Rap Veterans Who Are Bothered By Today’s Hip-Hop
Houston hip-hop legend Scarface told XXL last week that hip-hop has lost its soul, claiming that in this day and age, lyrics are being dumbed down because everyone is so focused on turning up.
“I feel like our music was dumbed down,” the Houston legend said in a phone interview, echoing a number of his peers who have vocalized similar frustrations recently. “I grew up listening to great music that molded my character and my artistry, that helped me. You got to look at it. Look at the music that came out 25 years ago. Now match it up to the music that came out today. There’s no comparison to it. I go back to the same question that I always ask. Who stole the soul?”
It's a question that is asked repeatedly from many of the old guard of hip-hop, as lyricism is eroded in favor of easy hooks and club bangers. And Scarface is not alone. Over the past few years, a number of hip-hop veterans have questioned the state of the genre compared to their own glory days. XXL has compiled a list of a few of those who have made their issues public in recent months, from Big Daddy Kane to Chuck D to Nas.
Previously: Scarface Feels Hip-Hop Today Has No Soul
Chuck D, Public Enemy
"Rappers have become the status quo"
Chuck D has been one of the most vocal members of the established hip-hop community to vent against the modern culture, and he hasn't just attacked the music—he's gone after publications (burning copies of XXL, Rolling Stone and The Source on stage at Afropunk Festival last summer) and radio stations as well. But he's saved a lot of his ire for the business of hip-hop, saying that corporations have ruined what was once a pure form of expression. "Rap comes from the humble beginnings of rebelling against the status quo. Now, rappers have become the status quo themselves," he told Progressive.org in 2005. "You can’t rebel against the Queen and then become the Queen yourself."
Flavor Flav, Public Enemy
"Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar and Drake are not real hip-hop"
Flavor Flav has long since drifted away from his hip-hop roots into reality television and self-parody, but the Public Enemy O.G. has been just as vocal as group-mate Chuck D about the current state of hip-hop. “I think the element of hip-hop left when rap music started being created on a slow tempo," he told Gigwise last August, saying that guys like Drake, Jay, Kendrick, Nicki and Lil Wayne were making great rap records but not great hip-hop ones. "It’s just stayed there for years. Right now, a lot of rap music today is being created at very low tempos.”
Big Daddy Kane
"Hip-hop has no grooming process anymore;" "[Rappers aren't] making music with any staying power"
Big Daddy Kane is asked often about the current state of hip-hop, and as one of the best lyricists of all time, it's no surprise that the lack of lyrical invention is his one main sticking point. "There’s no grooming process in hip-hop where they basically groom the artists, so basically all you have in hip-hop now is a song," he told SoulTrain.com this past April. "The majority of the time, all that’s carrying the song is the music. It’s like nobody is really focusing on the lyrics; the artists aren’t taking time to write real lyrics, they are just following the trend of doing some auto tune type of singing, the less words the better so everybody can just sing along and that’s that."
Kane also spoke with XXL around the 40th anniversary of DJ Kool Herc's first block party in August, where he elaborated on his position. "I watched how it commercialized into something where cats ain’t really talking about nothing, or making any music with any staying power that really sticks with anyone for a long period of time," he said, adding that he also thought that it would eventually come back full circle to the roots of where it started. "I’ve watched hip-hop go from its beginning stage, hit its glory days, reach a mountain-top, and then become commercialized and become just music."
DJ Red Alert
"[Producers] miss the important information"
Red Alert was one of the first major DJs on the radio, and he's been spinning records in New York City for decades. As a DJ and producer, he's seen a lot of young kids skip the learning process that helped give some of the guys of his generation the musical background to innovate. "In order for you to become a good DJ, you learn the fundamentals," he told XXL last year. "After you lay down the fundamentals then you start taking things to the next level—you want to build your style. But if you just go past the fundamentals and go straight to what’s going on today, you miss the important information. They have some great production [today]. And there’s some that needs to be much better than what I hear; it’s a balance of both."
"If it continues the way things are going, I think hip-hop could be extinct"
The well-respected underground DJ most famous for his work with Black Star and Talib Kweli had some ominous words when taking in the state of the industry today. “I truly feel that the business has taken control," he told XXL in August. "They finally figured out how to not let an artist stand on his own in a major way... I always think things come in circles. It’s a 360 thing. But if it continues with the way things are going I think hip-hop could be extinct, [or] what we considered to be hip-hop."
"Today, it's lost. Integrity is lost. Its meaning is lost"
Nas has always been one of the realest out, and he's been an outspoken critic of the way hip-hop has gone from a true expression of the streets to over-commercialized business—look no further than his Hip-Hop Is Dead album title from 2006. "Today, it's lost," he told Talk Stoop with Cat Greenleaf last year. "Integrity is lost. Its meaning is lost."
"What's dead?" Greenleaf asks. "The realness," he responds in typical stoic manner.