If Hip hop was a person, it would be the kind who’s earned their stripes; one who graduated from university with double honours.
But even with all the recognition, it seems it’s all boiled down to one big brawl about book smarts versus street smarts; the real Gs against the blingstas. Has the music genre lost its definitive spark in the artist’s quest for the bling and dime?
From a minute, niche subculture in the slums of America’s ghettos to the furthest cross-cultural towns and airwaves, hip hop has become an instantly recognisable, hugely influential – and bankable – stakeholder in the world music business. Its modern pioneers are often on a par with the richest magnates on the Forbes list.
The higher the returns, the more those on the ground argue and complain about the music’s dilution. “It’s not what it used to be,” they proclaim. According to long-time local hip hop producer Thabiso “Thaso” Tsotetsi, “Both local and international hip hop has changed simultaneously, as oversees trends often influence local patterns.
“Back in the day, the genre used to be more musical – with more instrumentation. Today, it’s moved away from the classic R&B beat on which it was initially based towards a more trance-like reverberation,” he says.
Thaso defines “music” as anything with a rhythm and a beat. He juxtaposes two of Jay-Z’s songs – “DOA (Death of Autotune)” and “Song Cry”. “‘DOA’ only has about three instruments in it and no Auto-Tune – its less musical than his old songs, like ‘Song Cry’. I think to make his point about techno music, Jay-Z should, in fact, have auto-tuned the track.”
DOA is an anti-Auto-Tune song made by rapper and friend Kanye West to make the point that, while they appreciated the use of the technique by creative artists like T-Pain, too many others were abusing it.
According to Thaso, every genre has to go through change. “I think hip hop was at its peak back when Tupac and Biggy Smalls were at the helm. Every genre has to go through change – the Afro pop we hear today is very different to what we heard back in Brenda Fassie’s day.”
At this point, he shares almost the same view as the new kid on the local block, Young Boi Veezo, who’s been grabbing the attention of national radio. In the opening line of his single, “All I Do”, he asks: “Want they want?/ Louis, Gucci/ Rock that Voodoo like just stepped off Scary Movie”.
According to the 22-year-old rapper, while everyone else lusts after luxury brands, he’ll be wearing his own label, Voodoo, because he’s not trying to blend in with the crowd. The artist doesn’t believe that hip hop is dead, but rather that the market has evolved.
“There are still so many artists I know who are making music and wanting to get into hip hop now more than ever. I think that those who say it’s dead are the ones who aren’t making any money. Everyone has their personal take on what is music and what’s not, but that remains their opinion.”
Thaso traces back the link between hip hop and bling. “Bling’s always been there. Biggie also used to name-drop and rap about Bentleys and Louis Vuitton, long before it became a trend. The only difference is that those guys worked hard and actually got to a point where they could afford the bling and cars they were rapping about.”
They say everything comes at a price. If hip hop has gone through its rags and earned its stripes, artists like Young Boi Veezo aren’t going to sit on the sidelines. Oprah once asked P Diddy how he felt about having so much money and he replied, “I never feel guilty about affording the things I couldn’t before.”