By Michael Partis
On January 16, 2008 a fifteen year Black male from Queensbridge Projects drops out of high school and decides to become a rapper. He makes his first appearance on a song, and spits these bars:
“Street's disciple, my raps are trifle
I shoot slugs from my brain just like a rifle
Stampede the stage, I leave the microphone split
Play Mr. Tuffy while I'm on some Pretty Tone shit
Verbal assassin, my architect pleases
When I was twelve, I went to hell for snuffin Jesus
Nasty Nas is a rebel to America
Police murderer, I'm causin hysteria”
Do you think any major record label in the music industry would sign him? Would Def Jam executives be at project apartment’s door? Would Dr. Dre sit on a park bench convincing him to sign with Aftermath? And if they did, what would parent companies Island and Interscope have to say about that? Or better yet, what would Bill O’ Reilly say…?
There is often much discussion of a “generational gap” between older Blacks from the Civil Rights generation, and Blacks between the ages eighteen to thirty-five. The debate mostly centers on a “blame game” between whose at fault for the current state of the Black American community: lack of mentorship, guidance, and sustainable structures created by the forbearers; or the misguided defiance, individualism, and loss of morals and integrity promoted by the youth.
The startlingly thing is that no matter how much media commentators talk about it, or BET sends Jeff Johnson to do a special about it, the rap community does not take it as a lesson learn. And we do not use it as a tool to see the ever growing divide between young rappers and old rappers today. The rap community has failed to see and address the generational gap between the successful rappers of the 1990’s, and the litany of twenty-something rappers waiting in the wings.
In 1996 Brooklyn rapper, and Jay-Z protégé, Memphis Bleek uttered the words, “Waitin for my day to come/ Just give me the word…” By 2005, his mentor Jay-Z tells us, “Bleek could be one hit away his whole career/ As long as I’m alive he’s a millionaire/ And even if I die he’s in my will somewhere/ So he could just kick back and chill somewhere/ Oh yeah, he don’t even hafta write rhymes/ The Dynasty like my money, last three lifetimes.” Nas told us that Cormega, Nature, and Quan were all next—none of them have rose to prominence. Fat Joe said Terror Squad was next—now he has no affiliation with many of the members. Remember the Philly movement started by groups like Major Figgas and Philly’s Most Wanted; remember how Beans help put on the whole State Property crew; and remember how everybody jumped with Hov to Def Jam because it was the “best move for their career.”
While I’m sure Bleek might not have a problem with that, the question is why hasn’t he popped off?
One of the main reason we have seen such a sharp decline in rap sales is because of the lack of development of new artist. The media, major labels, and fans all take part in this. Between trying to “make” marketable music and artist, replicating the styles and sound of other successful artists, and substituting expression for profit, the rap game is in a confused state.
We see the generational gap create this confused state. The longer rap music is around, the greater the variation in ages. We have forty-year old rappers and forty-year old fans; we have fifteen year old rappers and fifteen year old fans. More and more we see rap music and hip-hop culture not just be seen as a “young people” thing. Not only are the people who run the corporate functioning of the music older, the artist are becoming older.
With this comes the inevitable “comparison” problem: “He’s the next Nas.” “He’s the next B.I.G.” “He’s the 2nd coming of KRS-One.” Or we have the “era” problem: “They’re not as good as rappers back in the day.” “None of these dudes could fuck with (fill in the blank).” “What happen to when (fill in the blank).” The problem being we can’t get rid of the past, and we can not ignore the present. We can’t expect artist to be like the ones who came before. Rap fans have become prisoner to wanting every new artist to be like their favorite old one. An artist has to be judged on his own merit. The standards should not be lower; expectations should not be changed. But how we listen to the music and how we think of the music must be adjusted.
The battle-tested rappers who have seen and helped Rap and Hip-Hop grow into the global phenomenon it is, have readily (and rightful) tried to reap the benefits of their sweat and tears. They seek more media coverage, more financial opportunities, and stand as large, dominating figures in the genre. Anyone from a Puerto Rican seventeen year old high school student to a fifty-five year old White homemaker could make out a picture of Jay-Z, P. Diddy, or LL Cool. Hip-Hop has become a part of popular culture.
However, the next generation of rappers are paying the painful price of Rap music’s popular success. Lupe Fiasco, Saigon, Joe Buddens, Crooked I, and Joell Ortiz are as arguable as talented as any rappers to come along the last ten years. Yet they can’t get mainstream media coverage or consistent support from the industry, while rappers like Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z can dominant the main stage and put out albums yearly.
The point is not to condemn the success of Rap music, it’s superstars, or it’s forefathers. The point is to understand why no other artist can breakthrough; and why do the young, upcoming artist flounder in struggle and obscurity. Is it because the young guns are wack? Do Hip-Hop’s star help usher in the next generation? Or are they in it for self— and is anything wrong with that?
It’s time to “Talk 2 Em”….