A couple of years ago at The Hip Hop Congress Conference, I walked in on a few folks talking about what people at these conferences talk about:
"The State of Hip Hop and what we can do to save it."
Under normal circumstances, I'd immediately change course and run for shelter to protect myself from all of the bullshit that's being shot out of people's mouths; however, the conversation was taking place in the hotel room that I was staying in, and I was waiting for the pizza that I had ordered to be delivered. So, I found a seat on the other side of the room with the television and turned to ESPN.
I can't remember who the anchors were, but they seemed to keep me interested in the show enough to ignore most of the hullabaloo on the opposite side of the room despite the fact that The Lakers, Dodgers, Angels, USC, or Serena Williams weren't the constant topic. I mean, I still heard the usually blurt points like, "Hip Hop is dead" and "Kids listening to Hip Hop nowadays don't know the histrory." For the most part though, the ignorance of the "Hip Hop Elitist" was stopped by my sports filter.
What is a Hip Hop Elitist, you say? They are those hip hop fans that usually listen to songs from artists that you wouldn't normally hear on your local "mainstream" radio stations, with the exception of Common, Nas, and Kanye West. They are immersed in the culture, usually being an emcee, producer, DJ, B-boy or girl, or something that allows them the credentials to be overly critical of what they listen to.
Being that I'm describing most of you reading this blog right now, including myself, it is a safe assumption that you think that there is more to this Hip Hop Elitist thing. You're right. See, the Elitist goes a step further than just mere taste and preference. They actually believe that they own the keys to the gates of "Hip Hop," and anything that they don't like is not getting in that gate and, therefore, is not hip hop.
Back on topic. Almost two hours after stepping in the room, I'm sitting there at the TV listening to NASCAR Today, still waiting on my pizza, clinging desperately to the words of Brad Daugherty when my concentration broke (probably because I realized that I didn't know anything about NASCAR, other than Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart) and heard "All radio plays is that wack shit," which was true; however, they took it further by saying that, "people don't know what real hip hop is, and the radio and record companies don't want to give it to them."
"Every time I think I'm out they drag me back in," I thought. So I took a deep breath, sighed, and said, "That's not true."
"What's not true?" someone replied.
"Your entire statement is bull shit." I was setting him up.
"What are you talking about? Hip hop has changed. It used to be about reporting what you see going on. It used to mean something. Now they disrespect women, make up dances, and talk about being in the trap all of the time." Of course, his fellow Aristocrats nodded in agreement.
"First off homie, hip hop changing has nothing to do with what you just said before. Days change, people change, and music changes. Does Chuck Berry sound like The Beatles? Do they sound like Jimmy Hendrix? Did he sound like Rage Against The Machine? Do they sound like Creed (please excuse me for comparing Rage to Creed)? Does Creed sound like Mars Volta?" I think I lost him with Mars Volta, but I'm sure he got my point.
"That's not the same thing. Hip Hop is more than music. It's a culture."
"Do you really think that hip hop is the only musical genre that was developed out of a culture or vice versa? The music always defines the culture and the times. Woodstock defined the times, and the music reflected that.
"Furthermore, you have to understand that record companies are corporations and the only thing that matters to corporations are profits. They profit by giving people what they want. People want what they like. If a radio station is playing a song, it's typically because their listeners are responding positively to it."
"So you're saying that makes the music good?" he cut in sarcastically.
"Nope. I personally don't like most of the things that are played on mainstream radio or on most of the music video channels, with the exception of VH-1 Soul."
"Then why are you arguing with me about this? I don't understand. You must be playing Devil's Advocate."
"No, sir. I legitimately think that you're wrong." He frowns and I continue, "Just because you don't like something or think that it's wack doesn't mean it's not hip hop, it just means that it's wack to you.
"Whether you like it or want to admit it, hip hop is Bentleys, booties, dope dealing, and dancing (truthfully it has always been, but I didn't say that because I was closing a door and had no interest in opening another dumb ass conversation) as much as it is graffiiti, breaking, Djing, and freestyling. It is a reflection of what our society is. If you want to change the music you have to take on the task of changing society; however, that then brings up the question of what you would change about society. Frankly, that's a discussion that could last for years.
In my opinion, you should be interested in how you could get the Bentleys to listen to the graffiti. In other words, instead of exorcising wack music from hip hop, you should be figuring out what makes that wack music resonate with the people that like it."
Well, that conversation went on for another hour until my pizza came. I'm pretty sure he didn't agree with anything that I said, nor did I expect him to, which is why I tried to avoid the whole conversation in the first place.
However, my point was valid. Too often we in the music industry hear something that we don't like or relate to and brush it off as BS. We feel that it's beneath our music and tastes to subject ourselves to it. That's fine. This is America, you can like or love or whatever you want.
The issue is that when people don't respond to our music like they respond to the BS, we get upset and defensive when we should be objective and analytical.
Why is my music not resonating with an audience like I feel that it should?
Is my music as good as I think it is?
What can I improve about it?
Am I pushing it to the right audience and demographic?
Do I have a sound marketing plan?
Am I taking advantage of all avenues available to me?
Does what I expect to get out of this in the short term reflect the time and money that I'm putting into this?
And then comes the most important question..."How are these wack cats getting all of this pub?"
Answer: They hustle, and they hustle hard. They are everywhere people are with CD's and fliers in their hands, most of the times giving them away for free. They are in everyone's face and at every radio station trying to get their music on. They eat, sleep, and drink getting put on. Eventually, they do.
So, the next time you hear another stupid song on the radio about the newest dance or how someone's Maybach is looking clean as hell with half naked strippers hanging out of it, think about what they did to get their wack asses where they are. Then, apply it to you.
PS- I just wrote this whole article on my Android.
Quanstar is an American underground hip hop artist, indie filmmaker, comic creator, and self published author from Atlanta.