Since the early to mid 90’s, hip-hop has undergone changes that purists would consider degenerating to its culture. At the root of these changes is what has been called “commercial hip-hop”. Commercial hip-hop has deteriorated what so many emcees in the 80’s tried to build- a culture of music, dance, creativity, and artistry that would give people not only something to bob their head to, but also an avenue to express themselves and deliver a positive message to their surroundings.. What does the term “commercial” mean?
It can take on various meanings, but in essence that term is used to label artists who have alienated parts of the hip-hop culture in their work. The High and Mighty, a duo from Philadelphia signed to Rawkus Records, summed up what commercial hip-hop is in their 1999 single release “The Meaning”. Mr. Eon says: “they’re tryin’ to turn hip-hop to just plain rappin’/let the poppers pop/and the breakers break” But the disenchantment with artists who don’t appreciate hip-hop as consisting of emceeing, breaking, graffiti art, beat boxing and dj-ing is not new.
Underground artists, predominately hip-hop purists, have lashed out at biters and perpetrators for many years. For example, in 1989 3rd Bass released their first album, The Cactus Cee/D. Throughout the album, MC Serch and Prime Minister Pete Nice scold the commercialized booty shakers like MC Hammer for corrupting hip-hop, particularly on the track “The Gasface” they specifically call out Hammer for his antics. Inside the album jacket, Serch sums up hip-hop in 89: “There was a time when nothing was more important than the New York Rap Scene. It’s dilluted, but not divided. ” To hip-hop afficionados, Serch’s quote sounds like the equivalent to a Vietnam soldier’s letter home. Obviously, the group saw the possibility of the hip-hop culture being tainted. Another good example of a group combatting the increase in commercial hip-hop was The Boot Camp Clik, consisting of Buckshot, Helter Skelter, Cocoa Brovaz, OGC, Illa Noyz and The Representativz. The Clik’s slogan throughout the duration of their 1997 release Album for the People was: “Commercial rap get the gun clap”.
A descendent of the early backpacker days, Buckshot has always been opposed to mainstream artists who sacrfice artistic integrity in the lure for more money. The underground hip-hop scene has emerged as a circuit where young, talented and intelligent emcees can thrive. Their message is less abrasive and violent. While not all underground artists are choir boys, they are not barking over mics in a frenzy either.. They play small, sometimes dark and dank venues in front of a couple hundred people or much less than that.
Like the Christians in ancient Rome who held mass in catacombs and spread their religion secretly, underground artists are privately leading a revolution in these small clubs now in promotion of returning rap to hip-hop, and there probably has never been such a fierce fire lit under the artists like there is now to bring change. Underground artists are fed up with how hip-hop is treated by a lot of major labels that have changed the structure of songs. In 2000, especially on the radio, you may hear one or two verses, an R&B singer lacing the track and then a hook that is repeated enough times to take up 3 plus minutes.
This is a brash example of today’s state of hip-hop, but the point is made- creativity in hip-hop has been pushed aside for tracks that incorporate overused samples, have no real message, and have virtually eliminated the DJ from the music. Remember when you could listen to a song for five minutes and all you heard was Rakim bouncing outrageous similes and euphemisms off his tongue and Eric B. blessing the 1s and 2s. Not only was there depth in those types of tracks, but there was creativity and ingenuity. What about groups like Afrika Baambata whose songs lasted as long as infommercials.
Eric B. & Rakim and Baambata are perferct examples of the true hip-hop culture because they were innovators and trendsetters, and Rakim never had enough to say. Unless you are an underground fan, you never hear artists like that on the radio. In reality, people have been brainwashed into thinking that what they hear on the radio is hip-hop. It falls terribly short of hip-hop, and may not be worthy of being called rap. Since 1995, we have seen a trend in the implementation of R&B into hip-hop music. The problem with that is it has dilluted the music.
Commercial artists like Jay Z, for example, know that the dough will roll in if Blackstreet does the hook for one of his tracks that he, as stated earlier, only writes a couple versus to. Money now controls hip-hop instead of the artists controlling it, and label execs have become more powerful in determining how an artist’s music will sound. This explains the increase in the number of independent labels because artists have discovered that they lose creative control over their music when they sign on with major labels.