I can’t complain about the state of hip-hop in 2011. There was literally a plethora of albums and “mixtapes” ranging from solid to great in ’11. Yes, there were duds, but that’s always going to happen. The one thing which got to me, though, was not an album or a mixtape. It wasn’t even a song. It was a couplet from Drake’s “Lord Knows” off his Take Care album:
They take the greats from the past and compare us/
I wonder if they’d ever survive in this era
At first, I was disgusted with this line. Drake, a man who, at the time this was typed into his Blackberry, had released one album. A man who gained fame as a youngster on a teen soap opera and then proceeded to ride the coattails of one of rap’s most popular rappers until he gained buzz through his radio-friendly, panty-dropping tunes. In the words of Ed Lover:
After months of being angered whenever I was reminded of this line, I now feel saddened by it. Drake said in an interview with Billboard he was referring to social media tearing down artists and keeping them from making it big. Really, man? Men like Joseph Simmons and Eric Wright, who worked tirelessly to put hip-hop on the map, being ruined by seeing central face-bookings from the industry? Men such as Tupac Shakur, who was vilified by the media, beaten by police, robbed, shot five times, and wrongfully imprisoned- only to come out swinging with one of the most critically acclaimed and highest selling rap albums ever- being tweeted out of a career?
Then it occurred to me; Drake is not alone in his outrageous ignorance. Many of today’s rappers don’t seem to realize the sacrifices made by those before them to bring hip-hop to prominence. While Drake looks at social media and the internet as a curse, where would he be without it? When Eminem was coming up, a demo tape was all you had. As he explained in his memoir, The Way I Am:
“Denaun Porter, who is Kon Artis in D12, used to stay (on Novara Street) too. He ended up working at Little Caesars with us, and I gave him my bedroom so he could set up his equipment in there. I slept on the couch, which wasn’t a big deal. It was a fair trade- the guy was making my beats. Then we’d go to real studios, like Mo Master, whenever we could get in. And you better nail your verse in one or two takes, because you’ve only got 40 bucks in your pocket, and it’s 40 bucks an hour to book the studio.”
These emcees paid dues. They worked their tails off to achieve their success, both critically and commercially. Lines like Drake’s aforementioned one from “Lord Knows” are an insult. Rappers proclaiming their greatness because they sell records or, in the case of Young Jeezy, have two more albums than Biggie, should know better. However, if this was merely a Don Tomasino-type gripe of mine about young people not respecting anything anymore, I would have written it and let it sit on my laptop. There’s no good in just ranting if you can’t offer a solution:
PAY YOUR DUES
Put in work. Put in time. Be creative. Push the envelope. Stay respectable. Get some credibility under your belt before you start spouting off at the mouth. Of course, any claim made will still be subjective, but it will be more respectable. I’m not saying you have to go all Jayceon Taylor on everyone, but you don’t have to turn into Soulja Boy and declare yourself the hottest in the game after one hit single. Even Jay-Z didn’t hint at believing himself to be the greatest rapper alive until The Blueprint.
Oh, and the fans, bloggers, and other critics? We have a responsibility to raise the bar back up to what it once was. I’m not stupid. I know that rappers have been bragging about themselves practically since hip-hop’s inception, but there’s a difference between bragging to make one rhyme hot and bragging because of one hot rhyme. I also know that heads tend to romanticize ’80s and ’90s hip-hop. No matter; we still have a responsibility to uphold today’s hip-hop artists to high standards. Write well-thought out reviews. Call out those who don’t deserve the titles they’ve bestowed upon themselves, but not in a childish way. Define what makes an artist great. For those who think I’m sitting on a high horse, let me re-imagine a Kanye rhyme to explain my guiltiness:
And I ain’t even gonna act holier than thou/’cause I gave Game Tested, Streets Approved 4 ½ like “wowwww”
(For the record: I still feel Game Tested, Streets Approved is a good album, but I way overblew its excellence)
So, what do you say? How ’bout we raise the bar? Let’s call it what it is: if you’re hot, you’re hot. If you’re not, well, you already know.