Art vs. The Artist

In recent weeks the rap news sites have been filled with the Hip Hop drama. It might be the latest F.B.I. investigating Murder Inc., it be about 50 Cent or Eminem’s issues with Ja rule and other rappers PERSONAL exploits. Today these things have become more newsworthy than that ART itself. It now totally overrides any authentic discussion about the nature of the artists work. This phenomenon has been seen before in entertainment. Mostly in the acting world where you have people like James Dean, Marlon Brando and Jim Brown in the news for whatever personal drama they are in. But it seems that today in Hip Hop, it is a marketing rule to solidify an artists supposed “realness” or artistry.

I was talking with a good friend of mine the other day about how there is something in 50 Cents flow that reminds me of Daz. Not from a stealing of styles, or biting perspective. 50 Cent reminds me of Daz in the nature of how he flows when he gets really liquid over a beat. In the same way, the way Richie Rich gets liquid at times reminds me of the way Rakim gets liquid. But 50’s likeness to Daz, is one of the reasons why I can appreciate his lyricism. He does not sound like your average New York MC.

It was while my friend and I were having this discussion that I realized how little anyone talks about the ART of rhyme anymore. Instead, we talk about how 50’s mom sold dope, or whether or not Ja Rule has any real rep in the streets. More people talk about Latifah getting the D.U.I. and if she likes women or not.

You hear very little about how amazing it is that Latifah went from O.G. pioneering female M.C. to a globally acknowledged actress- who still got mic skills!!! Her success is a beautiful thing that anyone who is serious about longevity in the rap world should look into.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s for me it seemed a lot of discussion went into what made a rapper dope. People were constantly comparing the flow of the D.O.C. to Chuck D and Ice Cube to King T. These kinds of things are not talked about by most in the Hip Hop community anymore.

Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. were BOTH pioneers of the art vs. the artist phenomenon. It really started with Pac and naturally bled over to B.I.G. as their careers began to cross. The only difference is, that both Biggie and Pac had a mountain of passionate music to go with their personal drama.

Nas and Jay-Z are in the same boat, but again, due to talent they are able to balance their path a bit more. KRS was at his highest point arguably when he was shoving the chubby dude from PM Dawn off the stage. He still makes pretty dope records. But since he has no felonies, he is not deemed newsworthy. Hieroglyphics, Spearhead, Azeem, Mystic, and a bunch of other rappers get overlook as well, simply because they are not out thumping people on the ave.

A lot of today’s artists, are just kicking up dust BECAUSE they have no talent.

Pretty soon we’ll be buying records ‘cause of their rap sheet, not their ability to rap. I can see it now “Today at number one we have Knife Face Fred, from Oakland California…He can’t rap worth a damn, but he’s got 2 strikes and rumor has it he’s the guy who shot up Sweet Jimmy’s last week.” That’s no reason to choose an MC.

The artistry of the Roots, Zion I, Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Bas One and a gang of other artists is just written off my most of the press. Even their labels begin marketing them as “alternative Hip Hop” acts. As if they are apart from the true nature of Hip Hop. Truth is, it is their artistry that makes them more deserving of magazine covers than all these felons posing as rappers. I know Hip Hop comes from the streets and that everything about every MC and DJ can’t be squeaky clean. But we’ve gotta have a standard at some point.

Hip Hop media is to blame for many reasons. Today’s journalist either sensationalize whatever personal events are in any given rappers life, or, expect them to be the next political savior’s of the people. Both he media and the public put too many artists into boxes before they can even be themselves. After they get put in the box, most artists are afraid to let their true selves be known out of fear their audience will abandon them.

Right now, I can think of 3 people with big names in Hip Hop who are known as players. You see them in the videos with 2 light skinned black hotties and a latina on or asian freak on their arm. Truth is, they are devout family men, who DON’T chase women. But if their fan base knew that- they’d be through. The Source, XXL, and VIBE could not sell too many issues with “Hip Hop’s Most Devout Dad’s” as the cover story (now watch them do it and not even hire a brother for coming up with the concept). Most of the really good articles that deal with the artistry of Hip Hop are found in skater mags or other publications that are not Hip Hop specific.

Anyway, my point is that if we do not get away from this pattern of “legitimacy” in Hip Hop, soon our music will go the way of glam rock. I think you can hire the rock band Poison and Stryper for your kids birthday party these days. Let’s do our best not to let that happen to our artists, and our culture.