Relaxing and reminiscing to the smooth beats and funky flows of 90s emcees is the paradox of joy and pain. Delight, elation, glee- all of these things; Hip-Hop is the definition of pure, original flavour and flair. However the bliss is soon overridden by the sharp feeling of sadness and despair, as the swift realisation comes that I was listening to Hip-Hop as it was and will never be again.
Hip-Hop as a genre has long forgotten its original rebellious roots. Its music was once powerful and emotive. Its social commentary gave a voice to an ostracized generation of young men and women who needed to be heard. The voice was versatile- it could be ruthless, raw and provocative but then fresh, funky and witty in the next breath. Its graphic depiction of everyday life in some of the most deprived areas of the globe caused the political classes to open their eyes to the plight of people who were living in shocking deprivation.
Yet the music of the 90s wasn’t all bleak, it was a period of immense creativity which created classic songs which will forever be remembered as the musical soundtrack for the generation of eighties and nineties babies who grew up on it. Artists such as De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and even Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff created timeless, uplifting music which still evokes a nostalgic sensibility in the minds of its grown-up listeners.
Today, it has kissed its refreshing rhythmical beats goodnight and replaced it with basic, mundane, bass-driven beats that ride under sloppy southern drawl. Screeching auto-tuned hooks have undermined the genre and the dignity that it once possessed. To some- Hip-Hop is a joke. It’s fair to say that lucrative endorsement deals and greed- arguably the most deadly factor of all- has slowly choked the life out of Hip-Hop.
But if you think that this is just another ‘Hip-Hop is dead’ rant, you are mistaken. Hip-Hop is still breathing. There are still artists bringing truth to the mainstream. You just have to search harder to find them amongst the conveyor belt of sound-a-like ‘MCs’ being churned out from the manufacturing line.
Hope has arrived in the form of emcees such as Jay Electronica and J Cole. Electronica has breathed new life into today’s formulaic market. His music is exciting the masses of Hip-Hop fans, who have long anticipated the arrival of an artist with the ability to deliver a fresh perspective on a culture which has lost its way. J Cole is also showing the promise of bringing forth a new era of Hip-Hop, but only time will tell if this is to be the case, or if he will fall prey to the pitfalls of fame and celebrity.
It’s also encouraging to see a somewhat unlikely source showing signs that Hip-Hop is alive and well. Los Angeles, the birthplace of Gangsta rap, has seen a musical revival- establishing itself at the forefront of the positive, conscious Hip-Hop movement. The city, notorious for the misogynistic impact of the Gangsta rap subgenre, is rewriting its history and replacing it with a socially and politically aware brand of music. Artists such as Little Brother and Fashawn are at the forefront of LA’s new sound.
Hip-Hop like all genres has evolved and progressed, even though at times it seems as though its free-spirited innovative days are a distant memory. The promise of a new dawn of quality Hip-Hop will never be too far from the cards; all it takes is a collective of like-minded emcees to challenge the mainstream and judging from the latest batch of conscious artists it’s clear that that day will soon come to pass.
By guest writer Jade Scott