Kanye rose triumphantly from the ashes and proclaimed himself the winner in the rap battle of the year, if not the decade; having beat out 50 Cent on his first week of sales. To be fair; 50 had already exhausted 4 of the singles off of his album before the record was even released, while Kanye was only working on his second, his record with T-Pain which reworks “PYT Pretty Young Thing” by Michael Jackson now hitting the airwaves. But it may be his last; despite the Kanye/50 fiasco neither of the albums are but a small candle in a rap world that is still predominated by snap, dirty south, and New York pop records such as Cassidy and Swizz Beats “My Drink N My 2 Step”.
So what happened; just when a good, solid, thoughtful record tears up the charts it is but a memory within months of it’s release, while it is clear that 50 Cent’s “Curtis” was but an interim album in anticipation of his next album to be released next year Kanye West’s “Graduation” should still have the energy to run the charts for some time now. If nothing else his memorial to Jay “Big Brother”, should be the Halloween record taking us into the holiday season. Yet we’re back to rap filler, the empty, mindless (though thoroughly produced) sounds of Swizz Beats pushing pop rap when the media has proclaimed that consciousness is back. Do we ask too much of hip-hop, or is it just easier to listen to music that asks a lot of us (either way 50’s lyrics haven’t been dumbed down, by comparison he is just more comfortable reciting them, and more arrogant); I mean no one can even really comprehend what Soulja Boy is saying on “Crank Dat”.
While I do enjoy listening to weird beats that are outside of the norm producers’ albums are typically little more than a testament to the artists’ own creativity; not made for respect or consideration of the pop aesthetic and certainly for the long term. You may dust off an album such as “Graduation” or “Timbaland Presents Shock Value” as it is something you may go back and listen to ten years from now, even though you may not necessarily want to listen to it now. This is the lasting value of a record like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, which was just enough of a pop record to rule the charts at the time, yet still had the lasting artistic value to become timeless. Looking back it is difficult to know just what the real strategy was for that record at that time, or if it is all purely by accident.
Yet is there anything like that in rap today, particularly when you come to think that 20 years from now we won’t be talking about records like “Graduation” or “Curtis” but will look back with fond memories of pop rap records that were produced with the upmost attention to create an addictive sound; everyone will be talking about Ms. Elliot’s first record, singles like “Hot Boys”, Master P’s “Ice Cream Man” or “Ruff Ryder’s Anthem”. We say we like Tupac Shakur, but my favorite records were “The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory” and “Me Against the World” when he actually had some production values. I’ll dust off “Eazy-Duz-It” before I play a lot of newer records simply because it sounds better. Pop music is both the gift and curse of hip-hop, because your favorite hip-hop records have a pop value to them, regardless of how much you claim to be a true hip-hop listener. When we loved rappers like Rakim, for some of us the music had us at hello, while for others the music was an afterthought; yet the music is a lot of what gets in the way of his return to prominence, though arguably he is still perhaps the best ever. How many young kids like Rakim, or even know about him, how many would argue that Lil’ Wayne is better; as many as argued that Tupac Shakur was better ten years ago or even more? Rap music is still a minimalist form of expression, so regardless of what value we try to find in the poetry, we still prefer a stripped down, easy to remember sequence of chords than we do a complex rhyme that we do not even understand at the moment. To be a great rapper is to be a martyr for the music because you know at the moment that it is falling on deaf ears, yet when the right people like it, this is perhaps the most of a compliment one can ever really expect …