Backtrack roughly 11 years. Hip hop legend and pioneer, Nasir Jones, properly recognized as Nas. Released his eighth studio album, Hip Hop Is Dead. For those who do not recall the atmosphere and the sound of hip hop in 2006, many critics and hip hop purists, agreed with the Queensbridge native. Such a statement being made by one of the culture’s most respected figures, forced every artist, every critic, and every purist to put the genre under a microscope. Then the questions began to loom. If hip hop was dead, then how? Who or what killed hip hop? Could it be saved? Has it been saved? Is hip hop still dead today? Before we could answer any of these questions, there are just a few things that need to be highlighted in order to truly understand what has become of hip hop, and where the genre is headed.
In 2006, hip hop was undergoing the initial stages of a sonic transformation. A large portion of the hip hop music being released at that time was heavily southern influenced. The South, with Atlanta leading the pack, had a vice grip on mainstream hip hop. Catchy hooks, heavy subs, and sizzling hi-hats reigned supreme at any urban club or function. The sound of hip hop was evolving and it presented an opportunity to many new hip hop artists and producers. A new generation of hip hop musicians and fans began to surface. A generation that was active. A generation that wanted to move.
As the sound of hip hop continued to evolve, some hip hop artists along with many fans and critics, pointed the finger at record labels, radio, and the influence of the media. We have to understand that from its birth and throughout the 90s, hip hop was an enigma. It was a genre birthed by artists who used their music as a means to reflect on their environment, state their views and opinions, and express their hardships and frustrations. Considering the differences between generations, there was a disconnect between early hip hop and modern hip hop. Modern hip hop was upbeat, had a different bounce, and the subject matter was considerably less substantial at that time. More and more hip hop music was being released that shed more light on the glamour and successes of the industry and materialism.
Was the evolution of hip hop, also its demise? The answer can be subject to what lens you choose to view it through. By 2008-2009, the sound of early hip hop, which embodies the “the golden era,” was nearly nonexistent. Hip hop was portrayed to be nothing but women, drugs, money, and drama. The echoes of all the hip hop greats from the early years were being drowned out. It seemed like impending doom for hip hop purists and fans alike. There was a certain stigma that followed many artists post-2007 that categorized rappers across the board, which is what makes this time period interesting. In a span from 2007-2011, we witnessed the emergence of Trap Rap as a sub-genre and all that ensued. What was key during this time however, was the emergence of conscious rap.
The emergence of conscious rap plays a pivotal role in “balancing” the scales. Prior to 2009, we’ve seen the reigns of Jay-Z, Eminem, 50 Cent, The Game, Lil Wayne, and Kanye West. However, even with such a lineup, hip hop was still in a very unbalanced state. There was an ample amount of pop and trap influenced music but there was very little music that we felt comfortable crediting as real “hip hop.” After 2009, we started getting familiar with artists such as Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Drake, and Wale who had the mainstream appeal but still maintained their true artistry within their works. It was a breath of fresh air. Possibly the breath that was needed to save hip hop.
From the birth of hip hop, to its evolution and transformation, to what it is today, The path of hip hop has not always been perfect, but its been necessary. We live in a day and age where artists can be their genuine selves unapologetically. We’ve been afforded the opportunity to witness hip hop in its most diverse stage. We’ve been blessed with some of the greatest hip hop music in what our genre has become today. It was hard to disagree with Nas back in 2006. He had every reason to feel the way he did and to say what he said. It was a strange time for hip hop fans across the globe. What’s evident is, hip hop is alive and well today in 2017. It’s been a great year for hip hop music. Fans all over the world should be proud and hopeful for what the future of hip hop holds.