Monday, March 23, 2009

So you think you can rap?

So you think you can rap? Who cares?

There's a million eager young bucks who can boast the same thing. MC's are a dime a dozen. Everbody & their cousin has a studio, with some off the wall in-house producer willing to bet the farm that they can end your favorite rapper's career with little effort. They're floating aimlessly through Myspace & broadcasting in "real time" on WSHH &YouTube, giving the listening public 99 reasons why they are the shit (no Lil' Wayne) & nobody else is. If everyone's the best rapper alive, then what's the seventh degree of separation among the lot?

Is it the lyrics? In todays lukewarm market, credible skill is an asset easily overlooked. Where it was once the selling point of an artist's package, it's now dismissed & unnecessary. Let's all take a moment to thank the good folks at Soundscan. The focus has shifted from lyrical prowess to song structure &/or hook repetition. With that formula in hand, one can easily craft the next sing-song summer hit with no song writing talent whatsoever. Needless to say the industry is flooded with rappers of this ilk.

Is it the marketability? The MC's back story is now as important, if not more so, as the content of the music itself. Jay-Z inadvertently coined the phrase "we don't believe you, you need more people", unaware that it would soon become a mantra for all rap cats to live by. Hip hop heads were satisfied with a story line, fictitious or otherwise if the soundscape was equally as compelling. It wasn't that they might have been lying (on not), but more that we were entertained for however long they held our attention. If you found out some information on said artist that backed up his verbal illustrations, it was a bonus, & added to their mystique. Now, if a rapper says it, it better be true, or risk humiliation & a decrease in fan base activity. In order to sell albums, there must be a demographic to sell to. Choose wisely.

Is it the business-end? Shopping artists as a brand is far for new, but when did it become mandatory? When Chubb Rock wasn't "treatin' them right", he could have easily opted to sell big & tall menswear on the side. But, he never did. Big Daddy Kane could have become the spokesperson for Smooth Operator condoms, & Kool G Rap might've started a line of Ill Street fedora's & patent leather wingtips. Those business deals never materialized because that wasn't what the art was about. It was about the music, not the hustle & it's spoils. Now, a full fledged marketing campaign must accompany any artist's complete album, Myspace hits numbers & possible product development. Be prepared to have an action figure made in your likeness, or suffer the consequences.

Is it the image? Image is everything. There's a reason why a lot of rappers look like rappers, be it rough, rugged & raw or pretty boy facade. To an extent, one must look the part, especially in a field so rife with actors. But, the old adage says "never judge a book by it's cover". Take away the menacing, gold-covered snarls & the overly extensive skin ink, & what's left is the ability (or lack of) to rap, plain & simple. That can be a negative for the guy who simply yearns to rap & not star in a movie or be the face for an athletics apparel company, but it can be a positive for the guy who could care less about the quality of music & who's in it only for the payoff. Rarely do the hustle & the flow meet in a comfortable place of fair exchange. If you look like Lupe Fiasco & rhyme like Beanie Segal, that may confuse people.

The easiest avenue for any young hopeful who's serious about his craft would seem to be the independent route. But, that could severely limit exposure & opportunity. On the other hand, it creates a lane for the artist to be themselves, free to express from the soul as opposed to for the company logo. I've often heard that in life one should follow their heart, but in the "music" industry, be sure not to wear it on your sleeve.

So what separates the MC from the rapper, the hipster from the superstar? A mean freestyle game just isn't enough nowadays & a silly dance routine can make or break even the hungriest rookie lyricist. What more can be said or done to show that the ability to make music, make money & still love the art can be done simultaneously? Selling souls for record sales is big business, & hopefully we can bring it back to the essence sooner than later.

So, do you still think you have what it takes to be a rapper?


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