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  • 28Dec

    On greed, pride, Big Boi, T.I. and how rap’s kicking its own ass.

    Among many things, the seductive sway of social media is killing great rappers and great rap records. Within the past six months, Twitter, Facebook and Youtube have grown into ridiculously powerful and corrosive forces in the record industry. In an era where traditional labels need things to count in order to justify notions of excellence (or lack thereof), Twitter, Facebook and Youtube are easy targets. Talent and development don’t matter in a depression. Numbers do. When success abounds and we’ve got mad friends with Benzes throwing money in the sky, the space for developing top-tier projects that showcase a level of skill in production and a clear directive towards artist development matter. When we’re wearing Rick Owens sneakers that we’ve procured from our drug dealing pesos, there’s a different vibe developing. Now, issues like “brand development,” “visual imaging” and “market saturation” take hold. In music moving from being aural-to-physical-then-visual to simultaneously aural/physical/visual/digital, everything was lost. In T.I. and Big Boi putting out absurdly well-crafted releases that demand public notice but are receiving public “meh,” it’s a sad statement on times that have completely changed.

    There was once a time before social media and the internet where knowledge of great rap-to-come was guarded information. Without Youtube, you were hustling crowds, sending demos to radio stations and labels, and selling CDs out of the trunks of cars. Those who got on in that era really had to evolve and develop their product with an absurd eye to detail. Imagine not having Youtube, Facebook or Twitter to start a movement. Imagine people having to have conversations where their word was their bond and more important than the numbers in the details. Great rap releases reaching the next level wasn’t all about co-signs of the Twitterati and Youtube hits, either. You had folks like Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia, Donnie Simpson, Frankie Crocker, Red Alert, Funkmaster Flex and so many more who had to stamp you, and those rare across-the-board stamps acted as universal currency. There was a sense of great pride in co-signing the next star. Folks with significant levels of industry experience or knowledge were creating the first generation of an African-American dominated urban genre in the era of Reaganomics and anti-urban political rhetoric. By comparison, getting a blog post on The FADER, 2 Dope Boyz or even, say, here, really doesn’t matter at all.

    The sense of pride in rap (and by extension an ever increasingly digitized humankind) is gone because we’re inundated by a sense of greed. Greed’s merely obnoxious when ten men can’t share 100 million dollars. But watch one billion men fight for one dollar, and you’ll find something that is incredible, a sick and disheartening display of everything that rap music (and life) should never be. In a genre of music dominated by lower-to-middle class Americans struggling to get to the next level, pride is important. Dignity is key. In a year where Trinidad James, Future, Chief Keef and so many more represent   awesome human ignorance run amok, and so many others show rap society slowly breaking free of the primordial ooze of basic raps, Big Boi and T.I. are strangers in a strange land.

    Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head and Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors represent rap from a long forgotten era of folks having pride foremost in themselves and their craft to a degree where merely coming close demanded trying all over again. Imagine Trinidad James  seriously approaching Grand Hustle with “All Gold Everything” in 2003? Imagine Kendrick Lamar approaching the Dungeon Family with good kid, m.A.A.D. city in 1994? Both (yes, both) would’ve fallen short and not passed muster. There’s something to be said about current rappers successfully underwhelming against legendary standards that’s important about this era. And, unlike Fat Joe’s “Instagram that Hoe” or LL Cool J’s “Ratchet”, the idea that Big Boi and T.I. held serve, changed nothing and had the new kids on the rap block attempting to reach their standards on their records. These are impressive albums demanding incredible attention from rap’s new kings. And instead they’re too busy talking about that shit they don’t like, and just how many fuckin’ problems they have. Again, this is a sad day.

    2013 represents yet another day in life’s sad decay. The fiscal cliff is looming, you’re not shit if you can’t pull a “Gangnam” (one billion hits) on Youtube, and Taylor Swift will beat Ke$ha largely because she had the common sense to hustle her CDs with pizzas. For rap as mainstream music, this is a real triangle of terror. Will we meet this evil with pride, or with greed? I think we all know the answer.

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