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Wards Of the “Underground”

Aight so…

I have both the luxury and burden of getting to listen to tons of new music every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every….you see where I’m going with this.

Sometimes I’m lucky enough to get to talk to some of the artists who make this music either face to face, over the phone or through the internet.

Alot of these conversations are with newer, unsigned artists. Other than terms like: “I’m on my grind,” “I’m the hottest nigga in my city,” “I’m better than {insert the benchmark rapper of the moment here},” popping up in the conversation, I hear alot of folks say “I rep for the underground” or something along those lines.

I mean, I’d like to think that I have a decent command over the English language, but the more I hear that word “underground” thrown around, the more it confuses me. Can someone please help me understand what exactly it means to be an “underground” artist in this day and age?

When I first started getting into Hip Hop, I grew into the assumption that “underground” meant whatever my parents would whup my ass for listening to or whatever was too harsh for radio or television. So shit, NWA and Geto Boys was underground to me in some respects.

Then, I have to think about some of the music that was being made around me. Folks like Success-N-Effect, Raheem The Dream, [pre-StepDaddy] Sammy Sam, [pre-Organized Noize] Kilo, Kizzy Rock, The Hard Boys, Oomp Camp, Ghetto Mafia…all that shit. I mean pretty much, in the 90′s, if you were from Atlanta and weren’t signed to or affiliated with LaFace or So So Def, you were considered underground.

Then of course, you have to mention everything that was coming out of Memphis: Triple Six, Playa Fly, Tommy Wright (the third!), Gangsta Blac, Gangsta Pat, DJ Squeeky, Criminal Mane, Tom Skeemask, Al Kapone…all that shit. Yeah, they had some distribution with Select-O-Hits that would get them in a good number of stores, but, they was still considered underground.

You can’t overlook what rappers from Houston (not signed to Rap-A-Lot) were doing pre-2005 neither. Well, really, judging from how their promote their artists, shit, if you’re signed to Rap-A-Lot you might as well be underground.

Sorry, for the trips down memory lane, but, I do you see where I’m trying to go with this?

All of those folks I named, including the Supherbs, Chino XL, Deltrons, Casual, Hiero, etc. of the world were all considered underground even though they were marginally known.

Their “underground” status came about moreso because they all had pretty direct connections with their fanbases. I like to think that it came about also because of the kind of music they were making and the shit they were saying. It wasn’t that it might have been too harsh for radio or television, its that that shit might have been too real for radio or television. Or it was just that that shit wasn’t getting played because it didn’t fit the format. They indeed relied on the underground, the streets, the people to fuck with them to the point that they could eat off their crafts.

That being said, I’m get kinda thrown when someone comes at me with their “I rep the underground” sales pitch. Do you really?

Most of the artists that I hear throwing that word around are dudes who sound as if they are already signed. (No, that is not meant to be a compliment.) What I’m saying is, alot of these cats swear up and down that the radio won’t fuck with them because “I’m too street, I’m underground,” when in actuality you sound just like half the shit that’s getting played on the radio anyway. I mean, radio and television programmers have pretty much made it known what artists they’ve chosen to be their resident “thug trap rapper.” Same goes for the cats making the strip club songs and the dance songs. How do you really call yourself underground when you either aspire or already sound and look like what’s getting played in the mainstream?

Just because you don’t get played on the radio, doesn’t make you underground. Just because you aren’t signed to a major label doesn’t make you underground either (in my soon to be commented on opinion).

Sheid, I don’t even know man, I’m starting to confuse mydamnself, talking about this shit. I guess “underground” means a certain type of sound or look to me. I can’t quite place my finger on it. But, I just know, that most of the cats calling themselves “underground” are far far from it. They are commercial as hell, its just that it ain’t getting played anywhere.

Somebody help me out here, I’m confused. Maybe “underground” should be laid to rest next to “grinding.” Well, that may be a stretch. Perhaps some folks just shouldn’t be allowed to use it.

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