Welcome to the “Music for the Rest of Us.” It would be logical to ask, “Just who exactly comprises us?” There’s my general definition, which is anyone who loves great music that was created with artistic integrity.
Like most people, I have a wide range of musical interests that span several genres, and I will explore some of them in this column. But there is a more specific definition of “us” that pertains to Hip Hop. I’m highlighting this because I’m a huge Hip Hop head, and this column will be mostly focused on beats and rhymes.
As it pertains to Hip Hop, that “us” is comprised of the millions of people who aren’t feeling this mindless party rap that’s prevalent on the airwaves. We like to “turn up” now and again, but we’re not trying to live in that lane 24/7. More importantly, we actually appreciate poetic and profound lyricism over gibberish.
More importantly, we actually appreciate poetic and profound lyricism over gibberish.
To understand why I started this column, it would help if you knew a little bit more about me. I like to build, not destroy—which is why I built Vaytus, a music streaming app dedicated to indie music. I believe the mainstream should be able to play whatever it wants. If we don’t like it, we can build our own lane that celebrates the diversity of Hip Hop’s rich tradition.
Somewhere along the line, Hip Hop was artificially changed. When I say changed, I mean changed like when GMOs were introduced into the food supply. GMOs weren’t produced because the people demanded it. Frankenfood was invented to increase corporate profits, and so was this current manifestation of mainstream rap.
I think most of “us” understand how the game was played, but I’ll give a quick break down to level set. Hip Hop is predominantly a black thing, but black folks are only 12% of the population. So to maximize profit, it made sense for corporations to push a sound that was only superficially black (which could be a whole piece itself), and focused on materialism instead of the inner workings of black society.
This allowed kids in the suburbs to be able to finally relate to Hip Hop without feeling like an outsider. After all, expensive cars, houses, and clothes are more relevant to their lives than they are to a youngsta growing up in Bed-Stuy.
Even worse, a lot of Hip Hop fans who came of age in the Golden Era were complicit in dumbing down Hip Hop via their attempts to stay “hip.”
Even worse, a lot of Hip Hop fans who came of age in the Golden Era were complicit in dumbing down Hip Hop via their attempts to stay “hip.” They didn’t want to sound like grumpy old heads, so they went along with this new frankenmusic minstrel show. Afterall, the beats do bang!
So back to “us,” the ones who still proudly claim to be real Hip Hop heads. We fall into three buckets. There’s the “dooms-dayer” that says “Hip Hop is dead and will never come back!” This is the head who only listens to Hip Hop from the “Golden Era” or earlier. Then there’s the passive observer that sees that things have changed and they simply accept it. They see Hip Hop going the way of Jazz and The Blues (dying off), and they appreciate the good times they shared with Hip Hop. Lastly, there’s the ride or die Hip Hop head that believes real Hip Hop will live forever so long as the people want it.
I’m more of the ride or die head, and I fall in this category for a couple of reasons.
First, there are literally millions of us that are walking around frustrated with what they play on the radio, and seek out real Hip Hop. Look at Kendrick and J. Cole’s commercial success if you don’t believe me.
Hip Hop heads can’t look to a bunch of suits as if they’re the guardians of our music.
Second, there’s a massive underground scene of first rate emcees who keep churning out pure dopeness. We can get new Hip Hop like we’ve always known and loved, we’re just looking in the wrong place for it.
It’s easy to by cynical when you listen to what’s getting burn, but that’s because you’re looking at the world through the eyes of corporate music interests. Hip Hop heads can’t look to a bunch of suits as if they’re the guardians of our music. Remember the classic Mos Def monologue from “Fear Not of Man”:
“I tell em, ‘You know what’s gonna happen with Hip-Hop?
Whatever’s happening with us.’
If we smoked out, Hip-Hop is gonna be smoked out.
If we doin alright, Hip-Hop is gonna be doin alright.
People talk about Hip-Hop like it’s some giant livin in the hillside
comin down to visit the townspeople.
We are Hip-Hop.”
So for all of “us” that aren’t feeling mumble rap, this column will be a place to explore music that we appreciate. We don’t have to live in the 90s for the rest of our lives. We have Denmark Vessey, Killer Mike, Oddisee, and so many more. Never forget: we are Hip Hop.
Music for the Rest of Us is an exploration of dope music made with artistic integrity— music that’s about something more than just the turn up. Written by Aniefre Essien.