Thursday, January 31, 2008

Culture of Collaboration

MC’s with other MC’s, MC’s with singers, hip-hop and rock, lyrics and a beat, artists and producers; hip-hop, as a music form, has essentially risen to its popularity today as a result of collaboration. Even with expansion of the term hip-hop to encompass an entire culture, many of the elements are a combining a classic art with a local flavor. The unfortunate truth is that much of the commercially successful elements of hip-hop in the 21st century have become merely a commodity of hip-hop and consumerism, rather than expression.

The single rap song considered to be responsible for breaking hip-hop and rap into the mainstream was the epitome of collaboration; a collaboration between two different genres, two different races, and two different groups. “Walk This Way,” a cover of an Aerosmith song, performed by Run DMC featuring Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, hit the airwaves in 1986. It brought a former underground art into the homes of millions of America, becoming one of the most important singles of all time. Hip-hop, previously thought to be an exclusive product of urban and African-American culture, began its journey into pop music success, defying the stereotypes of audiences and breaking a racial barrier.

Hip-hop still remains to be in association of urban and Black cultures, however, its audiences have reached far beyond that. White kids are rocking gangster rap in their mom’s minivans in Midwestern suburbs everywhere, broadening the appeal and increasing the demand for the rhythmic lyrics and beats. Perhaps this type of expansion has been a factor in one of the most compelling struggles with where hip-hop stands today. Audiences and opponents everywhere have been raising questions since its emergence about the often violent and sexual references. However, these complaints did little to deter the popularity of the genre. A deeper concern exists amongst the artists themselves. At the closing of 2007, the top ten most pirated songs were all of the hip-hop genre. The artists were all hip-hop artists themselves, with the stipulation of token female singer of Black Eyed Peas, Fergie. The number single of the music pirates was “This Is Why I’m Hot,” by Shop Boyz. Was the single just so hot that it transcended all charts to become number one? Or is because fans lose all loyalty and appreciation for artists when the substance remains indiscernible and the beats are tacked on one by one to rake in the dollar signs? [Reference for a better analysis]

Hip-hop stands for something big; yet, so many artists have strewn away to pursue goals on the Billboard charts. A separation exists between many artists that use their talents to take a stance on issues and leave a stamp on culture. Too many talented artists such as Heiruspecs, Talib Kweli, and The Roots, come no where near the commercial success as Soulja Boy, who topped the charts with a demeaning single about a sexually perverse act. The consumers of culture-less hip-hop may not be the ones who are seeing through the commodification, however, these top singles have not created an ounce of loyalty for an artist nor an appreciation for an art form. It has been creating the standard fifteen minutes of fame for many rappers or the longer term careers for those who profit from single after single.

Consider the producer Timbaland. Formerly responsible for the rise of careers of talented hip-hop artists such as, Aaliyah, he created beats and collaborations for many of the successful singles of the past year. However, when it comes down to it, each song is a prepackaged and overplayed version featuring one star from a genre attached to a very trademarked and commercially successful Timbaland beat.

Once in a while a commercially successful single or album surpasses the manufactured sound and achieves a substantial mark in American music. Enter Lupe Fiasco. A combination of irresistible sampling, guests artists, impeccable rhymes, and strong messages, the Chicago rapper experienced a successful album in 2007, with The Cool. Singles such as “Superstar” embody everything a great single should. A collaboration of talent, an element of catchiness, and addictability, the single is joined on the album with tracks of slam poetry, such as the track, “Baba Says Cool for Thought.” He is no dupe to the music business, nor blind to the path that hip-hop as strayed upon, "I love music, I love business, but I hate the music business. I vowed I would never sign if I didn't have 100 percent creative control. Even though I was pretty much an unknown, I've been around for years. I didn't just pop out of nowhere,” (Rolling Stone, 2006). His previous album, Food & Liquor, was alike; the single, “Kick Push” featuring lyrics about skateboarding and another examining slavery and genocide in American history. The message, the sound, the stance; it is what hip-hop truly stands for in 2008.

Then again, who am I to take a stance on what hip-hop stands for? What is my struggle that I need a musician and a culture to express myself within? Living ain’t so hard amongst a top University in a safe Midwest town. However, hip-hop has made an impact on my life and more importantly, my culture. I do not stand for advocacy of violence or degradation of women. But, I do stand guilty of downloading “Party Like a Rockstar,” and taking it to number one on the stolen charts. As a conscious hip-hop fan, I invest my interest and my money into artists who make music that means something, yet sometimes find it irresistible to dance with all of my friends to the latest hip-hop single. Well, only up until the part where my ears start to bleed. Hip-hop is American culture and that is why it is important to take notice of talented artists and not lump it into one generalization of bling, booze, and boobs. It stands for a culture, fashion, an expression, and an art form that substantial to American history.

Superstar - Lupe Fiasco feat. Matthew Santos

CRS (Us Placers) - Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Thom Yorke

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

is this your paper from our hip hop class?