The year is now 2018 and it’s been 44 years since DJ Kool Herc gave birth to hip hop at a friend’s birthday party in the Bronx. The young man’s game is not the hip version it claims to be and the lyrics are suspect at best. Is this just an old man’s rant about today’s music? Is it? The thought was yes until… 

What is Hip-Hop

Is it an art form? The graffiti and the break-dancing. Is it music? The rapping and the DJ’s. Is it the knowledge and culture? The storytelling. It’s all of that and the argument could be made that the storytelling is the whole key to bring the other elements together in one great art form called hip hop. It’s that story telling that make lyrics mean something. That element of hip hop that keeps you locked in from the beginning of the track until the end. You want to know how the story unfolds and be taken on a journey. Where is the lyrists and story tellers of today’s era? They are out there but they aren’t readily visible past a few marquee names.

Not every new artist is off the beaten track, but many are just copies of each other. A complaint that could be leveled in any generation, but with social media and so many outlets those poor copycats are much more in public eye. The trap generation and new wave movement is dope, but without a balance of more pure lyricists than just Kendrick Lamar or Logic leaves the entire industry of wack.

“Would you say my intelligence now is great relief? And it’s safe to say that our next generation maybe can sleep. With dreams of being a lawyer or doctor. Instead of boy with a chopper that hold the cul de sac hostage” ~ Kendrick Lamar – m.A.A.d city

The industry is at it’s most potential but at a crossroads that must be addressed. No… Nas wasn’t foretelling the future with Hip Hop is Dead, the industry has people like Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean and Logic laying it down, telling a story and pulling you in. Artists like Migos, Future and Post Malone are bringing in a whole new generation to the table and keeping it fresh and dope. Veterans like Eminem, Fabolous/Jadakiss and Jay Z are keeping the older fans still involved. Classics like Biggie and Tupac will always make everyone in the room stand up. Hip hop is not dead, it’s not weak, it’s just at a crossroads and trying to determine it’s next door to open.

Female rappers might be at an all time level of strength, despite their beefs and battles. Nicki Minaj, Remy Ma and even rising stars like Snow tha Product all can hold their own and don’t need any man to co-sign or validate them. Nitty Scott MC has made many a man take a back seat with her lyricism. Never has the industry had more access to great female rappers. Both here and abroad… British female rappers are tearing it up too! The ladies are no opening act, they are the main event and it’s not even close in some cases.

Lyrics Matter

Friday on Elm Street by Fabolous and Jadakiss

In December we saw two great examples of what real hip-hop is, was and most definitely what could be. First, what caught my ear was Friday on Elm Street. The vets, Fabolous and Jadakiss went to war with each other and dropped the mix-tape that lit a fire back into hip-hop. A mix-tape. Not even a real straight up album, but a mix-tape! Tracks like Theme Music, the Stand Up (Remix) and even the intro F vs J Intro were all fire! Almost every track was a straight lyrical masterpiece.

Not to be outdone… next up to restore my faith in the hip-hop industry of today was JR Writer! I Really Rap from the underrated veteran rapper out of Harlem. The tracks hit hard, lyrics rip from start to finish. Tracks like 100 Percent, I Really Rap and Me Doe are crazy. While not carrying the fanbase of a Jadakiss or Fabolous, JR has his own cult following and his December release was another great of example of what hip-hop could be. It’s what hip-hop should be.

Lyrics matter. A great beat and production can hide many weak lyrical efforts. It makes a weak song into a possible hit and a strong lyrical masterpiece into a classic. The question in most songs today is what happened to the story? Everyone from every region of this country and from every age group over the last 40 plus years can argue what is “good” hip-hop. Yet, as much as I get hyped by Panda from Desiigner, what is he even talking about? It’s catchy and the quick flow and beat make it a cool track to kind of rock out to and get hype, but no one is going to be signing it up for one of the greatest songs of all time.

“I got the feds sending me letters ’cause I’m schooling the youth. But they can’t lock me down ’cause my tool is the truth. Yeah I sold drugs for a living, that’s a given. Why is it? Why don’t y’all try to visit the neighborhoods I lived in? My mind been through hell, my neighborhood is crime central where cops lock you more than try to defend you. I push you to the limit when I’m needing the wealth. And all I see is life cycle just repeatin’ itself.” ~ Jay Z – Can I Live II

No, lyrics matter. Stories matter. We remember when Slick Rick told A Children’s Story and ran up the stairs to the top floor, when Jay Z took us through a journey of the streets in Reasonable Doubt and his life with the Life and Times series, when Bone Thugs-N-Harmony spit fast but told us a story about the rent being due or going to Tha Crossroads. T.I. took us into trap muzik and a journey through drug dealing with Rubberband Man. Rappers like Common and Talib Kweli would take us on journeys through activism and teach us lessons, invoke our minds into caring about issues beyond our cities and neighborhoods. Though not every story had to be serious, Skee Lo had us all wishing and Pharcyde made Ya Mama jokes into a dope story and song. It was about the story, the lyrics and journey from the start of the track until the end.

The Next Generation

Chance the Rapper | Photo by Jordan Nicholson, Live Nation

Today, there are so few story tellers I see like Chance the Rapper, Kendrick, Logic and Big Sean. The rest are vets like Eminem and Jay that have to keep coming back in their 40’s. They can’t ride off into the sunset because the industry keeps begging them to stay. There are a ton of dope artists today. But what are they talking about? Most rap about their money, clothes and what they got, others about what they want and a few about whatever they think makes sense to the beat they are rapping over. Yes, I left out a lot of artists that tell great stories. We can’t ignore Ty Dolla $ign, G-Eazy or even B.o.B. There are many to name. The industry is large. The point is more that Jay, Lil Wayne, Eminem and the vets from over the last 2 decades aren’t going to keep walking through that door forever.

Today the artists can come from anywhere and that is definitely a strong point. Thanks to social media, it no longer has be music coming from NYC or the West Coast or even the South. If you have the internet you can share your music with the world. Sure, there are still artists like Royce Da 5’9″ and Big Sean holding down Detroit with Eminem heading towards the end of his career in front of the microphone. You have Fab/Jada doing NYC proud, Joell Ortiz and Nitty Scott, but where are the new artists out of NYC? Kendrick is a one man wrecking crew from the west and Future and trap music keep the south strong. But it doesn’t matter. If you have a mic, you have a voice. There are great new artists from everywhere, here and across the globe.

“Why don’t schools teach more mathematics. Less trigonometry and more about taxes. They at the chalkboard, teaching us ass backwards. How about preparing us for life, instead of lab rat us?” ~ Big Sean – 24 Karats of Gold

They say there are no more new ideas. Just new and updated versions of the same things. I disagree. Hip Hop has always found a way to come up with new and fresh ways to tell their stories. Sure there are loops, samples and quotes of the past, but that’s more hip hop paying tribute than trying to copy and rip off. The next generation of hip hop artists is deep. So deep, it’s scary how much pure talent is out there. This generation is every bit as creative, have more tools available and more access to the world with just a click. The life and times, the story they tell is theirs. It doesn’t have to be that of the past. That’s ok.

This article is no way shape or form a critique of the hip-hop scene of 2017. In fact, it’s an encouragement of the continuity and push to see more of what 2017 brought to the tale. Renewing this writer’s faith in the musical art that he loves. I’ll leave the top five debates to each generation’s favorites, but know that while this era dismisses 90’s/early 2000’s hip hop, they must admit the influence that is still felt from arguably the greatest era in hip-hop history.