[Enjoy The Abridged Audio Version of This Hip-Hoppreneur ™ Commentary at:
With all due respect to Lil’ Wayne’s imminent departure from us – while a tragedy for his family and boost to the story line for the second season of my third favorite show, ‘Tiny and Toya’ on BET – it is hardly a crisis for Hip-Hop, as a culture or industry.
Unfortunately, it only earns an honorable mention on Hip-Hop’s long incarceration report. Despite headlines now, just ask Slick Rick and Shyne how soon we forget about you.
Hopefully T.I. and Wayne emerge from prison ready to lead a world of young people.
No, we have to move beyond celebrity worship and gossip to figure out this one.
So, put on your futurist hat. Get your Nostradamus on. Pull your crystal ball out. Cast lots if you will. If you like ouija boards, fine. What the hell, they are not for me, but this is Hip-Hop – anything goes.
Let’s look at the future together to find out where we are headed, as an industry and culture. As always we need to know that next big thing.
While some may disagree, I feel the music is in good hands with the South as caretaker. I, for one, like the basic formula – hypnotic beats, melodic choruses, old flows and new slang each month.
I don’t expect this to change any time soon. The Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, and Texas corridor will continue to run this, with toleration of periodic bursts of hotness from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
I sit in D.C. – the top of the South – and enjoy it all with the option of a go-go remix.
So I don’t look to a revolution in sound just yet.
In addition the day of the music crew as planet and satellite is over. No more eras of threes – whether Wu-Tang, Death Row, and Bad Boy on one hand, or Ruff Ryder, Cash Money, and Roc-A-Fella on the other.
The industry has ‘won’ – since 2002 when it first started killing the Northeast Mix tape and Mom and Pop Record Store and when only Cam’ron came out in the first 5 months of the year.
Oh, yes, their definition of ‘winning’ means we lose creatively, while they lose money (you have to love the RIAA). Fewer artists signed, more space between signings, less independent stores to support local artists, and national syndicated radio victorious over regional talent.
No, what’s next for Hip-Hop is what’s next for America, a managed economic decline and shift in power outside of its borders.
In 2007 I had an incredible conversation with the brilliant Sam Crespo an executive at Atlantic Records about where Hip-Hop was headed, specifically where the next big region would be.
Despite the popularity of Reggaeton at the time, we both agreed it would be outside of the U.S. and an English-speaking market. I argued for London, England because it is a nexus point for a Caribbean and African Diaspora which allowed it to spread throughout three continents (The Americas, Europe, and Africa) with ease.
Sam, rather persuasively, made the case for Toronto, Canada with its rich club scene, experienced artist base, cultural energy, closer ties to the American market and similar ties to the Diaspora.
I thought he made a stronger case.
My first acquaintance with the Canadian market came in 1998 when I attended a music industry conference in Montreal where I met several of the country’s most influential and popular artists and opinion leaders like Michie Mee of Much Music (how hot is the ‘Cover Girl’ song and video (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5629877924768780089#)?
The continued rise of K’naan – a Somali born rapper who moved to Toronto – is also a sign of things to come. His album promotion coincided almost perfectly with the controversy over the Somali ‘pirates’ of the coast of East Africa (you can read my unique view on the issue at: http://www.cedricmuhammad.com/9-things-the-diaspora-can-do-about-somalia/).
Had his record label been equipped at marketing him as a leader and diasporic personality (that special person who moves in and out of an empire, homeland, and people scattered abroad – like a Muhammad Ali) he could have ridden that one issue into platinum sales.
This is where Hip-Hip must head if it is to survive.
In that respect, the election by a declining American empire of a cultural entrepreneur and diasporic personality, as its President – a man who can move in and out of the American brand may have deeper significance.
The future of the industry and music lies not in the quality of its beats or even the consciousness of its lyrics, but rather in its relevance to an entire world and its ability to translate artistic fame into neighborhood and geopolitical influence.
The blueprint and manifesto has already been given.
On June 14, 2001 I was one of a few hundred blessed to be in the packed Mercury Ballroom at the New York Hilton Hotel where many of the Hip Hop industry’s most prominent artists, producers and executives received an address from Minister Louis Farrakhan.
I was the first person to publicly feature the bulk of his remarks and comment on them. At BlackElectorate.com, in an in-depth piece called “Minister Farrakhan’s Address To The Hip-Hop Summit” (http://www.blackelectorate.com/articles.asp?ID=354) I wrote:
“The Minister, who entered the ballroom to a standing ovation, began his remarks by speaking directly to the artists who were primarily seated in the front rows of the audience. Looking directly at such artists as L.L. Cool J., Talib Kweli, Keith Murray, Sean “Puffy” Combs, Afrika Bambatta, Redman, Luther “Luke” Campbell, Wyclef Jean, Fat Joe, Grandmaster Flash, Krazy Bone, D.J. Premier, Kurtis Blow, U-God and others, the Minister stated, “each of us is brought here with a purpose”. He told the artists that part of their greatness rest in the fact that each of them, through the identification, development and cultivation of their talent had “discovered their reason for being”. Still directing his comments specifically to the artists in the audience, the Minister added, “Maybe you are not aware of it but you have been chosen to lead”.
