Kurtis Blow was the first rapper to be signed to major record label Mercury Records (a subsidiary of Universal Music Group). Under the management of now-business mogul Russell Simmons, Blow was the first rapper to perform overseas and to gold with his single “Christmas Rappin’.” The way this bit of history is chronicled sounds harmless, but like always, I have my suspicions. Record executives sit in board meetings, surreptitiously planning the income of record profits ten and twenty years down the line. A similar practice occurred with Race Records in the 1900s. Artists recorded songs and were then forced to go through businessmen who controlled the airwaves in order to reach far-away audiences. Simmons and Blow probably didn’t anticipate what the state of Hip-Hop would look like today.
The Hip-Hop songs heard by the general public are often played in strict rotation over airwaves, as the theme songs at sports games, and on commercials. Nowadays a few people pontificating on a limited variety of topics dominate Hip-Hop: money, material wealth, drug trafficking and women. Quite recently, there has been a shift to bring the stripper to your front door and Two Chainz has made the biggest contribution having released three back to back odes to the stripper. Flaunting of the lifestyle is powerful enough to control the so-called underground too. Record executives simply pluck when they need a new artist; ask Immortal Technique.
What scares me is that I see the effects of the music and the way in which certain sub genres are mass-communicated. Mos Def explains the relationship in his song ‘Fear Not of Man’ off of his 1999 album, ‘Black on Both Sides’. He says, “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.” Well there are people back home in their communities trying to find some way to make it. I guess Drake wasn’t just flexing, they really can’t see cause the money is in the way.
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Many of my male friends are rappers and, with the hope of making it to the big stage, spend large amounts of time writing and going into the studio. When a friend of mine told me he was going into the studio to rap about guns and drugs, I was shocked. While it’s obvious that he would know his topic before going into the studio, his unwavering ownership of his actions to talk about bad things, made me wonder: if you were conscious of the state of your surroundings, would you really participate in the glorification of the very things that have really brought communities down? Things like petty possessions charges that land people in jail for decades, buying things we can’t afford — cars, clothes and other material goods — and treating women like objects?
I believe artists have responsibility to bring positivity to their communities. But I wonder if the art has been lost so much that it’s true inspirational power is being muffled by redundant choruses and beats so intricate that they function as the backbone of the song.
To gain a more direct understanding of how Hip-hop artists feel, I decided to seek out expert opinions from The Noize, a visionary Hip-hop group here on campus seeking to reunite all elements of Hip-hop. Members in the group hail from various cities in America including New York City, Chester, Chicago, Swarthmore and Minneapolis. One Swattie in the group was right with me, “The responsibility of the artist is to the community of the artist, to say something that’s real and express it as beautifully as they can like W.E.B. du Bois says,” said Julian Randall ‘15. The cohesiveness of the group was very evident along with the fact that not once have any of them mentioned money. It stood as a testament to their dedication to the craft and to the music. I just wish we had more artists at the forefront like The Noize who strive to have a positive impact.