Lately hip hop music has come under fire by the media and several reputed culture critics. CNN recently aired a special called "Hip Hop: Art Or Poison?" where they tried to show the correlation between the misogyny and violence in rap music and how it effects the youth in America. PBS aired Byron Hurt's (a Northeastern University alum) documentary "Beyond Beats and Rhymes", a documentary that highlights the negative aspects of rap music, the effects of the music on the youth and the image it portrays to the world at large. Most rap videos show scantily clad girls dancing, rappers driving expensive cars and wearing all kinds of costly jewelry. These videos have come under fire for treating women as sexual objects and nothing more than eye candy.
Oddly enough, where were these same detractors back when hair metal was king of the pop charts and rock videos by Motley Crue, Guns N Roses and Metallica had girls in bikinis and high heels writhing on the hoods of sports cars, being sprayed by water hoses or dancing on stages in cages while wearing dog collars? Weren't THEY being misogynistic?
Don't forget that there is a completely different side of rap called "underground" with hundreds of artists that can't get on the major video channels owned by Viacom or get in the rotation of the radio stations owned by Clearchannel or Emmis Communications. Amongst these artists that the public aren't seeing or aren't being allowed to hear could be the artists or groups that could help provide the necessary balance to rap nowadays. Why can't these emcees or groups be seen or heard now? It's all fallout from the Tellecommunications Act that happened more than 10 years ago.
The actual beginning to the end of diversity and creativity in major label rap began with the aftereffects of Ice T's "Cop Killer" controversy in 1992. People got up in arms and threatened to boycott Time Warner and it's affiliates for ever allowing Ice T's group, Body Count to record and release the song "Cop Killer". It didn't help that this all happened in an election year. Time Warner and it's associated labels ended up dropping any group or artist that would potentially bring them under fire.
Soon, other labels became afraid of garnering the same negative attention from the government and the mass media that Time Warner received so they began releasing and dropping any artists that were political or viewed as subversive (including Almighty RSO, KMD and Paris). Several conscious groups disappeared from the industry's landscape because no label was willing to take a chance on them.
The next nail in the coffin came with the passing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, this meant that corporations could buy up as many independently owned radio stations as they wanted with no restrictions. Station after station sold themselves to Clear Channel and Emmis Communications until there were radio franchises running from the east to west coast. Once these uniform stations were placed in every major city, the new "60 Add Rule" was instituted.
This rule made it so that the only way a song could break the regular rotation at a station is if that same song was added to the rotation of 60 other stations owned by the company on the Tuesday it was released...this killed all of the local and regional music that used to gain regular spins at a station. That responsibility now fell to local college stations...if there were no local college stations the listeners were just assed out.
The deaths of 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G. threw the rap industry into turmoil as well. The void that both of their passings left in the rap world was soon filled by clones and copycats. "Thugs" emulating 2Pac, "Dons" and "Big Willies" emulating Notorious B.I.G., "Gambinos" emulating the Wu Tang Clan and a few original cats peppered in occasionally. That same year, Bad Boy Entertainment hit it big with Puff Daddy & The Family's "No Way Out" and Mase's "Harlem World" LP. No Limit Records began making major noise and their songs began getting major radio spins as well as cracking the regular rotation on video channels. Jay-Z released "In My Lifetime Vol . 1" and Wyclef Jean of The Fugees both released albums that did very well and crossed over to the pop charts. Hip Hop was about to do big things in 1998.
Hip Hop broke out in 1998 and became big business. Rap records such as Lauryn Hill's "The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill", Jay-Z's "In My Lifetime Vol. 2 Hard Knock Life", OutKast's "Aquemini", DMX's "It's Dark And Hell Is Hot", Big Pun's "Capital Punishment", Noreaga's "N.O.R.E.", Juvenile's "400 Degreez", Method Man's "Tical 2: Judgement Day", Redman "Doc's Da Name 2000", Master P's "MP Da Last Don" and Snoop Dogg's "The Game Is To Sold, Not To Be Told" all sold well and regularly knocked Country and Rock albums out of the top spot on the charts.
Rap tours were amongst the biggest and most popular tours in the country. Corporations and other entities with business interests began to try to align themselves with hip hop culture and piggyback ride its cache of cool to gain a bigger audience. Rap videos began appearing on TRL alongside teen pop acts, boy bands and girl groups. Rap was now the new reigning pop music.
