Hip Hop Fridays: Adult Contemporary Hip Hop by R.S.
I am a 28 year old who has been listening to Hip Hop as far back as my memory takes me and I continue to listen and buy albums on a consistent basis. But, I can’t help but remember a time in Hip Hop where there were several themes running throughout mainstream Hip Hop simultaneously. We had artists with a wide range of subject matter like Public Enemy, NWA, Big Daddy Kane, A Tribe Called Quest, and Cypress Hill all present and successful at the same moment in time. There is still diversity in Hip Hop, but it is not currently reflected in the mainstream. We have several artists tackling subject matter that differs from the standard thug fantasy in 2005, such as Common, Talib Kweli, Masta Ace, etc., but it has been extremely difficult for most of these artists to be seen by the masses and their album sales have suffered as a result. As I remember seeing it covered on Black Electorate, even when a rapper like Styles P, who received radio rotation with both his song “Get High” and his appearance on Akon’s “Locked Up,” comes out with a first single title “I’m Black,” and speaks to Black pride, he is silenced. “Getting Low” appears to be the order of the day.
I remember an episode of The Simpsons where Homer Simpson remarked, “Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974; it's a scientific fact!" Perhaps you are imagining that I am about to go down that road, which Cedric Muhammad addressed in his Rap COINTELPRO Part XVI: The Four Most Important Artists On The Horizon - Saigon, Immortal Technique, Mikkey, and Papoose, where I am going to romanticize the 80’s and early 90’s, as an old head, and leave it at that. Hold on. I have some nostalgia going on, but I still love the music. I enjoy some mainstream artists, but like a lot of people my age, I wrestle with much of the subject matter.
I grew up in the suburbs, and I’m not alone in that, but how often do you see a Black suburban experience represented in mainstream Hip Hop? I know about some birds, but I was cutting the grass not polluting the block. My peers who live in lower income neighborhoods, who might have their area shouted out on a record, aren’t seeing their experience really represented either. Whether we are repping the “gated communities”, the burbs, or the ghetto, whether we are poor, working class, or middle class, most of us aren’t the criminals that are over represented in the mainstream. I recall a Tupac interview where he stated, “The same crime element White people are scared of, Black people are scared of. We next door to the killer, all them killers they letting out, they’re right there in that building. Just cause we Black we get along with the killers or something? We need protection too!” So even when we might know, or live nearby, killers and the thug flavor of the moment, most of us are allergic to giving or receiving random gun shots to the brain. So-called “Reality Rap” doesn’t reflect most of our realities.
As anyone who has listened to the radio, watched videos, or been bored by an extremely whiny Hip Hop Intelligentsia editorial knows, mainstream Hip Hop is currently glorifying some of the most negative aspects of life in some of our communities and is marketing this material to teenagers. And to be honest, when I was a kid, I listened to The Chronic where we heard Black pride anthems like “Rat a tat tat tata tat like that/never hesitate to leave a nigger on his back” (side note, a friend once told me how when he was in High School, a White kid “innocently” exclaimed that “Rat a tat tat” was “real rap”….no comment). As Star, of The Star and Bucwild Show, says the marketing of this material to our kids and younger brothers and sisters is a “quagmire in and of itself.” Whatever issues we might have with younger people having such material marketed towards them, let’s table that for the moment, and look at this from another side. I still love the music. I am an adult. Am I going to drive to work, having exchanged my baggy jeans for a finely made suit, and roll into the office parking lot bumping “Rat a tat tat” or advising my co-workers that I am about to “put a nigger’s head out?” I’m single, but when I am married, and then choose to have children, am I going to blast some Three Six Mafia with a pregnant wife in the car or a baby in the back? It was one thing when I was younger, but as I am now older I have to exercise more discretion and thought. But again, much of this material is marketed towards teenagers. I have to find a way to satisfy my love for Hip Hop while at the same time refusing to lower myself, as an adult, and follow trends that are created for teenagers. I have heard Chuck D use the term “extended adolescence” to describe where some of us are mentally and in his July 2003 Terrordome, MistaChuck gave us an example of how silly some of us can look, “When I see a whole family in a HUMMER on dubs, seriously it tosses me for a loop 4 real. Or a young mother blasting a kitted out sound system with a baby chair in the back with her child in it. Don’t let hip hop make us stupid.” Seriously.
