Best of Times, Worst of Times

Rap has always been a competitive art form. That’s what makes it great, competition pushes boundaries and catalyzes innovation. Guess I never realized how well rap coincides with conservative ideology. Just kidding, but in a way competition in the genre has made it mirror America in a lot of ways, bigger, better, more. Fresher clothes, faster cars, this competitive nature spreads to the consumer as well. One must always be up on one’s hip-hop or risk the chance of falling behind and falling off. Oh, you’re still listening to that album. As Billy Madison would say, “You ain’t cool unless you pee your pants, and know every single and loosie at midnight when it drops.” Kids who don’t just aren’t getting invited to the house parties, or if they are they’re left in the corner mumbling along and pretending to know the words. Embarrassing. This puts pressure on the artists as well to keep supplying a constant stream of the goods, in the internet age staying relevant is a mystery. Frank Ocean can disappear for three years and return like nothing happened, 50? I have a hard time believing he could move more than 100,000 units in a week. On the other hand, we now have a larger variety and abundance of music then ever, with dizzying amounts still being churned out weekly. My complaint though, is that this hyper-culture is going to cause the ultimate decline of conscious rap. When our ears are bombarded constantly we rarely have time to dissect anything, very few albums get played on rotation over and over. For conscious rap it only gets better with replays, the more we hear it the more we get the message. My fear is that the message will get drowned out.

Think about it in the past two months, Drake released More Life, not that its conscious rap but its certainly taking a lot of ears away from the conscious side of things (and I’m a huge Drake fan), Rick Ross and Raekwon both released albums, Joey Bada$$ released All Amerikkkan Bada$$ (a history lesson in American oppression) and Kendrick set fire to the entire universe with Damn. When Damn came out I was still grappling with many of the questions of how race operates in American society that Joey Bada$$ had raised. I still have no answers, but I no longer have time to ponder, there’s new music to be dissected. Building on top of one another the message of Lamar and Bada$$ is potent and clear, but they are both multi-faceted and have subtleties to be explored through repeated listens. Even critics can’t keep up with the pace, if Kendrick dropped anything comparable to what he’s doing now in the early 2000’s books would have been written on it. Heck, there are college courses on some of his music now, you practically need a degree to truly understand what it is he’s trying to say. Joey Bada$$ educated me as well on what it means to be black in America, but people want to hear trap and whatever else the machinations of the music industry roll out. Its all part of the play to make rap a message-less art form, to keep the message party harder so that Fox News can bash the culture more as Kendrick points out throughout his album. 

Now more than ever we need music that says something about the world we live in. Escapism is not an option. Where is Nasty Nas, the one who delivered knowledge to the masses. Where are the Wu, what happened to their twenty year plan. In the end, all that I propose is for people to recognize the good stuff when they hear it. Once you do that you can really sit down and listen to it, the best kind of music is an indictment. What are you doing? How are you going to fix the problem, or help your neighbor? How are you going to be a force for change, I think the best art makes us think that way, and I don’t want it to go over looked.

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