Hip hop today has lost most of its essence. “Hip hop used to be music about the real stories of people and an imaginative expression of their dream” (Reverend Run). Today, what started off as “niggaz in the hood” (e.g. NWA) documenting the life of the black American has become words that every rapper, everywhere, says but without any relevance to where they are and who they are (dope and crack and pimps and hoes?). Part of the tragedy here of course is that most musicians are unaware of the great injustice that they are doing to their craft in mimicking the same trends over and over. In the words of Lauren Hill its just a case of “miseducation”: most musicians just don’t have the words to say what they want to say. Unfortunately, those that do know what they want to say always say it on the worst beats. Thus Hip hop today is caught between two extremes, which both lack progress.
Hip hop is curiously different from other forms of music because of the greater role that words play – since rap songs obviously have many more lyrics than those of other genres. Words are important for expressing the themes of the genre. While there are some themes that only last for a very short time (such as the black president theme), certain themes within the genre are almost inextricably linked to its character and its identity. These themes are often associated with the genre’s history and its emergence in the American ghetto as firstly a way to chronicle black ghetto culture; secondly as a way for black people to reflect on their condition; and ultimately as a means for some to escape the condition. Examples of this can be found in typical descriptions of “pimping” and “pushing crack” but are also present in more recent lyrics like Kanye West’s description of his dad’s working class hustle in a line about how “he wrapped it up and brought it back to the crib”, which he says in the song Champion (in Graduation). Looking at Mr West it can be seen that while the themes stay the same, the words can change.
Our ability as artists in general to change the words – without losing the themes – will be critical in determining whether hip-hop remains relevant today, in this particular time, in this particular country and in this particular city.
If every song is written in Latin, then the only ones who will benefit from this are the Romans.