The Chronic, Illmatic, Paid In Full, In God We Trust, Straight Outta Compton, The Low End Theory, Aquemini/ATLiens, BE, Me Against The World, Amerikkkas Most Wanted, Ready To Die… I could probably fill half of this page with albums that we, the hip hop community consider to be of an everlasting nature. But what constitutes classic status? After all if you’re going to give an album such an accolade you’re then going to have to put it up against all other genres. The quality of albums such as Marvin’s What’s Going On, Bob Marley’s Exodus or The Beatle’s Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cannot be put into words. Can any of our classics really hold their own against such titles or have we been seeing things through rose tinted glasses.
Such a question was inadvertently ‘answered’ on UK television by Channel 4. They screened a top 100 albums list and De La Soul, Public Enemy, Eminem (The Marshall Mathers LP) and Outkast all made the cut. However all were in the lower 50, Outkast got in with Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and the most glaring classics never got a look in (see start of write up). It is said that hip hop is a movement, therefore any album that makes the list has to help to take the movement in a new direction. The latter two on that list –as good as they are- did not come anywhere close to doing that. But for the success of Stan (and rightly so) i’m not sure that Em would have made it and as
good as Speaker/Love is, we all know Outkast has pushed better product. Blips such as these only serve to highlight the need to have hip hop represented by those who count its long-term interests at heart.The problem now is that such blips are commonplace. Too many cooks adding too may ingredients and spoiling the broth. Too many disillusioned youngsters chasing that 6 (or even 7) figure advance, little realising that it’s a loan that they are fully expected to repay.
I should not be going to my nearest CD exchange shop/store and be seeing repeat copies of the albums listed above, on the shelf, while a single copy of some of Hip Hops more recent –and not so deserving- alumni’s is nowhere to be found. I should not have a new, top of the range sound system that has an unused tuner because radio stations that used to be my favourites now play the same 20–30 songs in varying order. If you were to use today’s current mish mash of various radio and download charts as a guide, is the throwaway culture we are now surrounded by the various radio and download charts as a guide, is the throwaway culture we are now surrounded by the future of Hip Hop? Are we to deduce that the age of the classic is dead?
According to Nas it is, but his wasn’t a blanket statement. He still listens to music, but the Hip Hop he always thought would be at the forefront of the culture is now lagging behind. The ‘culture’ as a mainstream draw no longer exists and the kind of money that’s involved with a hit record means that it is never likely to return. Radio execs/DJ’s that used to play what was good and thus made stars of those that deserved it, are now so indebted to payola for their current lifestyle that giving any amount of that up is tantamount to madness. MC’s that used to push the envelope, both visually and conceptually, are now content with pulling cheap stunts to keep themselves basking in the spotlight and banking in their wallet. MC’s that used to portray themselves as the OG from the street, are now redefining themselves as the king of the clubs. MC’s that used to scare their rivals with their lyrical combinations, are now happy to regurgitate one inane hook after another and call it a 16 bar verse. MC’s that should be carrying the torch for us are not able to get a look in because they don’t fit the corporate image of what is needed in their latest protégé/puppet to bankroll the man-sions and ski trips.
But still, commercially hip hop, has never been in a stronger position. With more and more artists utilizing the digital revolution, the spin offs avail-able are almost endless. Ringtones, digital extras, advertising, merchandising possibilities are at an all time high. But all these new avenues are opening at our expense. ‘Hip Hop’ is slowly being replaced by ‘Rap’ and what took it to the forefront in the first place is being forgotten. Remembering where they came from and staying humble is all well and good. But unless they carry that feeling through to the culture as a whole, what good is it for the future the main provider of their wealth.
So taking all these elements onto consideration, how likely are we to see a classic album that is also making major moves on radio and in the charts? That depends on us. I just scared that there aren’t enough of US left to make a difference. Time will tell.
Originally written in 2011 for The Find Magazine