Nas, one of the most iconic names in the rap and hip hop business, once made an album called Hip Hop is Dead in 2006. As you can imagine, there was much backlash from a statement like that, and Nas eventually wanted to address his claim through numerous interviews, one of which was in a MTV interview during the same year. Nas stated that, “There is no political voice. Music is dead. B2K is not New Edition. Chris Brown is great, I love Chris Brown, we need that, but Bobby Brown sticks in my heart. Our way of thinking is dead, our commerce is dead. Everything in this society has been done. I don’t wanna lose nobody with this, but what I mean by ‘hip-hop is dead’ is we’re at a vulnerable state. If we don’t change, we gonna disappear like Rome. (Shaheem Reid, 2006) That was in 2006. Here we are nine years later, and the question is still being asked as to whether Hip Hop is dead. Some would argue that hip hop and rap have died. Last year, up and coming rapper Childish Gambino stated in a Hip hop DX interview that “Rap is done. Rap is done. I love Hip Hop. I love rap, but the thing it was supposed to do it doesn’t do anymore. Like I love it as a music. It’s the same thing as like jazz. Jazz when it was doing what it was supposed to do. And people still listen to jazz now, but it doesn’t have—It’s not doing the social work it’s supposed to do anymore. And that’s not because it’s gotten bad…It’s just a different movement.”(Danielle Harling, 2014) Some might agree with Nas and Gambino to say that rap and Hip Hop are dead; however, different may not necessarily mean dead. Is it safe to say that Hip hop is dead, or is it just branching into different styles?
There was a time where hip hop touched highly on political issues, by means of race, politics, gender, police brutality, and more. Fans of hip hop that cared more about it having a greater purpose than turning up parties enjoy rappers like J Cole and Kendrick Lamar, who have deep lyrical messages and a unique flow in storytelling. And yet, the way in which hip hop and rap has expanded its fan base to a much younger audience than back in the 80’s and 90’s, the lyrics are more hyped and parallel with lots of bass in the background, like Chief Keef and Rae Sremmurd. Looking at the spectrum from both sides, I would say that hip hop and rap aren’t dead, but the needs of its audience have expanded, which causes it to expand. Think back to 2Pac, who is arguably the greatest rapper of all time. He was one of the first to rap about real situations that African Americans go through, and he truly embodied the lifestyle of “thug life”. His audience was, and still is, vast, and his style can never be replaced. His audience loved what he put out because his messages in some of his songs were exactly what need to be heard in the world he lived in. It was soulful and full of heart, and that is something that never goes out of style. However, in today’s age we turn up when we hear songs like Big Sean’s’ I don’t F*** with You, which between January 3rd and February 7th of 2015 was at the top of the Billiard charts. Why is that? Why do we turn up with artist like Lil John, and yet, we hate on artist like Drake? They both have different styles, yet the end result is still the same. Drake’s beats and flow is unique, and some people who aren’t even drake fans turn up with some of his songs. Lil John, an artist whose style is aggressive and loud, but message isn’t sophisticated, is all about getting crunk and having a good time and the younger generations truly cater to that. I’m not saying that Drake and Lil John are the same by means of style or popularity, but I am saying that they are both artist in their own right, and their music has/will live on for quite some time considering the audience they cater to.
Rappers are focused on what the audience wants, and since the audience’s tastes is diverse, the styles of hip hop have to be diverse, even if the stigmatization happens to be “rachet” or “trap music”. In a recent article titled Will Kendrick Lamar save Hip Hop, hip hop enthusiast Allegra Geller comments, “The strength of HipHop comes from the diversity of rappers in style, flow and subject matter. From the beginning Hip-Hop was clearly defined by the endless variety of MC’s all doing something different and pushing the boundaries of the genre. The need to either claim a crown or a rap messiah is one of the main problems with the current rap game.” It certainly is a matter of opinion, but I would agree to say that hip hop and rap cannot be defined, or “saved”, by one rapper’s style and lyrical ability. We can’t forget that Hip hop/rap is all an art, and art is subjective. Its purpose is based on the artist intentions, which is what makes music, especially an art that comes from the streets, so diverse. The question may not be about if whether hip hop is dead or not, but rather, how and why is the audiences’ need expanding in hip hop. On the opposite end, maybe we shouldn’t question hip hop at all. It is an art in its own respect, and because art draws from life, it will never die.