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Will hip-hop finally grow up?

RAP: Lil Wayne

HIP HOP. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. From Fight the Power to Wait Till You See My D**k: in three short decades hip-hop has regressed from a pride-inducing art form to an utter embarrassment.

With apologies to Chuck D (of Public Enemy), “rap is the Black CNN” is possibly one of the oldest and most abused clichés in hip-hop history.

In today’s environment it is also one of the most false. In reality today’s hip -hop has a lot more in common with Fox News than it ever had with CNN.

By that I mean: hip-hop, especially in the mainstream, has become a medium of lies, half-truths and crass propaganda.

A lot of the characters portrayed by rappers and the tales they tell are so ludicrously unreflective of anything most people are familiar with (themselves included), it is actually amazing that it resonates.

From the notorious John Gotti-like stone cold gangster (a caricature currently championed by former prison warden Rick Ross) to the neo-minstrel full-time party animal (most recently embodied by the alleged son of two proud neurosurgeons, Lil Jon), most of the characters portrayed by rappers are much rarer in real life than, say, actual professional rappers themselves.

HIP-HOP: Rick Ross is at the fore front of rap music


Ludicrous as it may be I would apply caution before laughing. They may let the public think that they were raised by wild bears in the woods but the truth of the matter is that the average successful rapper is a tremendously talented, driven and savvy business person. The majority of them adopt these childish personas to make money.

As a result of this, long abandoned are the days of blunt progressiveness and social consciousness, nowadays – as the poet Taalam Acey put it – “the bigger the money, the bigger the monkey”.

But as hip-hop experiences a commercial decline, could the silver lining be that it will experience a return to its socially conscious roots? It should.

If the monetary incentive is removed the human and humane incentive should naturally kick back in.

With the global economy in the dustbin, confidence in political systems and politicians at an all-time low, historic riots in numerous countries, the Occupy movement and world changing events (such as the Arab Spring), hip-hop is in the perfect environment for a creative and conscious return to base.

Hard times generally breed great art, and this recession should help pump out some fantastic rap music particularly as it has savaged the very communities rappers tend to stem from.

Black youth unemployment in the UK, for example, stands at – brace yourself – 58 per cent.

Music highlighting this and championing the plight of the young and unemployed should be more likely to resonate right now than someone rapping about bling, expensive champagne and pimping women.

So the recession, which has only compounded the harsh times for rap merchants, should breed a change in appetite.


Hip-hop is also growing older. The art form itself is now 36-years-old and every bit a part of the establishment. The average age of the main proponents of hip-hop (e.g. Eminem, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre, Kanye West) is around 40. In an ideal world as an art form grows older you’d hope that it would mature to reflect its development, the age and intelligence of the main proponents and that of its audience. But in reality it has regressed.


Even though it was largely marketed as ‘gangsta rap’ – and therefore dismissed as violent rhetoric, 90s era hip-hop as personified by Ice Cube and a pre-Deathrow Records and posthumous Tupac Shakur, prided itself on tackling the ills of society.

Long suffering political prisoners – such as Mumia Abu-Jamal – became cause celebres via mainstream rappers. Nowadays the person who most personifies hip-hop (Jay-Z) is more likely to concern himself with leading the boycott of a champagne brand than highlighting the plight of a person facing death by lethal injection.

But to bring it back to economics: in light of the recession and the current socio-political environment which would the sensible business person rap about: champagne or capital punishment?

A Maybach or malnutrition? Freedom or fellatio? An explicit celebration of wealth or socially conscious commentary?

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