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Cozmo D

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Is Hip-Hop Really Dead?

By DaveyD , San Jose Mercury News

Posted on March 3, 2007, Printed on March 3, 2007


Hip-hop icon Nas made the provocative statement, "Hip-hop is dead,'' in September and set off a firestorm of controversy. It was intensified by the January release of his album bearing the same title.

Many questioned why Nas would say hip-hop -- a worldwide phenomenon that has generated billions of dollars -- could be "dead.'' After all, more hip-hop albums are being released then ever before, and the music's influence extends to movies, corporate marketing and theater. That it's dead seems absurd -- until you realize Nas was looking beneath the surface.

He was speaking of the corporate side of the music and the mentality of executives more interested in turning a quick buck than nurturing rap culture. Nas realized sex, violence and bling, as themes for the music, had pretty much run their course. Album sales had plummeted, and ratings at hip-hop radio stations in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere had hit all-time lows.

A number of people, including this writer, also had spoken out about mediocre product coming from some of the genre's biggest stars. Yet such talk was rebuffed by so-called industry experts, who blamed digital downloading and satellite radio.

We critics, however, were vindicated by a study published earlier this year by the University of Chicago. Data from the "Black Youth Project'' indicated that while 58 percent of blacks between ages 15 and 25 listen to hip-hop daily, most are dissatisfied with it. They find the subject matter is too violent, and women too often portrayed in offensive ways.

Such feelings hint at a dirty little secret of the music business: Blacks are used largely to validate musical themes being marketed to the white mainstream. In other words, while 90 percent of commercial rap artists on TV and radio are black, the target audience lies outside the black community.

Paul Porter, a longtime industry veteran and former music programmer at BET and Radio One, is now with the watchdog organization Industryears.com. He says the University of Chicago findings offer proof positive that commercial hip-hop has become the ultimate minstrel show, and rap artists are pushed by the industry to remain perpetual adolescents.

As a result, we watch Diddy, Cam'ron, DMX and others brag about wealth and throw bills at a camera while bikini-clad women gyrate in the background. Should these artists attempt to break out of the mold, they'd risk having their work questioned by record and radio executives.

In our conversation, Porter also pointed to something more sinister: payola. He claimed hip-hop is dead only because payola is rampant at labels intent on investing in songs with sexual and violent themes.

During a separate conversation, Questlove of the Roots supported Porter's allegation with his own story about the process behind the group's Grammy-winning hit with Erykah Badu, "You Got Me.'' He said the Roots had to pony up close to "a million dollars'' to a middle man who "worked his magic'' at radio stations.

Initially, the overtly positive song had been rejected, he explained, so palms were greased with the promise that key stations countrywide would get hot "summer jam'' concert acts in exchange for airplay. According to Questlove, more than $1 million in cash and resources were eventually laid out for the success of that single song.

In the documentary "Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes,'' shown recently on the PBS series "Independent Lens,'' filmmaker Byron Hurt confronts Stephen Hill, BET's senior vice president for programming, to ask why the cable network plays so many videos with misogynist and otherwise degrading themes. The fortysomething Hill walks away without answering. This is the same executive who refused to broadcast videos by the group Little Brother, because he considered their material "too intelligent'' for the BET audience.

With thinking like that, no wonder commercial hip-hop appears dead. It's the ideas of the gatekeepers that are dead.

DaveyD writes a bi-weekly column for the MercuryNews.

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Sales of rap music are declining as more are critical of its message


NEW YORK -- Maybe it was the umpteenth coke-dealing anthem or soft-porn music video. Perhaps it was the preening antics that some call reminiscent of Stepin Fetchit.

The turning point is hard to pinpoint. But after 30 years of growing popularity, rap music is now struggling with an alarming sales decline and growing criticism from within about the culture's negative effect on society.

Rap insider Chuck Creekmur, who runs the leading Web site Allhiphop.com, says he got a message from a friend recently "asking me to hook her up with some Red Hot Chili Peppers because she said she's through with rap. A lot of people are sick of rap ... the negativity is just over the top now."

The rapper Nas, considered one of the greats, challenged the condition of the art form when he titled his latest album "Hip-Hop is Dead."

