You Rap? You Sing? You are Responsible!
Often times we hear musical artists tell us that their music is a reflection of their real life struggles and accomplishments. Rappers especially will use their lyrics to convey realities of their existence and use that to brand themselves as being "real"! In all that, I find it puzzling and appalling when I hear some of these same artists exclaim that they do not nor do they feel like they have a responsibility to speak out on social issues plaguing our society today! Many artists voice the sentiment that what is happening throughout our nation and the world at large has nothing to do with them personally and therefore it is not their place to speak on it, and to a certain extent they do have a point. It may not directly affect them...TODAY! The reality of police brutality, racism, classism, political corruption, and so many other socially charged issues can and will eventually impact us all and evidently become everyone's reality, so why not rap or sing about it? Can you really keep it "real" without addressing the realness that is going on around you every day? As human beings we should always hold ourselves accountable for our actions and inactions and when you are in a space where you have the power to affect others then you have a greater responsibility to those within your reach.
Music encompasses so much. It can be comprised of so many different emotions, and it can have varying directions, intentions and motivations; but regardless of the purpose, music is a driving force that can be used as a platform to deliver a message! Hip Hop is a musical genre that started as a form of expression to bring a group of people together who shared similar experiences, and it gave them all one voice. That voice resonated so loud that the whole world had to take notice and our society has been shaped around it, whereas some thought that the genre could simply be discredited and ignored. It is because of this power that Hip Hop artists still have a responsibility to use their platform to speak out on social issues like police brutality, political injustice, and the evils of capitalism. Music is supposed to be fun. It’s entertainment, I get it...BUT real life isn't always fun and music has a responsibility to express that fact as well. I'm not saying that Jhene Aiko, Nicki Minaj, and Rich Homie Quan should all become activists but can we at least get one song, one major performance where they highlight some of the social issues that are causing the decline of our society instead of adding to the degenerating factors by promoting or ignoring the problems through their music. All genres of music need balance and as an artist you need balance in your creative process. You can find your niche and the kind of music that you do best, but if you can't find a way to reinvent your style and package it differently every time then eventually your audience will grow restless and bored and your career will be over.
One of the greatest examples, in my lifetime, of an artist who maintained this balance is Tupac Shakur. Tupac was the perfect balance of hardcore rapper and dedicated activist. So many of his songs were dedicated to uplifting our society and bringing to light the evils and taboo subject matter that others were afraid of or simply didn't care about. Even so long after his death he continues to gain new fans. Tupac used the platform that he was given to make a statement to those who were living the nightmare and to those who were oblivious that the problems existed. He addressed his own community, giving them a reality check. The nation at large was also put on notice, so much so that many of his songs became a rallying cry for justice and change. I can't name one artist today of his caliber who has truly picked up that torch and run with it. There are a few who are making honest efforts but none have quite achieved his prowess.
If you are a major or aspiring musical artist of any form or genre, then YES, you have a responsibility to use your platform in some small part to promote social consciousness. Any artist who feels that he or she is exempt from that responsibility needs a reality check. There comes a time where your music should serve a purpose and a higher calling and whether you want that responsibility or not, it is on you, because your artistry has a great potential to move people.
Every job or occupation requires you to do something you don't want to do or may not feel comfortable doing but you don't get a choice in the matter. If you want to keep that job then you carry out that responsibility. Being an artist is an occupation, it is your job and there are going to be aspects of it that aren't fun but necessary. Even those of us that are radio personalities working in this industry also have a responsibility to use our platforms to speak out on the social issues of the day in a constructive way. There can be no excuses, no exemptions when it comes to the issue of accountability to the society we live in. And, music, being a universal language that can have a great impact and that can effect so much change, has to be used responsibly by all who choose to be involved.
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Remember Back In the Day...
Do you remember the days when you would turn on the radio and hear a different sound, a different vibe, voice, concept...I could go on but I think you get the point. Music, especially Hip Hop and R&B has become so inundated with recycled sounds. Many of the beats we here sound just like something else that's already in your playlist, partly because many artist are using the same producer or producers are using the same recycled beat patterns. There is not nearly as much diversity in music today as there was in the "golden age" of Hip Hop and R&B. If you're an 80s baby or simply were into the music of the 80's and 90s there was such a great mixture of sounds and styles in these two genres of music that there was plenty of room for every artist to grow and be successful. We had solo artist like R. Kelly, Mary J, Toni Braxton, and Babyface and then we had the great groups like Boys II Men, Jodeci, TLC and Total, and on the Hip Hop side we had Kid-n-Play, Pharcyde, and Junior Mafia; again I could go on and on with this list. My point is, the music industry has gotten away from consistently creating new sounds and new artist and instead it has allowed just a few artist to monopolize the entire scope of popular music and I personally think this is a tragedy.
