A Foreigner in the Home that the 80’s Built — The Story of Hip-Hop in 2016
The imperfection of the father is a blessing when served as a warning to his son. So it follows that the disappointment of a flawed son is a tragedy in the eyes of that imperfect father. So is the story of Hip-Hop in 2016, but should its evolution be considered a disappointment to Hip-Hop Historians?
Hip-Hop is beautiful. It is every positive and powerful word that you can use between amazing and zealous. In the 80’s, Hip-Hop became a crack in the American psyche and in the 90’s it penetrated the surface of American normalcy like a subjugated and battered child escaping right into the eyes of Americans, ready to expose injustice of the situation and the spilled blood that was necessary to survive.
With no hesitation, I will say that Hip-Hop is one of, if not the most, intelligent form of music to-date. No other genre has the mastery of flow, feeling and complex lyrical content that rides a beat or group of instruments much like the genre scarred by the crack era known as the 1980’s. Growing up in Fort Greene in Brooklyn, NY, I knew exactly where the desperation was coming from as, although I was never the person seeing life the way Nas articulated in his NY State of Mind, I was one of the youth that observed those caught up in the game, up close, as Nas, NY State of Mind, explains “Try to cock it, it wouldn’t shoot, now I’m in danger/Finally pulled it back and saw three bullets caught up in the chamber/So now I’m jetting to the building lobby/And it was full of children probably couldn’t see as high as I be”.
Through a child’s eyes, those young men were scary but not evil. Their acts seemed to be decisions of necessity as a result of this invisible war that permeated through the neighborhoods of the inner cities. What Nas, B.I.G and others spoke about was, in their view, what certain people had to do, even though they didn’t want to, but was the blueprint of survival as designed by some unknown sage of the community.
“All I Did Was Give You a Style to Run With” — Nas, Ether
Slicing through the lyrical content and style of hip-hop, much like viewing the growth rings on a tree trunk, one can have a good idea as to the era and area a certain song or album comes from. Sharing a common ability of all genre’s of music in general, Hip-Hop tells you what’s popular. However, what sets Hip-Hop apart is that what happens when you look deeper into the lyrical content of Hip-Hop. What you become privy to is what’s going on intellectually and even spiritually in the urban communities across America at a particular point in American history.
If the world as we know it would have ended in 1988, you’d know that the “dope man” was a concept akin to invasion of the body snatches it that either it would take your mother by getting her addicted, take your brother by getting him killed or take you by getting you enthralled by the fleeting monetary and sexual gains that came with the profession of survival in the inner city — as captured by N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton or Ice-T’s Power. Hip-Hop in ’88 would also show that you could possible escape by the skin of your teeth by embracing the party of life and enjoy whatever goodness and happiness you could find in ball, dancing or courting girls and how to be fly with the little money you can hustle up — as captured by Rob Base in It Takes Two or Big Daddy Kane’s Long Live the Kane or biz Markie’s Goin’ Off. And to bring it home, Hip-Hop in 1988 would open Pandora's box by showing you, through careful analysis, that all the factors existing in the inner city that serve as landmines to a productive life, including drugs, sex and exploitation, can be directly traced to a systematic oppression, whether intentional or not — as captured by Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back or Boogie Down Production’s By Any Means Necessary.
“I’m Taking Niggas on a Trip Straight through Memory Lane” — Nas, Memory Lane
Hip-Hop serving as a time capsule is apparent in any year of it’s life as an art. Now, of course, where one has been is important, but the most significant part of current life is where you’re going. The “Future”.
There is a rinse and repeat story of Blacks in America. Specifically, the Black Soul in Urban America has been battered, left for dead, reborn and abused again. The personality, behavior, resume and obituary of the Black Soul in Urban America is completely spelled out in Hip-Hop. When you look at the vulnerability expressed in mainstream Hip-Hop prior to the new millennium, you see an honesty in what there is to fear and loathe. An honesty in what to challenge and how to move, not as the top dog in the community but, as a bystander just trying to survive or a worker ant doing its part to survive. The music said, this is me and this is what I’m afraid of and that is what I hold close.
Something changed. A perversion of what the definition of masculinity was and how honest and open you can be as a mainstream artist. That fear of vulnerability changed the trajectory of Hip-Hop music in the mainstream for the foreseeable future.
