So, here the latest tell it, and the hip hop industry has gone down the road of a morbid cause: resurrecting the late and (arguably) great Tupac Shakur. Some folks may argue how cute it is to revive an oldie but Platinum goodie to the sound of cash registers at the Coachella Music Festival, jaws dropping like Star Trek geeks at the ability of modern technology to produce an actual hologram of the slain entertainer wobbling alongside Snoop Dogg. Joining later in the Walking Dead revelry was Dr. Dre, Eminem, 50 Cent and Wiz Khalifa all glittering in black and yellow. Can you bounce to that?
And while fans may have been awed and creeped out, glamour-seeking blingsters with nothing better to do are no doubt watering in their pants at the prospect of Biggie, perhaps, at the next major gathering. Wait and see – some lip-pierced geek drowned in code will figure out how to put both Biggie and Tupac together, forever on stage. And, we’ll all be able to tweet it out forever.
At first, when frowning at the thought of it, I thought it was just me. Leave it alone. But, I couldn’t. There was the larger story here beyond these Sci Fi Channel acrobatics: is the hip hop industry that desperate as to bring back deceased rappers from the cold? Next will be Tupac resurrected in the remake of Total Recall blazing as Bishop from the cult classic Juice, blasting the Man all the way to Mars.
It probably is as we get tortured with the same, incessant, horn-blaring beat or uncreative sample being rotated 20 times a day on Pop 40 radio despite the better content that’s out there. It’s not really the death of hip hop, since that didn’t really take place. It’s the devolution of it. The lack of politics in it – Kanye couldn’t even get an anti-Bush rant out without losing a venue or a contract (the Dixie Chicks lost some cake on that, too). Artists are not really artists – they’re entertainers and their labels will be damned if they start resurrecting shades of X-Clan or Tribe Called Quest at its height. I choked up the day Guru died, because at least New York radio would push their native son in a way other markets could not ignore.
But, now it’s all devolved into what we think hip-hop is or what we think it once was. And when we have that conversation, we can’t get that right. When self-pitching conversation pieces like Michael Eric Dyson or Kevin Powell describe themselves as “hip hop intellectuals” yet can’t name an artist beyond – you guessed it – Tupac, Biggie, Jay Z and Kanye. Common gets lucky just by virtue of his ability to now straddle a fence between Bohemian, weedy lyricism and the fame of something different when folks get tired of Billboard water-boarding.
The problem is that hip hop never died – it lost its message. It’s soul. And thanks to some like Tupac. Can you tell I’m not a fan? No disrespect to the fallen, but thought Janet could’ve done better in Poetic Justice and was convinced his best performance was the shoot-out seeking Bishop in Juice (which was a decent flick). Ok: so he pushed out a couple of half-dope hits and got a nod from my late mother for the Mamas Day track. But, as down as she was, even she’d knock Tupac for crimes against art and was quick to ask me for my Black Moon cassette tape as a remedy to the madness.
But, Tupac, at the time, was a reminder of everything that started going wrong with the art, a personification of urban knucklehead like the cats I had to tussle with on the way to and from the neighborhood school every day. He, like others then and still today, bullied themselves into hip hop, rapped to the top and proceeded to pervert it.
Today, hip hop languishes on with no message, no purpose, no purity. No clarity. It’s just Black college band sounds stepping into mindless oblivion. Unless you are fortunate to catch the countless, struggling lyricists who break mics every night in some unknown corner watering hole, you won’t know what’s up. That’s where you’ll find the soul of hip hop, relegated to Hades, its star overshadowed by tight-jean wearing posers on skateboards looking for a marketing fix like a junkie on Robitussin.
NewsOne editor, Hip Hop Wired writer and long time word smith D.L. Chandler (a.ka. “Wise/MashComp” of Dumhi) agrees. “You’re not alone,” he sniffs back at me. “Radio is killing hip hop. There was a time when the mainstream stuff was actually enlightening – you could easily flip to another station and find Public Enemy. Now, the only time you might hear something decent is during an old school hip hop hour or from a DJ who just got fired and rotates the good stuff just for spite.” We ask ourselves if it’s just our age, but disagree.
And, so, hip hop ends up in a whack hologram. More to follow. From Dumhi to Immortal Technique to People Under the Stairs to Madlib to Fat Jon to Akir – the list goes on and on. These cats are actually still among the living and sweat day in and day out attempting to maintain the true sound that is hip hop. They are, for certain, snickering at the latest monstrosity at Coachella. And when they return home in solace they are also sure to grieve for it.