It's at least ailing, according to recent statistics: Though music sales are down overall, rap sales slid a whopping 21 percent from 2005 to 2006, and for the first time in 12 years no rap album was among the top 10 sellers of the year.

A recent study by the Black Youth Project showed a majority of youth think rap has too many violent images.

In a poll of black Americans by The Associated Press and AOL-Black Voices last year, 50 percent of respondents said hip-hop was a negative force in American society.

Nicole Duncan-Smith grew up on rap, worked in the rap industry for years and is married to a hip-hop producer. She still listens to rap, but says it no longer speaks to or for her.

She wrote the children's book "I Am Hip-Hop" partly to create something positive about rap for young children, including her 4-year-old daughter.

"I'm not removed from it, but I can't really tell the difference between Young Jeezy and Yung Joc. It's the same dumb stuff to me," says Duncan-Smith, 33. "I can't listen to that nonsense ... I can't listen to another black man talk about you don't come to the 'hood anymore and ghetto revivals ... I'm from the 'hood. How can you tell me you want to revive it? How about you want to change it? Rejuvenate it?"

Hip-hop seems to be increasingly blamed for a variety of social ills. Studies have attempted to link it to everything from teen drug use to increased sexual activity among young girls.

Even the mayhem that broke out in Las Vegas during last week's NBA All-Star Game was blamed on hip-hoppers.

"(NBA Commissioner) David Stern seriously needs to consider moving the event out of the country for the next couple of years in hopes that young, hip-hop hoodlums would find another event to terrorize," columnist Jason Whitlock, who is black, wrote on AOL.

While rap has been in essence pop music for years, and most rap consumers are white, some worry that the black community is suffering from hip-hop -- from the way America perceives blacks to the attitudes and images being adopted by black youth.

But the rapper David Banner derides the growing criticism as blacks joining America's attack on young black men who are only reflecting the crushing problems within their communities. Besides, he says, that's the kind of music America wants to hear.

"Look at the music that gets us popular -- 'Like a Pimp,' 'Dope Boy Fresh,'" he says, naming two of his hits.

"What makes it so difficult is to know that we need to be doing other things. But the truth is at least us talking about what we're talking about, we can bring certain things to the light," he says. "They want (black artists) to shuck and jive, but they don't want us to tell the real story because they're connected to it."

Criticism of hip-hop is certainly nothing new -- it's as much a part of the culture as the beats and rhymes.

Among the early accusations were that rap wasn't true music, its lyrics were too raw, its street message too polarizing. But they rarely came from the youthful audience itself.

"As people within the hip-hop generation get older, I think the criticism is increasing," says author Bakari Kitwana, who is currently part of a lecture tour titled "Does Hip-Hop Hate Women?"

"There was more of a tendency when we were younger to be more defensive of it," he adds.

During her '90s crusade criticizing rap for degrading women, the late black activist C. Dolores Tucker certainly had few allies within the hip-hop community, or even among young black women.

Backed by folks like conservative Republican William Bennett, Tucker was vilified within rap circles.

In retrospect, "many of us weren't listening," says Tracy Denean Sharpley-Whiting, a professor at Vanderbilt University and author of the new book "Pimps Up, Ho's Down: Hip-Hop's Hold On Young Black Women."

"She was onto something, but most of us said, 'They're not calling me a 'bitch,' they're not talking about me, they're talking about THOSE women.' But then it became clear that, you know what? Those women can be any women."

One rap fan, Bryan Hunt, made the searing documentary "Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes," which debuted on PBS this month. Hunt addresses the biggest criticisms of rap, from treatment of women to glorification of the gangsta lifestyle.

"I love hip-hop," Hunt, 36, says in the documentary. "I sometimes feel bad for criticizing hip-hop, but I want to get us men to take a look at ourselves."

Even dances that may seem innocuous are not above the fray.

Last summer, as the "Chicken Noodle Soup" song and accompanying dance became a sensation, Baltimore Sun pop critic Rashod D. Ollison mused that the dance -- demonstrated in the video by young people stomping wildly from side to side -- was part of the growing minstrelization of rap music.

"The music, dances and images in the video are clearly reminiscent of the era when pop culture reduced blacks to caricatures," he wrote.

