Saturday, 1 December 2012

25 Things Everyone Thinks About Hip-Hop (But Nobody Will Say).


25. Personality matters more than "skills."

"If skills sold, truth be told, I'd probably be, lyrically, Talib Kweli." Jay-Z's lyric makes nominal sense, at best—not that Kweli wasn't a skilled rapper, but Jay was always a more dexterous one, even when he "dumbed down" to double his dollars.

But in a larger sense, this statement points to why "skills" are such a bizarrely irrelevant factor in 99% of conversations about hip-hop. For most critics, the term "skills" applies to a very narrow range of possible talents. Songwriting, charisma, the possibility of surprise—anything that describes a well-rounded artist, or results in an enjoyable piece of music—are all subservient to the rapper's technique.

If there's one dominant thing in the rapper's control, it's their personality. Personality is, admittedly, more abstract, but that's what has made the biggest impact for every classic rapper.

Jay-Z isn't just dope because he's skilled. He's dope because those skills help form a better picture of a nonchalant rap star, whose nonchalance perfectly conveys his jaded persona. Skills are only a means to an end.

22. Explicitly political rap music will never change the world.

If you have strident political opinions and you want to make change happen, music might not be the best medium to address your cause. Yes, there are scattered examples in hip-hop history that show music's political potential, its ability to convey powerful messages, with Public Enemy being the most obvious and most successful. But these are rare.

An artist's ability to create meaningful change is also dependent on being heard by an audience that might act upon what they've learned. A lot of times, a political message gains power from being personal; rather than hectoring. Some of the best rappers would lead by example. (Think 2Pac's "Keep Your Head Up," rather than the condescending "Brenda's Got a Baby.")

This isn't an argument that music can or should disregard moral purpose; quite the opposite. Instead, artists should simply recognize that by labeling oneself as a "conscious" or "political" artist, a rapper is setting up himself or herself to merely preach to the choir. All too often, their decision to be "political" is more about branding than it is about creating real positive change.

20. If you don't make a music video for your song, it doesn't exist.

It's 2012, which means that, for most rap artists, there's no more passing around your demo tape with a phone number penciled on the side. No matter what level of success your song attains, the video is a necessity. Any attempt to pretend otherwise is just plain dumb.

Getting our music via the Internet means we experience everything visually as much as we do aurally. Swag matters. You think Kreayshawn would have a record deal without her video? "Gucci Gucci" was a catchy song, but it was the entire lifestyle conveyed through a four-minute clip that really made her career take off.

The same holds true for A$AP Rocky, Chief Keef, and Trinidad James. Videos have always been important for breaking artists; they convey a sensibility and identity. They've also never been as affordable as they are now. An army of videographers awaits your call.

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