TRAPPED: Where Does Hip-Hop Go From Here?
Overall, the last year of this decade has been somewhat noiseless for quite a few of the heavy hitters in music. Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, and The Weeknd have continued to stay under the radar by not dropping any solo projects in 2019. The absence of the aforementioned A-listers and their upper echelon peers provided music lovers with an opportunity to check out projects from other established, up-and-coming artists in the industry at the speed of sound (pun intended.)
This year, we witnessed the meteoric rise of Summer Walker, Da Baby, and Megan Thee Stallion as down south artists continued to reign supreme on the charts while the veteran J.Cole continued his dominance and reminded us why he is arguably the most sought after voice in hip-hop. With so much talent at our fingertips, it’s becoming harder and harder to keep up with our favorite artists while checking out the newcomers.
As 2019 comes to a close and we ready ourselves to embark on the next 10 years, It’s only right that we take a look at the state of hip-hop and ask the question “Where does hip-hop go from here?”
What prompted me to inquire about the current state of hip-hop was a piece I wrote last week on Frank Ocean’s classic debut ‘Channel Orange’ being the album of the decade. I initially wanted to end 2019 with a review of the top 6 albums of the year. I asked myself what was the last album or albums I listened to that moved me. However, when I started to reflect on the last 12 months, I honestly couldn’t come up with a list of 6 that truly impacted not only the industry but for me as an avid music lover. On the other hand, 2018 was full of hits.
- February 2018, when Nipsey Hussle released his major-label debut ‘Victory Lap’, was the last time I got a chill listening to a record. With John Singleton-esque storytelling, Nipsey’s lyrics read like a 90s movie script and the beats provided the score.
- Fast forward to Spring 2018 and Pusha T delivers the Martin Scorcese styled opus ‘Daytona’ to rave reviews.
- Not one to leave the ladies feeling left out, the multi-talented Janelle Monae takes us on a sci-fi trip into an alternate realm with her hip-hop, r&b and funkadelic infused third album ‘Dirty Computer.’ Janelle’s last project challenged the status quo in the music industry showing that women can aspire to be more than just sex symbols for entertainment.
After an incredible 2018, it’s hard to believe hip-hop fell flat in 2019. This entire year felt as if that spark was missing. Could it have been the untimely death of Nipsey Hussle that brought hip-hop to its knees and we are still trying to recover from that massive loss? Was it that we are becoming tired of veterans in the game like Jeezy, Rick Ross, and Gucci Mane serving us the same dope rhetoric the last 15 years? Or maybe its the fact that every trap rapper from Future to Gunna to Lil Baby virtually uses the same cadence, 808s, lyric material, even down the guest appearances throughout their respective projects, inspiring many up and coming rappers to trade in bars for melodies and making it even harder to distinguish them apart via their music. This isn’t to mention matching hairstyles, face tattoos, fashion choices, jewelry, cars, and so on. Rap queens Cardi B and Nicki Minaj were virtually interchangeable when it came to their peers in the industry dropping singles with one or the other of these female rappers being featured on the song.
Since the introduction and success of streaming, it is evident that a precedent has been set in the industry to emphasize quantity over quality. No longer does a fan have to wait 2 or even 3 years for one of their favorite artists to drop a new project as I did in the 90s, eagerly awaiting Outkast or Jay-Z to drop their latest albums. (Ouch, I guess I just dated myself) Artists are now accustomed to dropping new material twice a year or more. Hip-hop is becoming oversaturated with the majority of artists looking to make a quick viral hit that might be accompanied by an Instagram dance challenge rather than putting out a great body of work worth talking about for years to come.
“With so much talent at our fingertips, it’s becoming harder and harder to keep up with our favorite artists while checking out the newcomers.”
Even though hip-hop has become a global sensation over the last decade, at times, especially during the past few years, I can’t help but feel we are trapped. We are trapped in this constant loop of excess. An excess of rappers selling the American Dream of money, sex, alcohol, and drugs to the masses. Back in 2017, hip-hop passed rock and “pop” music as the most popular genre in the United States and continues its domination on an international scale. Rappers are now the new rockstars and since hip-hop is the voice of the inner city, it is truly a reflection of the times we are in. We find ourselves living in a time of excess. Where its the haves and the have nots. Where we put money, fame, and sex on a pedestal over artistry, intelligence, and work ethic.
As it stands now, in order to find music with substance versus fluff, avid music lovers need to sift through a lot of the garbage being forced fed to us by label execs and social media. After some digging and looking outside the box, hidden treasures can be found in the form of up and comers like Rapper/Producer Aaron May and Singer/Songwriter Xavier Omar. Still, for some reason, I‘m not sure these uncovered gems are enough to shift the culture.
So, for now, we are trapped. We are trapped in a culture that doesn’t want to move forward. A culture that is fine with just where it’s at. Some of us anxiously waited for Kanye West to save us with his Sunday Service Ensembles and Jesus is King hymns. It was a solid effort but to no avail. Revenge of the Dreamers 3 was a great compilation but even J.Cole and the Dreamville squad gave in to the demands of the mainstream. Even the OVO camp led by Drake was suspiciously quiet in 2019. Who knows, maybe OVO will take the lead in ushering in a new sound for the 2020s.
Truthfully, I don’t know where hip-hop stands. Right now it just seems like we’re going to get more of the same heading into this new decade. As an avid music lover, it’s frustrating. Have we given up on trying to push the boundaries? Are we scared to do something that is considered “too different”? Are the days when multiple acts from various parts of the country mixing like a musical pot of jambalaya, alas Fugees, Wu-Tang, Outkast, No Limit, Dogg Pound, Cash Money, Roc-A-Fella, gone forever? Will we have to continue to be bombarded with lackluster artists who care more about their insta fame than perfecting their craft? Will there be no more Kendricks and Coles in the next decade? Will there be more Cardi Bs and less Lauryn Hills? Will hip-hop be able to reinvent itself and bring forth a new era in 2020 or we will continue to recycle past eras or will new artists emerge in the coming years to continue to push the genre forward?
Only time will tell. Until then, I guess we’ll just keep on trappin.