the Southern sound in Atlanta or Gangsta Rap founded on the West Coast. Hip Hop was larger than life then, a real time when people were living the life, not just talking about it and trying exploiting it. Music from the 1990’s and before is still seems pure to this day and is often listened to in order to take us back to a time, a time when money, and street life and women, wasn’t just an average thing, it was a lifestyle meant to be cherish. Hip Hop in the times of Jay-Z and Nas showed that the less fortunate to could live “the life” that they were told they could never have.
So we ask the question…is Hip Hop Dead?
Photo Credit: Fabio Venni Flickr
Video: Nas, If I Ruled the World, It Was Written, 1996