“I Ain’t Know Whether to Cry or Just Laugh it Off” — Nas, Undying Love
Where there once was the ability to be open emotionally, on a record, about catching an L or failing in some part of life, there is a void or better put, a cloud that denotes a cognitive dissonance. In 2016, we see Hip-Hop, as the speaker for youth in the Inner City, not being able to easily come to terms with emotion, outside of a one-dimensional expression of anger and self-destruction, as well as their predecessor’s seemed able to do. In mainstream Hip-Hop, to be abused or bullied, oppressed or discriminated against or to be heartbroken or infatuated with a woman, is not discussed with a mastery of one’s feelings outside of the likes of Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and in some ways Drake.
Although Kendrick, and others like him, represent a substantial portion of Hip-Hop as it stands in 2016, they don’t represent a significant portion of the content that is the the norm or the identity of Hip-Hop. Kendrick music is 1:1 on a ratio of content in that, at most, shows where Kendrick Lamar stands on issues, it doesn’t yet represent the personality of mainstream Hip-Hop, which is, by definition, the most influential. Whereas an artist like Future represents the atmosphere or personality of what has become a mainstream staple in Hip-Hop in 2016. And that personality is that of a broken and self-destructive but brilliant individual who, most profoundly, does not realize how broken he is.
“I Been Downin’ Percocets w/ Hennesy/I Can Hear the Hood Say Their Proud of Me” — Future, Alright
Where drug selling evolved from a place of warning to becoming a necessity of putting food on the plate before being fully perverted into being profession to embrace to the extent of protecting it with one’s death, drug use evolved from something you avoided overly partaking in as B.I.G stated as one of the “Ten Crack Commandments” to becoming the perfect way to avoid the pain of life as shown as the focus of the discographies of mainstream Hip-Hop’s current leader’s Future and Young Thug. This was a transition fostered by Lil Wayne in the early 10’s of the 21st Century.
But why the transition from highlighting highly risky drug dealing to embracing self-destructive drug use? One short and simple answer is dilution, in that everyone, including those who’s credibility have been questioned, such as Rick Ross, have adopted it in their music in an attempt to break into the industry as a leader. However, that still doesn’t explain why overt drug use has become so popular as an alternative or equal ingredient to other types of content in Hip-Hop.
“Bitch I’m Choosing the Dirty Over You” — Future, DS2
The more complex and honest answer as to why self-destructive drug use has become credible and a staple is that an inability or fear of expression of vulnerability prevents many mainstream artists from expressing what’s really going on in their life as shown in their muse. When combined with the perception of women and the respect that they are supposed to garner, we see that a perversion of the definition of what it is to be a man has turned from being strong through vulnerability to being strong by swearing their vulnerability does not exist.
Of course, the adoption of being one-dimensional in character and expression is not just a fabrication in the minds of artists, it has its roots in how the youth have been indoctrinated to interact with one another in their own community. We can go back to residential zoning laws, lack of jobs and the destruction of the Black family to see how and why many youth in the Inner City are perceived to have a dog-eat-dog mentality and as a result of it going unchecked because of poor childhood development in school and lack of productive programs and organizations in their neighborhoods and because of feelings of low self worth, it has been intertwined in the music that offers them identity.
As hard as it is to say sorry in reaction to a shoulder bump or stepped on sneaker for fear of being viewed as less than a man, it is that hard, now, to show feelings of regret, remorse and humility on a record. Future’s music, as brilliant as it can be, expresses this perfectly. Drug addiction and lack of respect for women are less of an indication of Future’s lack of character and more of an indictment on a society that fosters the necessity for a man raised in the Inner City to be antagonistic and callous with own’s feelings.
And what happens when a person, who wants a release and wants a shoulder to cry on does not ever get that chance to cry? That person looks to other things to quell those feelings that are eating them up inside. They turn to something to numb those feelings and that becomes self-destructive.
In the 80’s and early 90’s, there was still a feeling that someone wanted to listen to your problems and that was translated in the music. For the genre, the artists and content of the 80’s and 90’s built the foundation and home, brick by brick, however, the connection between the opposites of the spectrum in the genre seem to have alienated each other in ways that make them unfamiliar to each other. In 2016, Hip-Hop is merely expressing a feeling that society believes your problems aren’t important, so the music has evolved to show that either I will still fight to be heard like Kendrick or I will show you a glimpse into a mind that is full of delusions of grandeur and sedation brought on by some chemical concoction that makes me feel like the world is mine:
“The money got me geeked like I took a hit of coca/My life is a movie, I gotta stay focused.”-Future, Tony Montana.
The eternal question, which will only be answered decades from now, is whether the foreigner in this home built by the trailblazers of Hip-hop is Current Hip-Hop or has it become such an influential animal, in and of itself,t that it has accomplished the task of historians of Hip-Hop see the founders as foreigners in what they originally created.