The release of rapper Nas’ 2006 album, Hip Hop is Dead, sparked an intriguing debate among hip-hop’s most avid followers. The artists’ proclamation was met with both concurrence and disdain. Some believe that hip-hop is not dead, but rather experiencing a change in rhythm.
“I don’t think hip hop is dead, it just lost its direction,” said Devin Cole, a third-year political science student from Tampa.
The art form was believed to have officially begun in 1979 with the release of the Sugar Hill Gang’s Rappers Delight. From that point forward, the genre became the heartbeat of a generation, having a great influence on every facet of mainstream culture in America.
Hip-hop’s deep jazz and disco roots in turn gave birth to the eclectic sampling and subliminal messages that once characterized the genre have since dwindled away, according to Hip-Hop and Politics, a study conducted by the Black Youth and Politics Project.
“Back in the day, music meant something. It had an underlying message. All we have now are artist like Soulja Boy talking about ‘turning his swag on.’ Hip-hop hasn’t died, people just having trouble distinguishing real hip hop from entertainment,” said Cole.
Anthony Mingo, a third-year elementary education student from Trenton, N.J., agrees with Cole.
“I think hip-hop today has more of a pop, commercialized feel. It has less personality and individuality,” Mingo said.
The same study conducted by the Black Youth and Politics Project revealed that, “While 58 percent of black youth listen to hip-hop, most are dissatisfied with its content. They often find the subject matter too violent, or too degrading to women.”
Paul Porter, co-founder of Industry Ears and a former music programmer for BET and Radio One, agrees that most hip-hop today is negative. However, he said “people don’t realize that they have an option when it comes to what they listen too.”
Industry Ears is a non-profit organization that aims to bring balance to what the media portrays. The organization wants to carry out its mission by stressing to the public has that they have the final say-so over what they hear on.
According to the Industry Ears Web site, “the music industry — record labels, distribution, promotion, retail — and broadcast media –TV and radio, have become a monopoly with a handful of organizations controlling what people see, hear and know; ultimately shaping the perceptions and behaviors of people watching, listening and learning.”
Montray Love, a second-year political science student from Miami, said the genre sends different messages.
“There’s music out there with positive messages, but it’s not mainstream. Hip-hop glorifies ignorance instead of substance. We keep the positive side of hip-hop underground.”
According to Industry Ears’ website, “The $10 billion dollar a year Hip-Hop industry claims to reflect black life and culture; however, 80 percent of it is consumed by whites.”
One may have to go to great lengths to discover the positive in hip-hop music in mainstream culture today. However, the strong presence of the Internet may offset this daunting task.
Web sites such as theskybeneath.com, offers podcasts of hip-hop artists who have stuck to their roots. According to its Web site, “The goal of the podcast is to expose people to a variety of hip-hop music that is currently absent from many major radio stations that predominantly play songs dominated by violence, mysogyny and self-destructive materialism.”