Stay classy, Hip Hop
‘Keep it real’ the only conditions placed on proponents of the art of hip–hop when it made the transition from disco rap to become the most exciting musical art form since Rock And Roll. But with such a unique offering, the founders of hip–hop didn’t have an established blueprint to work to and so kept the essence simple while they concentrated on making music and having fun.
What ‘keep it real’ essentially says is ‘be your self’. But the problem with using such a subjective phrase is how do you be yourself in a genre that historically, has little appreciation of the truth? If half the rappers actually did a fraction of the things they rap on record about, all a prosecutor would have to do is get one in the dock, drop a beat and record the resulting confession. Case closed.
Alternatively, if they did rap about the truth you may well see a platinum concept album called ‘Cleaning My Shit’ by The Game, including the hot club banger: ‘Who Left Mug Stains? (On My Shit)’ feat T-Pain.
So if genuinely keeping it real isn’t a way to earn your fortune in the multi-million dollar hip–hop industry then what is? Here’s a rough guide to establishing market dominance in the competitive world of modern hip–hop.
1) Make It Up
This is the most important lesson for aspiring rappers. If something in your past doesn’t fit in with the current realm of acceptance in hip–hop, then just pretend it never happened and then make up something completely far-fetched to divert attention.
Rapper, Rick Ross thought his real name (William Leonard Roberts II) didn’t sufficiently convey the type of gangster who makes and sells all of the world’s cocaine, and so adopted the name of a notorious, real-life Miami cocaine dealer, who had an almost equally less gangster-ish name, but was actually in prison for selling drugs. So that’s OK then.
(Fake) Rick Ross also didn’t think the fact that he used to be a prison guard would go down too well in a market that traditionally favours the sociopath over ‘the man’. And so he denied it, even when a picture of him dressed as a prison warden, receiving ‘Prison Warden of the Year’ award, surrounded by all his prison warden chums, appeared on the internet.
Ross still gets questioned about his past role as Mr Mackay in a real-life remake of Porridge, but will normally divert attention by flashing a new pair of trainers that are allegedly only made for gangsters, or will swear by the claim that he was a genuine cocaine kingpin in the same way an attention seeking child might claim to be a spaceman, despite a mountain of evidence that points to the contrary.
And it’s an approach that appears to have worked. The Miami Münchhausen has currently released three number one albums, which is something that aspiring rappers might want to take note of.
2) No, I’M The Man
Hip–hop has always been competitive, which makes a certain level of self-belief and bravado essential if you’re going to be taken seriously. However, most rappers have always been able to back up their claims with genuine talent. And those that can’t back themselves up have either sunk without trace, or released a novelty record, and then sunk without trace.
But if everyone is shouting the same thing, then how do you get noticed? Simple, you go one further. If someone announces that they’re about to release the greatest album of their career, you say you’re going to release the greatest album the world has ever heard. Ever.
This is essential to get a bit of buzz when you enter the industry. Every aspiring rapper who wants a few headlines in the over-saturated market will claim that their debut album is going to redefine music – not just hip–hop – to such an extent that they’re going to have to call music something else. These aspiring rappers will then go about releasing a series of very average mixtapes (now on MP3, duh!) until people lose all interest.
Aspiring rapper will then claim that their forthcoming album is so great, that they have no choice but to retire from the game after its release. But said rappers never have to say what they’re going to do in retirement, because they never intend to actually release the album. This is the very definition of a win-win situation for both rapper and listener, provided obscurity will have them back.
3) Keeping it realer
Hip–hop music is traditionally made from two-turntables and a microphone. This basically means that as long as you have these basic components, at the very least you can make something resembling hip–hop. Luckily for a lot of rappers, there are far less demands made on talent and ability.
As well as possessing a completely ill-advised pseudonym, Jim Jones was heralded as the saviour of New York hip hop for all of about five minutes when his single ‘We Fly High’ (literal translation: “I’m Spending Money”) sold more than twelve copies.
Jones’ reign was tarnished slightly when people went beyond the annoying beat, chorus and ad-libs by Jones himself – which consisted of him repeatedly shouting “Ballin” like a misguided Tourette’s sufferer – and realized that he couldn’t rap. At all.
