I oftentimes wonder what an updated version of “I Used to Love H.E.R.” would sound like. In the years since the song’s release, hip-hop continued to grow to monumental proportions, much greater than anything even Common ever surmised. Hip-hop traded in its fitted hats for a suit and tie and not only went commercial but also became extremely business-minded (producing moguls like Diddy and the often-overlooked Master P).
The excitement we as a collective felt upon first seeing Curtis Blow in that Sprite commercial in 1986 (the first time we saw a rapper reppin’ a major brand like that on national television)—quickly dissipated when we saw the cringe-worthy KFC spot featuring MC Hammer dancing for popcorn chicken. Now, after two decades of the music going increasingly mainstream and selling out at every turn along the way, hip-hop’s money-grubbing chickens are finally coming home to roost.
Forget the rapper-with-no-lyrical-skills-who-still-manages-to-make hit-after-hit-and-just-won’t-go-away-induced panic of late, I’m talking about how the face of hip-hop is changing. Take a look at the major up-and-coming artists who are actually making waves on the Billboard charts right now (B.o.B., Nicki Minaj, Drake).
B.o.B. is having an amazing year. In addition to going on tour and having two No. 1 singles on the Billboard charts, he was invited down to Washington, D.C. to perform for Obama. He received seven nominations for the upcoming BET Awards and performed at the MTV VMAs alongside Bruno Mars and Hayley Williams of Paramore. And in case you didn’t notice, he’s even rocking out in Adidas commercials.
Nicki Minaj is breaking Billboard records left and right. She’s got an insanely allegiant following like no other artist out right now and, IMHO, she’s arguably the most exciting thing rap has seen or heard in a while. And you already know Drake’s story—in 2009 he dropped a mixtape that not only sounded like an album but was also immediately deemed a “classic,” a noble feat for a person who was relatively unknown before its release. He’s that kid in the Sprite commercial, on SNL and everywhere in between.
These three all have bars, that’s a given (anti-Minajs hold off for a second), but they’re also singing through half their records and a couple (or perhaps just one) is pandering to an audience that sure ain’t hip-hop if anything.
You can rant, rave, and complain about artists like Minaj and Kid Cudi’s take on hip-hop all you want but no matter how you slice it, it’s hip-hop. I already know where you’re going to take that in the comments section but hear me out anyway.
At it’s best we call it OutKast and Kanye West, at it’s worse it’s all of those “emo”-hating epithets I’m still expecting to see in the comments section on this post no matter how carefully I word things. Either way it’s here.
Now I’m not trying to make a grandiose statement here about the death of hip-hop, in it’s traditional form or any other. I’m just posing a question that’s been on my mind. Where is hip-hop going? And are we ready for it? Is Nicki, B.o.B., Drake and the lot truly where hip-hop is going next? Or just a recycling of where it’s already been (Nelly, anyone)? It’s likely that we’re not witnessing rap’s Armageddon but we might be witnessing the creation of a new subgenre that we’ve yet to label. Either way, Hip-Pop (there!) is coming at us. —Brooklyne Gipson