Throughout all of this success and huge sales numbers, there were no conscious groups or alternative voices amongst any of those popular acts. The previous generations had Public Enemy, Brand Nubian, A Tribe Called Quest, Poor Righteous Teachers, X Clan, King Sun, Lakim Shabazz, Rakim, KRS One, KMD, The Coup, The Fugees, Jeru Tha Damaja, etc. By 1998, most if not all of these acts were gone from the scene and labels weren't looking to replace them with more conscious minded artists, they were more interested in signing clones of the acts that were already popular and moving units. The only conscious group on the scene that was signed during this era was Dead Prez...they lost their major deal when Loud Records folded shortly afterwards.
The "Bling Bling" era was kicked off once Cash Money Records appeared on the scene. They threw money around in their videos. Drove cars that cost six figures with the factory stickers still on them so you knew how much they cost. They wore platinum grills and jewelry with huge diamonds in their ears on a regular basis. They made songs about how wealthy they were and they because huge hits. Next thing you know, everyone else began doing it too. It wasn't enough to make good music...You had to move units. Talent wasn't king anymore. No one was checking for lyrics. Sales determined your worth in the rap industry now. If you didn't have a Bentley, a Phantom, or platinum jewelry you were wack...What part of the game is that?
The rap world began to mirror the corporate world instead of the streets. The bottom line became all important. Radio spins, Single sales, Videos in regular rotation, Gold plaques, Platinum plaques, Status symbols, Who stole the soul? What about the music? Music execs became as if not more popular than the people that made the damn music! Then the shit really hit the fan when BET was sold to Viacom.
BET had already dropped much of it's programming with any real merit such as Teen Summit, BET News (Ed Gordon and Tavis Smiley bounced), and all of it's regular videos shows except for Rap City and Midnight Love. It did add a flagship video countdown show that catered to teens and young adults just like TRL did at MTV...it was called 106 & Park. The final nail was hammered into the coffin at that exact moment.
Why is it now that CNN decided to run "Art or Poison?" as opposed to before? CNN never ran any specials about the overall dumbing down of America, the rise of reality TV, South Park, Jackass, Wildboyz, Punk'd, Viva La Bam or WWE, but they felt compelled to make one about rap music? The biggest problem with the music industry are these corporate entities that suck the life out of the art in pursuit of money and the bottom line.
There is a business practice called "Cool Hunting" in which advertisers and corporations hire people to find the "next big thing" or "underground niche market" so they can track the kids that love it down and then put them into focus groups. Once they gather all the information they can about said culture or fad, they use it to co-opt that underground culture and appeal to that demographic, expose it until it is no longer cool or they suck the life and edge out of it ( i.e. Grunge). Once that once underground or "cool"/"hot" culture or trend is dead and buried, they go off and find another thing to exploit for profit and commercial gain. To them Hip Hop is just another cash cow that isn't producing as it once was. I wonder if it got rid of all the bloodsucking leeches and parasites that prey on it, would it eventually get better?
That brings us to the present day. New York artists are trying to sound like they’re from the South to get spins. Artists across the board are dumbing down their lyrics in hopes to catch on with the public. Creative or original artists not named Kanye West flopped again and again in this market climate. Music executives are getting fired left and right. Record labels are dissolving into one large conglomerate. Labels are taking less and less chances. The end result? Major label rap music with no balance, no consciousness of any kind to speak of, little creativity, and a lack of originality.
I used to learn from the hip hop I grew up on. It was filled with uplifting messages for the youth and had more than enough variety and artistic merit that you couldn't possibly generalize or pigeonhole it into being one monolithic thing. Ever since it became big business and got away from the basics, it has gotten progressively worse. How can these outsiders complain about the current state of rap music when they're part of the reason it's in the state it is now? Why can't they recognize their own double standards and hypocrisy in regards to narrowcasting hip hop culture? Why would CNN cover something they know nothing about and not recognize that they're doing half assed reporting on the subject? All of this just brings us to the bigger question in my personal opinion...
What are WE as parents and consumers going to do to make hip hop music better from now on to ensure that it will still be around so that CNN will be able to complain about it 10 years from now as well?