11 January 2013

A Look Back, A Look Forward

Well, once again Hip-Hop has made its way to the upper realm of the Forbes list and racked in around half a billion dollars (yup, billion with a “b”. and that’s only with the “top 20 earners.”). Not since 2008 has Hip-Hop had such a lucrative year, but of course most of this money comes from joint ventures and endorsements like: Beats, Ciroc, Brooklyn Nets, Duracell, HP,Trukfit, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, HTC, Conjure Cognac and Soul. Thanks to this cross branding/marketing it is almost impossible to go about your day without interacting with a product that isn’t in some way or another linked to Hip-Hop. And this is great, not only because it further validates Hip-Hop as a vital and essential part of pop/urban culture but also gives us leverage. Ad companies need to make sure they make commercials geared toward the Hip-Hop community. One of the biggest restaurants, (fast food isn’t really a “restaurant” but you know what I mean) McDonald’s has been doing this for years, from the actors’ dialogues to the way they dress the actors, it is all Hip-Hop influenced. Ford has been catering to the this demographic as well, even having Funkmaster Flex help with a more “street” design for the Fusion, Expedition and of course the Flex. And a Ford Fusion ad is currently airing using Tupac’s The Rose That Grew from Concrete poem.

And while we applaud these advances to further promote Hip-Hop, we all know that the foundation of Hip-Hop is the music. 2013 has seen a good gumbo of veteran emcees still delivering high quality music as well as rookies making their mark in the game. The artist formally known as Snoop Doggy Dogg dropped a Hip-Hop tape on 4/20 and is now trying to make his mark in the Reggae game. Big K.R.I.T. hit us with a few tapes, included his nearly classic 4eva N a Day. Of course since this is a stayfly article I have to acknowledge Nas’ Life is Good album which peaked at #1 on Billboard 200 (Nasty was even labeled the “finest emcee” by CNN). 9th Wonder seemed to work with everyone and was able to drop two collab albums with Murs and another with Buckshot. We’ve even seen Shady records make one of the most successful X-Factor type Hip-Hop groups in recent memory with Slaughterhouse. The year even ended with the much anticipated collabo ablum from Wu-Tang and D-Block and a very strong showing from T.I. with Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head.

Arguably the most successful debut album came from Kendrick Lamar with Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. K Dot started the year off signing with Dr.Dre in a joint venture with his Top Dawg Entertainment. From that point on his buzz grew in the mainstream light (he had already been getting underground recognition with Overly Dedicated and Section.80).  Since then he has been featured on tracks with Talib Kewli, Game, J Cole, Dido, A$AP Rocky, Pac Div, Big Sean, E-40, and of course his Black Hippy crew. I feel the most underrated and slept on debut album came from Rapsody (read her The Ideaof Beautiful review). These two emcees probably had the best debuts in the rap game. You can really tell when you listen to their bars that not only are they incredibly gifted writers but that they are both students of the culture. Another young cat I felt embodied the “student of Hip-Hop” aura is Mac Miller. His lyrical ability is def not as strong as the aforementioned emcees but you can tell this kid has been eating, breathing and living Hip-Hop most his life. From his “Beats, Rhymes & Life” tattoo, to naming Big L as his biggest influence, this kid has the foundation to make a big change in the rap game (even though you have to mush through a lot of lazy rap songs in his catalog, but the kid is only 20).

My hope is that Hip-Hop continues to take more steps forward in the New Year. We've had the Google “Hip-hop on Trial” debate which tackles the ongoing issue of Hip-Hop’s eternal struggle: the balance between the positive it can have, against the negative images it portrays in main stream media. While Hip-Hop is a “young man’s game”, we are at an interesting point in which we have an overabundance of new rappers coming out the woodwork and at the same time have the 30/40+ emcees still going strong. The mentoring process is evident with some artists (ie. Dre and Kendrick). Just like immigrants (who come the States) have to make an effort to make sure their culture/language isn't lost with the next generation, it too falls on the shoulders of the veteran emcees to make sure the new wave of artists know what came before them. I normally get on my old man “back in my day” rants whenever I talk about Hip-Hop, but this is not a blanket statement. I single out those whom I feel does nothing to help the culture and further perpetuate the stereotype of the “rapper”. Yes, most of these rappers happen to be young guns coming up with overnight success from their club singles, but I do not think all young artists are void of substance. And I hope 2013 provides more examples for me to choose. Our mark in society has been expanding exponentially, and Hip-Hop has already proven it is not a fad. Now it is time continue the legacy and make sure the baton gets passed correctly to those who deserve it. 

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