Look around, there aren't any more R&B groups being pushed to the forefront of the industry and there are a few out here that are worth paying serious attention to, like Brotherly Love and Love Parq, two amazingly talented groups that despite interest from labels and strong fan bases they have yet to really break into the mainstream. Even when you consider the R&B artist that have dominated the music scene for the 10 years there are only a few names that even matter, Chris Brown, Trey Songz, Beyonce, and Rihanna. Now granted we've had hits from the likes of K. Michelle, Keyshia Cole, Jhene Aiko, and every now and then Ciara resurfaces but there is no one who's given Beyonce, Rihanna or CB and Trey any serious competition as a rival. As radio personalities it's our job to keep up with chart topping artist who dominate the music scene on a consistent basis and trust me, on the R&B side of things the dream pool is shallow at the moment. However that doesn't mean that there aren't any viable candidates out here or an audience that wants to hear from them. In my opinion the industry has become to obsessed with "the next Rihanna" or "the next Beyonce" and they've abandoned the idea of just producing and developing great talent period and making them the new household name. That is why we had so many differing styles and sounds in the game "back in the day". Back in the golden age we had R&B songs that made us want to party, fall in love, stay in love, make love, and build families together, but now most songs are either strictly about promiscuous sex with random partners with no feelings attached, bashing and proudly cheating on the opposite sex, or all about the money and material wealth. It makes one beg to question...where is the LOVE? Afterall, isn't that what R&B music was all about? I don't scoff at the notion of R&B music growing and broadening its spectrum of topics and subject matter but at some point we must get back to the basics of what made the genre great to begin with.
When you take a longer look at the scope of Hip Hop I believe the discrepancies are more blatant. The 90's era saw the rise of "gangster rap" and the early 2000s brought about the emergence of "trap music" and somewhere along the way we lost the diversity and creativity to produce anything but trap music. There was a time when Hip Hop was inclusive and welcoming to every condition and every concept of expression but that has all come to a screeching halt. The dominance of the culture was shared by groups like De La Soul and Naughty By Nature, rappers like Heavy D and The Notorious BIG could easily command the attention of the industry, and we can't forget the vast diversity that a single artist like Tupac Shakur brought to the game. If you look around the field of players in Hip Hop now at the mainstream level there are only 2 artist doing something different from the rest and in my opinion, and that's J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar; now some will argue Drake's difference and being a big fan of the guy I would agree BUT even he has conformed at times and fallen into the popular narrative of going with the flow. I'm not totally against trap music at all, honestly sometimes I need it to get through the struggles of the day (LOL) but I believe it's imperative to have a broad spectrum of diversity and for the genre to be inclusive on a mainstream level. Conscious rap has seemingly become taboo for industry execs now, no one seems to be willing to put much effort into promoting it or pushing its agenda. I often remind people of the "feel good" music of the 90's and early 2000's that we've gotten away from. That hip hop sound and content that was just all about the regular everyday situations that normal people find themselves in, how we dealt with problems, how we made life enjoyable without flashy cars and pockets full of money; because honestly the majority of us aren't walking around with $30,000 cash in our pockets or pulling up to the party in a Ferrari, but every rap song we're bouncing to today would have you believe that you're not living life without those things...it's really kinda sad. Being a drug dealer, street dude, or a gang banger (on some level) has become the only aspiration for most young boys and being booed up with one of these guys, and stripping or twerking has become the only aspiration for young girls, and it can all attributed to Hip Hop music and the lifestyle it primarily inspires considering that nothing else is getting the spotlight.
Many in the industry would place the blame for this condition on you, the fans! There are those who believe that if the fan base did not crave the music as it is now that the current status quo wouldn't exist. The music industry is generally controlled by the consumer as any industry is, you give your customer whatever they demand and that's how you stay in business. The reality is that most times we force feed listeners what label execs want them to listen to. Negotiations are made for a certain amount of radio spins in order to force recall in the minds of the listening audience and to "break" a particular record; so in essence people will gravitate and listen to whatever is presented to them in heavy doses right? So whenever I have the discussion with people about the obvious change in the direction of Hip Hop and R&B music today I make it clear that we all may share some of the blame. The music industry manufactures the product even with the emergence of the various vehicles for music through the internet, the industry at large dictates what is presented to the listening audience but that audience has the power of choice to decide what they will and will not accept as status quo. So the next you have a conversation with someone that starts off with, "I remember back when music was..." remind yourself that everyone on both sides is collectively responsible for the state of Hip Hop and R&B as we hear it today...even you!
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