◊ They Say The Children Are The Future…Then I Need A Time Machine to warn the past...◊
“I’m strictly about skills and dope lyrical coastin’/Relying on talent, not marketing and promotion”
—KRS-One, Step Into A World (1995)
SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — I am entering my third decade of hip-hop/rap fandom and I have essentially come to the conclusion that the music that I grew up loving is in some serious trouble. Rap, as in all forms of music and entertainment, is predicated as much on hype and bullshit as it actual talent and skills. In a lot of ways, it’s similar to the NBA or NFL draft. A fresh, new, UNKNOWN talent is like that hot shit quarterback or point guard. And often the path to hot shit-dom is College, which in rap circles is the mixtape and underground circuit.
Prior to 2001, often the way a new rapper/singer would get some early burn would be suddenly drop a few bars on an established talent’s song. Quite often their shit would be so hot that they would get the rub (professional wrestling term alert!) from being associated with a Jay-Z, or Biggie, or Dr. Dre that their career would be off and running. The Mixtape has taken the place of this. By the time some cat pops up on some major act’s song now, their name has been plastered all over the streets for 2 or 3 years because they have been on everyone’s damn mixtape. That’s how the likes of 50 Cent, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne (a commercial failure for nine years) suddenly stoked their image. They aren’t all bad either. Nas’ “Nigger Tape” set the table for his epic album last year. Eminem used multiple mixtapes to blister Benzino and Ja Rule in 2003. Mobb Deep, which had one of the all-time classic albums, The Infamous in 1995, have been staples in the mixtape circuit for nearly 10 years. Arguably, most of their best shit since ’99 has been on mixtapes. Done correctly, the mixtape can be your best friend! That is if you dance with what brung ya!
That brings us to Drake, the next in a long line of “Next Big Thing” young rappers. I first got wind of this dude a couple of months ago when I was hearing about his various exploits on that bastion of hip-hop news called Twitter. Apparently this cat has been destroying the mixtape game for a year, or two…I really don’t know. This cat is allegedly the best thing to come out of Canada since Wayne Gretzky, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, and circular “bacon” that tastes a hell of a lot like ham. This dude has done stuff with 9th Wonder and Elzhi of Slum V. One thing’s for sure, he’s got a buzz that’s out of this world crazy, son! And that’s why if he doesn’t revolutionize rap music, he’s basically been set up to fail. In fact, the trek toward failitude has already started, and it’s a trend that has stricken many a rapper in the second half of this decade. Whether it’s the numerous one-hitter quitters, one-trick ponies, or guys with some discernible talent who could never get out of their own way.
Go back to last month’s “Next Big Thing” Charles Hamilton ether-ing his own career before it could get rolling. Between starting beefs with Wale and Soulja Boy (and getting owned by both), to getting chin-checked on camera by Mary J. Blige’s stepdaughter (I maintain, Mary told her to work the body), to naming J Dilla as his album’s “Executive Producer”, all while claiming to have had a relationship with Dilla’s family (Ms. Yancey had no clue who Charles Hamilton was) and planned on donating proceeds to the non-existent “J Dilla Foundation”. Needless to say, Sonic The Hamilton is in deep need of an extra life or at least a two-tailed fox.
Back to MC DeGrassi, The thing that will ultimately be Drake’s undoing is that while he fancies himself as a Hip-Hop artist, he’s already been pigeon-holed. While it’s all fine and good that this dude has been a mixtape beast, his first two major appearances have been marketed toward young women, which is one of mainstream urban radio’s 2 major demos (the other being teenagers). Those of you who frequent the radio (ugh…) have heard his collab with Mary J or his “Hit Single” (the most overused phrase in the industry) “Best I Ever Had”, which the ladies love. He’ll gain his initial fame on being a ladies man. He’s not being compared to Jay-Z, or Kanye, or even Lil Wayne, he’s being compared to Ne-Yo, Lloyd, and Chris Brown (well, they have both hit Rhianna…). Those are R&B singers, not rappers!
Further adding insult to injury, that video was completely the opposite of the supposed meaning of the song. The song talks about a monogamous relationship, yet 15 seconds into the video, I am greeted by 10 women in skin tight “basketball” uniforms with boobs bouncing more than basketballs. Considering this is the first time women openly express their displeasure with cats objectifying women in videos and not only is the video bad, it managed to offend that core base he had reached and aliented the mixtape audience who knows what he is really about. Even with the advent of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and the internet, a majority of people have never heard of Drake until they saw that video for the first time today, including me.
You can have all the alleged skills and talent on the planet on a mixtape, but none of that shit matters once you hit the big show! You’re judged on the Mass Appeal (© GangStarr, 1991). I’m not saying that Aubrey isn’t a good rapper, he very much could be. But there were a lot a cats like him who were mixtape savages that got up to the big leagues, got their turn at bat, with a lot of hype, pomp, and circumstance, expecting to hit a 450 ft homerun…only to step up to the plate and hit a two-hopper back to the mound. And there’s plenty wrong with that. For the future and sake of this music called Hip-Hop, we need the next generation to develop some originality and stop allowing themselves to become victims of their own hype and reputation. Or else, there’s gonna another poor bastard on waterskis, behind the motor boat, speeding toward the ramp and the shark tank.
Take Care, God Bless, Always Dare to Be Different, and G.O.M.A.B.
Until Next Time…Don’t Believe The Hype! Σ