Again as a 28 year old, I feel like there is a minimal amount of mainstream Hip Hop that I can properly fit into my daily life so I make a conscious effort to seek out and support those artists who are covering subject matter and topics that are relevant to my life. I respect those artists who are making the effort, but still feel there is a void in popular Hip Hop music. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy some “negative” Hip Hop, and I enjoy some childish Hip Hop, but I need more than that for my plate, and my portions of these types of Hip Hop are getting smaller over time and circumstance (as they should). Cedric Muhammad noted how the artists who were popular when I was younger will not return in the same way, and that is fine; I want the younger brothers and sisters to get on the ground floor with newer artists. At the same time, the older heads need to be taken care of as well. There is room for all of us. In my first paragraph, I made a point of saying how at one time we had several types of artists popular at the same time, so ideally, it would be nice if we could have more diversity in the mainstream again, with the addition of an effort to promote Hip Hop for adults. Now that Hip Hop has been around for over three decades, there are a large number of adults who have grown up on Hip Hop that have been largely ignored by mainstream and independent Hip Hop as well. I know that many of my peers are, as Common stated in "Chi-City," “tired of rap” and would love to hear some music in the Hip Hop form that would be relevant to their lives . In addition, I’m sure you have friends who complain that they cannot play Hip Hop CDs in front of their kids, even if it is the edited version, because “if you got big ____, with a matching_______” isn’t fooling anybody. So a friend of mine and I, came up with the idea of me creating what we call an “Adult Contemporary Hip Hop™” album, which ended up becoming …Louder Than Words”. On the album I tackle real life (work, relationships, society, etc.) situations from an adult perspective over smooth tracks that people in my age group and above have experienced or can relate to. What a novel idea; we are actually marketing Hip Hop towards adults! I’m sure a decent percentage of those reading this article are doing so from work and would enjoy hearing Hip Hop that spoke to the trials and tribulations of corporate America and the workplace in general. You think slanging rocks is rough? Rent Office Space and holler at me. I’ll bet that many of those reading this article are tired of the daily grind and would love to take a quick get away with their significant other that doesn’t involve either one of you disrespectfully shouting for a bitch or nigger to spread, swallow, get on the ho stroll, elbow someone, or open fire on fellow club-goers. As a mature Hip Hop listener, I’m sure many of you wouldn’t mind hearing more songs about relationships from a hindsight and perspective that would remind you of experiences that helped shape you into the person you have become (i.e. post-breakup the man has gone beyond impotent whining about “chickenhead ho bitches.”). Maybe you are the character Masta Ace portrayed on “Do It Man”, off of his Long Hot Summer, who doesn’t want to get caught up in the violence that guest Big Noyd portrayed with his character. Maybe you want to hear a rhyme about a sister getting rich legally with a business that she built; if emcees who have never sold gum can rap about selling drugs they could give sisters and brothers building wealth and institutions legally a voice too. Public Enemy has two new CDs coming out; maybe you’re like Chuck D and can relate to being a Black Man who doesn’t play video games and doesn’t present himself as dependent upon a corporation or a government.
Speaking of not being dependent, it would be nice if the major corporations that are currently controlling Hip Hop would provide some “real” reality rap, and different perspectives, but I have the feeling that if we wait for them to change the direction of Hip Hop, we’ll be waiting for a LONG time. Listeners who want a change can organize, and maybe stimulate market forces that could force corporations to promote cleaner, more thoughtful, and more diverse material, but depending upon an outside human power is dangerous. I approve of efforts to force those changes, through the market, but we already have the power, to influence what we hear, that the corporations exercise in the mainstream. We often hear older people whine about how Hip Hop is “dead,” but it isn’t. You don’t always have to feed at the general corporate trough; just look for Hip Hop that suits you and support it. If you are reading this editorial you obviously have access to the internet, and so even if you don’t have time (or are just too lazy) to comb stores and attend shows, you have easy access to a large variety of Hip Hop. The diversity is out there. Right now I have a range of cds in my car’s CD changer including works by Lil' Jon, DJ Quik, Public Enemy, Masta Ace, Will Smith, Beanie Siegel, Common, and Black Market Militia, so I have created my own “musical reality” and you can do the same. Don’t just whine about Hip Hop and give up. Whether the younger brothers and sisters pick them up, go and pick up favorites like Wise Intelligent and X-Clan when they offer us new releases. Don’t forget about your local scene; a new artist that you could enjoy might be emerging in your town. And I can’t stress it enough, please, if you can find the time in your busy schedules, remember to seek out and support the live shows of quality artists. We do not have to settle for what a corporation throws at us. By supporting artists who offer us entertaining art, with substance, we might be able to force these corporations to balance their artist rosters and playlists, but since we can’t depend on those outside powers, it is more important that in doing this, we give “our” artists the encouragement and means to continue.
R.S. is song writer and emcee who produces “Adult Contemporary Hip Hop.” Visit R.S., and become familiar with his music at AdultContemporaryHipHop.com or www.rsj-online.com. His independent CD “…Louder Than Words” is available now. Email R.S.at firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, June 17, 2005