In a situation not unlike a gangster retelling of The Emperor’s New Record Deal, Jones suggested that investing time learning to actually rap would be completely un-gangsta and not ‘keeping it real’, before presumably dropping an ill verse about a cat with a new gat. Besides, Jim was way too busy getting money (“Ballin!”) to do something ‘homo’ like learn to string a couple of rhyming couplets together in a way that might entertain the listener (“Ballin!”)
Unfortunately for aspiring rappers, Jones’ last album only sold about five copies, which, although it allowed him to come up with a new rhyme about going ‘wood’ in the ‘hood’, doesn’t really hold much promise for future non-rapping, rappers.
4) I can’t live without my radio (friendly unit shifter)
In the early days of hip–hop, recording a soft song about love with an R & B singer was a big no-no. The previously untouchable LL Cool J came a cropper with his needy paean to the honeys: “I Need Love”, in a time when Public Enemy were busy tearing rap a conscious new bumhole.
And despite EPMD warning of the dangers in the literal ‘Crossover’, by the late nineties every rapper was dipping their toe into the diluted waters of hybrid hip–hop and R&B, with the promise of huge sums of money by pandering to multiple fanbases.
Over time, the crossover has become the norm, and it’s almost a requirement for today’s rappers to have at least three unit shifters on there. These can be dedicated to everything from the love of the ladies to the mild appreciation of Japanese electrical goods. And if you can get a chorus from crooners like Akon or Stylophone in a top-hat: T-Pain (and let’s face it, these boys are spreading it about so frequently, they’d probably return Gary Glitter’s calls ) then you’re laughing all the way up the charts.
So in these days of acceptable cross pollination, where a rapper can be pictured mean-mugging on the cover of their album, only to get down to a sample from Dead or Alive on the inside, it seems that the bigger the pandering to the target audience, the greater the results. Just don’t be surprised to hear of a metal, hip–hop, country, pop song rapped by a gay Spanish dog (feat T-Pain), in the near future. Just remember you heard it here first.
5) Mo Markets, Mo Money.
To many, Lil Wayne is more like what happens when you give the crazy man on the bus a record deal instead of money for cider. But to young hip–hop fans, he’s the real deal: a rapper so talented, that he is rumoured to have resurrected a zombie Tupac, with the sole intention of destroying him (again) in a rap battle. Such rumours are untrue of course but go some way to conveying the levels of hype that surround this small, former cough medicine addicted rapper.
Wayne’s drunken style isn’t to everyone’s tastes. Personally, I’m of the opinion he should be applauded every time he manages to string a coherent sentence together (I’m still waiting, hands ready). But if you are cynical of his rapping abilities then you should probably skip this number – which concerns his attempts at rock music – and move on to the outro.
Armed with an electric guitar (that eerily resembles the one you get with Rock Band) ‘Weezy’ uses a T-Pain (feat T-Pain) style autotune effect on his vocals that creates a soundscape not unlike E.T masturbating over a Winger record. One might imagine.
But regardless of musical quality, Lil Wayne is in the position where he could feasibly excrete in a jewel case, retail it for £13.99 and still see it go double platinum. So the fact that his ‘Rebirth’ album has been pushed back several times is either due to a lack of confidence in its ability to appeal to a different demographic, or because it’s so good that Earth isn’t ready.
In keeping with the spirit of modern hip–hop, it’s almost a certainty that the latter will be the official line.
So for the time being, the jury remains out on the benefits of albums in different genres. But in keeping with the sprit of the upstart rapper, it’s probably best to make claims that you’re not only going to attempt all genres (successfully, of course) but that you’re also going to invent some new ones. Just coz, you know, you can.
There are far more lessons to be learnt from modern hip–hop, for example this guide hasn’t covered ‘Hating’ as used to great short term effect by 50 Cent. Nor has it covered Kanye West, whose approach to ‘keeping it real’ could only be validated by the reveal of ownership deeds to a studio apartment in Narnia.
It also hasn’t covered the serious issue of cramming as many tracks as possible on a CD, in the misguided belief that quantity is quality. Nor has it included the importance of having more producers than there are tracks on your album.
So with hindsight it seems clear that if the originators had seen how far off-track hip–hop has become, they might have refined the phrase.
This might make for a more sedate hip–hop industry. But it might also push some more positive traits to the surface and make for some better music at the same time. And who could hate on that? No one, (feat T-Pain).
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