Meanwhile, Creekmur says music labels have overfed the public on gangsta rap, obscuring artists who represent more positive and varied aspects of black life, like Talib Kweli, Common and Lupe Fiasco.

"It boils down to a complete lack of balance, and whenever there's a complete lack of balance, people are going to reject it, whether it's positive or negative," Creekmur says.

Yet Banner says there's a reason why acts like KRS-One and Public Enemy don't sell anymore. He recalled that even his own fans rebuffed positive songs he made -- like "Cadillac on 22s," about staying away from street life -- in favor of songs like "Like a Pimp."

"The American public had an opportunity to pick what they wanted from David Banner," he says. "I wish America would just be honest. America is sick. ... America loves violence and sex."

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Wow, articles like this relieve me and anger me at the same time. With all this negative press coming from every direction, the whole commerical game is about 2 crumble 2 pieces. Bye bye Ja, Nelly, Young ______, Lil'______, G-Unit, etc. I like how they pointed out Hip-Hop heads getting in2 other artists and music cuz i can totally relate 2 that. Hip-Hop will always be my favorite kinda music, but over the past 2 or 3 years, i've gotten more and more in2 other stuff cuz Hip-Hop music is harder 2 find and commercial rap just plain sucks...peiod. It would be crazy if Hip-Hop became pretty underground all over again. Then only people who truely loved it would be making it, leading 2 inspiring music that matters.

"This is why i'm hot, this is why i'm hot

this is why, this is why, this is why i'm hot

i'm hot cuz i'm fly, u ain't cuz u not

this is why, this is why, this is why i'm hot"

Garbage hooks like that will soon be a thing of the past.

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Yet Banner says there's a reason why acts like KRS-One and Public Enemy don't sell anymore. He recalled that even his own fans rebuffed positive songs he made -- like "Cadillac on 22s," about staying away from street life -- in favor of songs like "Like a Pimp."

Now that everyone is starting to become dissatisfied with the current state of hip-hop..all the old school, middle school fans need to rise up and reclaim hip-hop.. we need quality product released..and people need to support it.. Theres 20 years of great hip-hop records that sold millions.. the kids may only listen to trash but all of us know better.. Bring on hip hop's death so we can have a rebirth

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Very good point. I always imagined a total collapse where rebuilding could eventually happen. But i like your idea better.

I did something the other nite that i haven't done in YEARS. I went in2 an AOL chat room (i used 2 do it alot 10 years ago). So i went in2 a Hip-Hop chatroom and laughed at how little they have changed when it comes 2 clashing opinions and such. They were actually talking about FP and LL when i came in, but i missed what they were talking about. It waz interesting 2 hear what different people had 2 say. There were 4 other true Hip-Hop fans in there. It didn't seem like any commercial Rap fans were in there cuz all the other idiots were just talking 2 themselves and about random things not Hip-Hop related.

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Rap music is on the way down, but it will not come straight back up, other types of music will have their time first, history has tought us this.

my friend told me an interesting phrase the other day

"music is like candy, throw away the rappers" :wiggle:

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Perfect time for Will to jump back in? Im sure the way hip hop is right now is the main reason Will stepped away from it.

Exactly. That's why he did it in '95. It's obvious that's the reason. After all, L+F attacked all the fools messing it up.

Lack of sales will hip hop bring back to his essence!

Another good point. It's like the Noah's Ark story. It's gotten so bad that it's time 2 punish the game, wipe out the population, and only spare a few key people.

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Hip Hop is at huge low right now. It needs a kick in the nuts to get its act back together. Artists are gonna have to step it up or get weeded out. Survival of the fittest. Right now it's 50 headless, nameless chickens running around. Let them run off the cliff. I don't believe these morons have half the mind it takes to save their music careers.

God Blessa!

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Hip Hop is at huge low right now. It needs a kick in the nuts to get its act back together. Artists are gonna have to step it up or get weeded out. Survival of the fittest. Right now it's 50 headless, nameless chickens running around. Let them run off the cliff. I don't believe these morons have half the mind it takes to save their music careers.

God Blessa!

Yeah it's time for these suckas to step their game up or look for a new career

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