On a dais with Queen Latifah, Chuck D., Haqq Islam, Jermaine Dupri, and others, Minister Farrakhan told the artists that because he was a spiritual leader he could inform them of “who you are and why you are called”, according to holy scripture, in both the Bible and Holy Quran. He began by quoting from the book of John, Chapter 1.
He quoted, in unison with some in the audience, “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2The same was in the beginning with God”
The Minister then stated that in the historic evolution of culture and art, that the world has reached the point, through Hip-Hop, where the spoken word is dominating culture.
He then began to provide his exegesis of those verses in John, explaining that “the word was god” and that god represents “force and power”. He remarked of the Hip-Hop community, “there is strength in this community but what it needs is guidance”.
The Minister then expressed that the Hip-Hop community and industry should be concerned with what stage of its evolution it had reached. He told the audience that they have to keep growing their art form. And he punctuated his point by stating that Hip-Hop, like reggae, calypso, gospel and rhythm and blues are all different today than when they began.”
In my opinion, as a group, since that time, the artists present have failed to accept the mantle of leadership the Minister identified as theirs. That is one of the factors contributing to decline of Hip-Hop as an economic force – artists, executives, and opinion leaders did not accept responsibility for the influence they had with the world’s youth and 2) they did not evolve and grow their art form to keep it relevant to the times.
On this second point, the failure was in not marrying entrepreneurial hustle and rhetorical consciousness with economic independence, institutional building, and community development. Too many artists with an entrepreneurial spirit got too cozy with the industry elite of lawyers, agents, business managers and label executives who wanted to give them better jobs and not freedom. Too many celebrities allowed partisan advisers and social networking goals to limit their definition of politics and responsibility to only participation in get out the vote campaigns and the establishment of foundations that do positive things, but in very small ways.
As a result, artistic fame got channeled away from building the neighborhoods the artists came from, from the ground up.
The ‘hood took pride in its own – the celebrity artist – but the celebrity artist never leveraged their fleeting fame to change the daily dynamics of the ‘hood.
This amounts to a sugar rush.
The time has come for artists, executives and opinion leaders to stand outside of the culture and industry and admit a few harsh truths and build on them.
Realities like the fact that psychic income (applause and fame) matters to artists while only real power (the ability to influence) matters to leaders. Realities like artistic purity (‘Nobody tells me what music to make and what to say!’) never lasts or reaches a critical mass of influence if it isn’t married with economic purity (ownership and institution building build around creativity). And realities like Hip-Hop’s concept of political activism (which seems limited to national elections and reactions to police brutality) is outdated, compromised, non-threatening, and places rhetoric over effectiveness.
For the last 10 years in particular the growth of Hip-Hop has been stifled and its development stunted.
The essence of Hip-Hop has always been yin and yang, diversity, competition, creative force, and growth. That is what has produced its dialectical innovation (a thesis and anti-thesis come together to produce a synthesis).
This is what the Mr. Magic-WBLS-Juice Crew versus Kool DJ Red Alert-WRKS-Boogie Down productions energy was about. This is what led to the emergence of the Ja Rule version of R&B rap and the emergence of the anti-thesis – 50 Cent and then the emergence of a Kanye West. It is what the little-known tension between Big Daddy Kane and Rakim was about which manifested again, in a certain sense in a new form with Jay-Z (the journalist) having a ‘beef’ with Nas (the novelist). It was the legitimate factor in the West Coast vs. East Coast ‘beef’ and why Tupac (playboy-activist) and Biggie (hustler-player) represented naturally distinct novelties that could compete with one another for credibility and the love of the streets in trade and commerce.
It is what helped to give us Star and Buc Wild – the emergence of a talented personality whose consciousness of self, disenchantment with celebrity worship, and pursuit of an enlightened self-interest in business allowed him to critique and even mock a culture and industry that had become transparently ‘politically incorrect,’ confused and deluded about its real influence and out of tune with its powerful potential (to which Minister Farrakhan was directing).
The American wing of the Hip-Hop empire is falling and waning in influence. Its revolutionary essence is in Central and South America. Those embodying its most militant essence are on the streets of Africa. The role now is the responsibility to lead on a generational level and economically, not as much artistically. The scepter must be passed and shared. What is left for the U.S. Hip-Hop constituency is the safekeeping of the historical archives, the accurate dissemination and projection of the culture through educational systems and pop art, and the encouragement of all artists toward a powerful economic and even geopolitical destiny.
We’ll leave the supposedly progressive politics of Hip-Hop activists for another day.
But for now I’ll just say it’s kind of hard to be anti-imperialist when you so enjoy the benefits from living in one.
I’ll end on an earlier point that Hip-Hop’s essence has always been about growth and evolution. That can’t happen if a cabal of Hip-Hop fans, activists, artists, executives and opinion leaders in New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. think they know what’s best for the culture and industry.
It is this colonialism mentality that still has some New Yorkers in shock over the stranglehold that Southern artists have on the music. Some of us in the Northeast just can’t admit that the days in the 80s and early 90s when we were getting new music first and even weeks and months before those same songs would be heard on rotation in North Carolina or Virginia.
Similarly, today, it would be tragic, if not so hilarious to think that the American rap intelligentsia really hopes to dictate the direction of Hip-Hop in the era of Twitter, Facebook, Ustream, Blog Talk Radio, You Tube, MySpace, Rhapsody, the iPod and iPhone.
Again – this era is only built for Hip-Hoppreneurs ™ – at home and abroad.