How Hip-Hop Died Part 4: Loud SilencePosted: April 23, 2012 | |
How Hip-Hop Died Part 4: Loud Silence
Hip-hop started out in the park. Back in the days, every emcee that grabbed a mic had a different style, charisma, and objective. The “emcee” began as a party-starter and crowd warmer while the DJ manned the wheels. Although “The Message” was one of the earliest hit records, not everyone wanted to hear anything that contained food for thought. Storytelling, bravado, violence, and sex all became a part of the genre.
Rakim was one of the earliest soloists that sparked individualism and conversations about who was the best. He and Big Daddy Kane had an ongoing cold war for the crown for years.
But no matter what people felt about who was lyrically on top, there was always hip-hop music that did not focus on the words. Rob Base’s “It Takes Two” was more about the beat and the chorus even though the verses were pretty easy to follow. Biz Markie made it no secret that Kane wrote for him, and his objective was comedy. MC Hammer, Young MC, Tone Loc were all entertainers that created timeless songs to make people dance.
Fun music was great, but there was a balance, and it wasn’t contrived. So when did groups like PRT, Public Enemy and Brand Nubian become obsolete? When did X-Clan and all of the Native Tongues become too preachy? Did the Wu-Tang Clan’s God body influence get to be too much? And even bigger than that, what made lyricism and record sales become antonyms?
There’s no clear-cut answer, but in the late 90’s we witnessed Loud records triumph as the home of Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep, Big Pun, M.O.P, Dead Prez, and Tha Alkaholiks, but the clincher was that their roster was moving units.
On the other side of the rap world, Puff Daddy was dealing with Biggie’s passing by pushing himself to the forefront and also forcing his shiny suit image on everyone on his label. So while Loud was doing numbers, Puff was trying to do millions. An entertainer, dancer, manager, and CEO wanted to do a rap album. No Way Out was a gateway for bringing out new artists on the Bad Boy label; the issue was that Puff was treating the art of putting words together like a pie recipe.
He exposed his marketing plan to the world: take hits from the 80’s and make hot dance records. He enlisted writers like Sauce Money, Mase and Jadakiss…then he got everyone from Twista to Ginuwine to Foxy Brown and Jay-Z on the debut. No Way Out sold 561,000 units in its first week; whether it was because of all the A-listers or the unheard B.I.G verses, it was still a strong statement.
As Badboy was heating up the charts, another boy was heating up mixtapes and features across the globe. Canibus was first introduced on the Lost Boyz’ song, “Beasts from the East” where he went in for a 2-and-a-half minute lyrical barrage. His verse instantly struck comparisons to Capadonna’s long, introductory rant on “Winter Wars.”
The result was a spotlight on an emcee that was hungry, metaphorically driven and ready to go down in history as one of the best spitters ever. He survived a battle with LL Cool J, he was sought after for collaborations, had a crazy cipher on Hot 97FM with DMX and Noreaga, landed on The Firm’s album, Common Sense’s third release, and he was picked up and managed by Wyclef.
I was a kid at college arguing that Cam’ron was next up, that Common was better than Black Thought and that Canibus would flop. I was in the minority when it came to Canibus. His fans swore that his debut LP would change hip-hop forever. They vowed that he would be the real emcee to throw crazy similes and sharp darts and also have enough fans to sell millions…without a party single. I wanted to be wrong, but his metaphors about hitting you in your chest so hard that your shoulders would touch…or his use of lines that seemed too fantastical and predictable with no vocal inflection and what seemed to be a fake raspy tone irked me. I was confused by his punchlines, I didn’t like the fact that his rhyme schemes were forced, and him going against LL (although rightfully provoked) just rubbed me the wrong way.
Looking back now, it could have been a touch of hate on my part, but Canibus dropped his debut CD and it was #2 on Billboard. Nowadays if an artist drops their first album and moves 127,000 copies in one week, it would be deemed a success. But back in ’98, it was a message to hip-hop that real rap had its place, but wasn’t about to rule.
The critics killed the debut; he blamed the production and pointed at Wyclef, while fans felt abandoned and disappointed at the lack of rewind worthy verses and powerful concepts and choruses. The labels took notice and in an instant, the shiny suit era gave birth to the bling era and there was nothing to combat it. Repetitive hooks, monosyllabic words, emptier production was a part of the new direction of rap music. Sell more by doing less, and doing less opened the door for regions other than New York and California to set the tone for trendsetting.
I’m not saying this was a bad thing at all. I’m just saying that when lyricism and New York rap didn’t equal big money, the majors looked around to see where the money was being made. And there happened to be a whole lot of artists selling music out of their trunks and gaining fans the old-fashioned way.
The issue with trends is that they get followed. When one label decides to give an indie label millions because they figure that when an artist has fans before they sign to a major it’s a no-brainer…other labels join the party. With that motion, you then have Atlantic, Sony, Universal, and even Def Jam looking for artists that have fans, artists that are not from New York or Cali, and hopefully have hit records already.
No Limit, Cash Money, Hypnotized Minds and Slip-N-Slide were all making a strong dent in the game slowly. Snoop Dogg’s switch from being a Deathrow inmate to becoming a No Limit soldier solidified how important the business side of music was.
In the 90’s, hip-hop was making a slow breakthrough into daytime radio and a genius Puff Daddy knew that infusing records that got airplay years ago into his songs would make for sure time on air. He was right, and even though wordplay and content began to get sacrificed, hip-hop was reaching more people, making more money, and creating more hopeful wannabes that would transform themselves from fans, sideline guys or real life gangstas into booth invaders picking up a pen and believing they could be the next Nore instead of Nas.
We accepted Jermaine Dupri on the mic, TImbaland dropped an album, and it was similar to Puff and Dre exposing that they don’t write and introducing artists, but it also opened us up to the idea that music was changing.
Radioplay was very important, the charts were being watched and checks weren’t being cut in the offices just because some rapper was “nice.”
As the Wu faded in popularity, as BET’s Rap City got shelved, as The Dungeon Family seemingly reached its plateau, it seemed that any artist with something semi-positive was going to have a serious battle to be heard. Just ask anyone associated with the late Tupac Shakur.
“Don’t worry if I write rhymes/I write checks…” -P. Diddy