Where Did It All Go?

It is not uncommon to state that the rap music industry has changed from the time it first sprung up in the late 70’s to present time.  Everything from illegal music downloads, to the type of popular music, but the more concerning factor for music lovers is the lack of passion that has been seen in the current hip-hop industry.  Many people say that hip-hop is dead and that rap artists are lazy when it comes to their music, since much of their lyrics are “meaningless.”  In actuality the actual music industry seems to have taken the front stage, pushing the actual artists, and their ideas behind them.  Hip-hop itself, did not change, but rather the industry that hip-hop is a part of did.

In the article “The Ever Changing Rap Music Business,” Wendy Day, the founder of the not-for-profit Rap Coalition and an author of multiple books regarding the music industry, says that the music industry has changed.  Day says that rappers are no longer using rap and hip-hop as an art, but rather as a business for themselves.  Since artists are no longer using it as an art, they are focusing on what is needed to make a hit song, getting on the radio and selling as many copies of their songs as possible.  Wendy stated that now an artist’s “measurement of success [is] whether an artist could sell platinum [records] as opposed to lyrical skill.”  Rap and hip-hop is no longer as meaningful as it has been in its earlier years, and artists are purely doing it for the money; not pleasure or enjoyment.  Wendy Day witnessed in the 90’s this shift in the music.  It is not that every song is complete garbage and is meaningless, but the music went from being lyrically motivated, to being motivated by sales.  Artists have a new vision in their sights and seem to be only working for the money.  To put it simply, there is a lack of passion in hip-hop compared to its earlier years due to the fact that artists are rapping solely for money these days.  What Wendy Day hopes is that hip-hop will reverse its mentality on more modern day music.

In my honest opinion, I do not think hip-hop has changed, but rather the music industry that it is a part of.  It is almost as if the industry has become more of the artist, than the artist itself due to the strictness of the contracts that the artists are locked into.  The music industry and record labels the artists are a part of steal the artists’ individuality along with their own sense of creativity towards their own music.  If anything, the music industry is changing hip-hop, not the artists like Wendy Day stated.

The effects on hip-hop artists from the music industry are incredibly drastic.  The music industry can completely remove and extinguish an artist’s individuality and his or her motivation to rap.  The music industry has tunnel vision towards the dollar signs and will do whatever it takes in order to gain as much profit as thy can.  It has even been more drastic in the past decade due to the illegal downloads on the internet.  In order to fix this problem the music industry bases its sales on radio time and touring.  Wendy Day stated “almost all well-known artists try to make music that is marketable, fits a radio format, and will sell to the masses thereby bringing revenue and income to the artist.”  In other words, she is saying that the artist just makes songs that are suitable for the radio.  In actuality it is the industry and the label that force these decisions on the artists.  In order to receive the largest income, they must create a radio hit song which will stay on the radio for the longest amount of time.  This eliminates the artist’s choice to make their own songs about what they want.  The industry sets their ideas on growing trends in popular culture.  This is why when you turn on the radio, every song is about the same thing.  It is about the artist boasting about their own personal success, and bragging about how many chains they have and all the cars they drive.  In the article “Rakim: We Need a Few More Kanyes,” David Samuels, a reporter for the Atlantic Magazine, talks about how “Jay-Z, a man who makes $80 million dollars off of his huge talent, raps about his private jet.”  It is the industry who is making this decision, not the artist.  Many people who are or were hip-hop fans are saying that hip-hop is dead but it is the music industry is dead.  If the music industry was out of the picture and artists were on their own, individual music labels, they would be rapping about what they want to rap about which would bring much more passion to music and change hip-hop from a business to an art once again.

Aside from the industry extinguishing the artists’ individuality, they are also ridding them of their creativity.  Over the years, the teams created to make a song have increased drastically in numbers.  Now-a-days there are numerous songwriters that work on an individual song.  Many artists are given what is called “ghost writers.”  A ghost writer is a songwriter who exclusively writes for an artist along with other song writers in an attempt to make a radio hit.  These ghost writing teams are provided by the record labels and music industry, once again in order to get closer to the money and platinum records.  Back in the day, artists such as Common, Nas, Tupac, NWA and Biggie Smalls were individual songwriters who wrote their own lyrics.  It is noticeable how these artists have much more passion than today’s artists such has Tyga, Soulja Boy and Lil’ Wayne.  Another thing that I have noticed is that today all of the good rappers and hip-hop artists who are exceptionally good and lyrically talented such as J Cole and Kendrick Lamar are signed to individual labels.  This can suggest that they are not being held back as they would be if they were signed to major record label that provides them with song writers and basically just uses the artist for the quality in their voice.  A drastic example to this would be John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.”  That song, which is an all time hit, was written by John Lennon. Period. Nobody else, just him.  Today, there are sometimes up to a twelve person team writing one song which, lyrically, is no where as strong as songs written in the past such as John Lennon’s “Imagine.”  This is simply due to the lack of passion embedded within the lyrics.

Lastly, the music industry became full of greed over the past couple of decades.  Everybody thinks that the rappers are in it for the money when it is actually the industry that is in it for as much money they can get their hands on.  Wendy Day mentioned that “access replaced aptitude. It went from being fun to being the cut throat, over crowded, greed driven business that it is today.”  In other words, the industry replaced many of the talented and respected workers that were around in the past, to smaller time workers who were being paid a fraction of the price of the more experienced people.  Also with the coming up and popularity of the internet, it was much easier for record labels to find newer artists just from them uploading their music online.  The companies then began ridding of their A&R’s and scouts that went to shows to find new artists to add to the label.  This began getting even more drastic in more recent years when more and more home studios began appearing.  New and upcoming rappers no longer needed a record label to represent them because of the fact they had their own personal home studio in their bedroom.  I personally have a recording studio in my basement and I produce beats, which then are combined with local artists rapping over them.  So I make songs without ever leaving my house.  You were not able to do this back in the earlier years when hip-hop first rose up.  Another thing that made these companies more greedy was the fact that in order to get signed, most record companies were asking for a cutback, or a percentage of the rappers income.  This probably also contributed to the dissatisfaction of newer hip-hop songs that people are hearing on the radio due to the fact that the artist were unhappy with the pay cut, therefore showing less enthusiasm on certain songs.

So to put it all together, hip-hop is not what it once was.  It is not the artists’ fault, but it is the music industries fault for being taken over by greed and no longer having a passion for the music.  It is not that the music industry is completely fallen apart; don’t get me wrong, there are hundreds of incredibly well acclaimed business men, producers and engineers which I personally have an incredible amount of respect for.  Im arguing the fact that the music industry should not have the ability to take away an individuals creative license when it comes to making their own songs.  After all it is their song; not the industry’s song.  There are a countless amount of people who still love hip-hop, but are ashamed of what it has become.  They only listen to the older songs, because they believe its hard to even call today’s hip-hop an art.  This is because it is no longer an art, but a business where the guys in suits are calling the shots to make music that will make money.  That is where the lack of passion exists.  The artists are forced to create songs they may not want to make since their individuality along with their creativity has been taken from them.  It is not the artist’s fault for the direction hip-hop has altered, but it is the music industry who should take the blame.  One day I just hope that hip-hop will one day restore its original purpose as an art, and not a money maker.

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