Conscious vs. Unconscious Hip-hop, does it matter?

There is no other genre in music that paints a clearer picture on personal struggles and political issues than hip-hop. Artists have been known to grow up from nothing- having to live check to check and create their own income. This gives hip-hop its substance, meaning and relatability. Hip-hop has been a place for young artists to express themselves through rhyme, expose personal struggles and give their opinion on controversial topics. Recently, this organic form of hip-hop has been cast in the shadows by the new wave of mumble rapping, trap beats, repetitiveness. It seems today, the loudest and catchiest music is the one that’ll sell the most. Heavy 808’s, repetitive bars, loud vocals, and floor shaking distortion has taken over the hip-hop industry. The question i’m here to answer is whether or not this is good for hip-hop.

I must say that “wokeuplikethis*” by Playboi Carti has been on repeat for me ever since it dropped. Although I find it to have a catchy hook and a groovy beat, I am unable to dive into the song due to the lack of substance. Much of today’s Soundcloud rappers lack substance within their music. When Genius asked about the songs meaning Carti explained, “I feel like people thought I was sleeping when I was actually woke.” That explanation gives no real meaning or substance to a track. It adds this goofy “Im trying to make my bread” vibe to it, which really bothers me. My favorite part about hip-hop is the seriousness, the grittiness, the unfuckwitable attitude. With Carti and the rest of the mumble rap movement, I am gaining the feeling that rap is losing its sense of seriousness and deeper meaning.

72017-BET-Breaks-Video-Playboi-Carti-Addresses-A-AP-Bari-Allegations2.jpgWith every dissatisfactory there is a silver-lining. The beautiful thing about this new wave of hip-hop is that they are media magnets. It is not hard to keep up with todays hip-hop because everything they do is documented on social media. Artists discover other artists, post tracks, and interact with fans through twitter and instagram. This is great because it gifts hip-hop the essence of immortality. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, people talked about music topics and such through face-to-face interaction and radio. Today anyone can make a podcast, do an album review, or interact with an artist at the click of a button. As long as hip-hop artists are still active social media participants, hip-hop will never not be talked about- but is that enough of a reason to say that this new wave of hip-hop is a good thing?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. To an old hip-hop head, they would say that the media draw doesn’t matter, it’s still bad music. A newer hip-hop fan would argue that it’s great, we are always in the loop of what’s happening and can interact with any artist. Taking both of these arguments into consideration we must weigh the pros and cons. Conscious hip-hop is what keeps hip-hop alive. Kendrick Lamar may be the greatest example of what conscious rap looks like today. His music has the ability to shake the earth to its core. When his album DAMN. was released to the public, it was dissected, interpreted, and translated dozens of times to discover its deep meaning and substance. His album is structured in such a way that it is supposed to depict death, his opinion of G-d, and why he feels he is on this earth. DAMN. put us through the ferocious whirlwind of creativity and art that is the mind of Kendrick Lamar. It [DAMN.] has so many different mysteries to uncover which gives this album substance and makes it something work to dive into. Kendrick proves that he is just like one of us. He too has thoughts and opinions on the meaning of life, G-d, and religion. His interviews add to his credibility, the way he answers questions- so intellectually aware and extensive. Kendrick said this as a response to a DJbooth.com article.

“I love when artists sing about what makes HIM happy. My balance is to tell you what will make Him extinguish you. Personally, once that idea of real fear registered in my mind, it made me try harder at choosing my battles wisely. Which will forever be tough, because I’m still of flesh. I wanna spread this truth to my listeners. It’s a journey, but it will be my key to the Kingdom. And theirs as well. I briefly touched on it in this album, but when he tells me to react, I will take deeper action.”

His wisdom and incredible vocabulary inside and outside of the studio exemplifies what hip-hop use to be when we had Eric B & Rakim, Outkast, and Tupac. He is not the only artist in the industry today that is considered a conscious artist. I personally believe that Joey Badass, Mick Jenkins, Vince Staples, Flatbush Zombies, Denzel Curry and many, many more have proven through their music and social interaction that they are socially, politically and self conscious. This is what hip-hop was raised on, its what keeps the wheels turning, it’s what keeps the fans asking for more, and it’s why I love hip-hop. The only con to this style of hip-hop is that it can take a very long time to come up with new topics to make music on. Joey Badass for example drops an album on average every two years, according to todays music fans, that won’t cut it.

rakim1a.jpgWhile conscious rap has been the steam engine behind hip-hop music industry, this new wave of hip-hop and music media has turned what was once a steam engine into a bandwagon. This new wave has brought hip-hop to the forefront of pop-culture. TMZ and E! News are constantly reporting on gossip that involves hip-hop stars and affiliates. Which is great for the business but doesn’t do anything for genre itself. With social media being the central platform for music promotion and interaction, it has brought all eyes and ears planted on the hip-hop genre. It is hard to separate what is good for business and what is good for the genre itself. Hip-hop has always passioned itself as a raw and expressive form of music where people can easily relate and dive into the music and its meaning. Todays new wave of hip-hop has altered that description to where there is an absence of substance and meaning. Everything today is about what drugs you’re taking, who you shot and taking someones girl- and half the time you can’t understand what they are saying. It is a repetitive style that forgoes the original mechanics of hip-hop and creates its own style. The upbeat beats, heavy 808’s, and mumble rapping is present on nearly every song to where it’s almost pop music. I personally don’t consider this to be hip-hop, it doesn’t represent what hip-hop is all about. If hip-hop was a house it would’ve been made from brick & mortar, this new wave of rap was made out of straw- easy to build, but hard to keep alive. So, the question again is this new wave of hip-hop a good thing?

The answer is……………………… It doesn’t matter. Hip-hop is hip-hop. Phases and movements come and go but the roots and building blocks of hip-hop will never fade. This new wave is merely a phase that will last shorter than puberty.

 

Credits: New York Post, Rolling Stone, BET, Genius

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