“Kilah, you gotta listen to Kendrick’s new joint, The Blacker the Berry! He’s what’s been missing from Hip Hop–social commentary and honesty.” – My cousin Rom aka “Bob Hendrixx”
My cousin Rom is 21 years old. He’s a smart, hella savvy college senior, and he’s one of the most driven young people I know. He’s also one of the few people in their early twenties whose musical opinions I actually trust. No knock on the 20-something generation, but I’m 37 and I’m a real—not a radio—Hip Hop head.
Real Hip Hop Examples: Kendrick Lamar, Sa-Roc, Dynasty, Yasiin Bey, Talib Qweli, David Banner. For me, these artists stopped relying on radio and started sharing what mattered to them in bigger ways. They get involved in the communities that support their music. They do interviews about issues that matter, and about their music, because that matters too. They stopped treating their music as a commodity to be pimped and treated it like art to be consumed, discussed, and maybe even used to uplift or inspire something positive. That’s what I need from my music—beats to bump to for sure, but also words that stimulate my mind in interesting (and not necessarily positive) ways. Is a sistah asking too much?
Radio Hip Hop Examples: Just turn on the radio to any “black” station and listen. Anything with a clear focus (not a mention, but a focus) on ass, strippers, alcohol, bitches, weed, or money counts as fake ass, radio’d out Hip Hop, and I want to parts of it. I’m even willing to consider that maybe the designations of “real” and “fake ass” hip hop need to be retired altogether. Maybe, if we stopped relying on radio to tell us what’s hot, we would just have music, and people who felt a connection to Iggy Azalea or 2 Chainz could vibe to that music if they wanted to. Likewise, the rest of us could vibe to the types of message music that are—as uber cool, Montreal-based DJ JaBig puts it—both deep AND dope!
The issue as I see it, is not the artist’s choice of self-expression, it’s our tendency to rely on someone else to tell us what’s hot and what’s not. Listen with your whole self, and by all means, get down to whatever feels good. But if you’re like me and you crave deep and dope, artistry in music, and lyrics from people you’d actually want to have a conversation with, don’t look to the radio, search for yourself, and share with the world. As for Kendrick’s new track, I’m feeling it. A lot of his songs don’t move me, but there a select few that reach into my soul on some realness. I can live with that. I don’t need every musician to be all-conscious, all-day, I just need to be sure you’ve got good sense and sound morals.