Should we be paying less attention to the hype in hip hop and more notice to the goodness right under our noses?
In 2001, Dr Dre was setting to work on Detox, “the most advanced rap album ever” according to Scott Scorch. That quote was lifted from 2004 after he decided to leave the project to concentrate on music for other artists. No hate there; when you’re in demand like he has been for the past couple of decades, these things can happen. But the hype has never fully died down. Every so often, “promising” updates pops up like Jerome from Martin and just when you think this could be the year, nothing else happens. The craziest rumour I heard last year was that it had taken this long because of the album artwork. Album artwork? It’s taken eleven years to sort out an album cover? I’ve finished covers in two days. The way things are with Beats by Dre and future music streaming service, I can’t see it dropping at all. But he’s not the only one with all the hype and none of the trousers…
Jay Electronica has gone a step further than Dre by announcing a tracklist. That means the album is musically ready. But that’s all we’ve really heard for a while now. In between drunk baby daddy tweets and the odd single here and there (some not even slated to be on Act II), that’s about it. At least we can say this one will drop within our lifetimes but what’s the point in creating hype and letting it die down for months?
We’re in musical times of “one album a year, even if it’s a deluxe version of the album from last year” and this vicious cycle is perpetuated by the record companies, the fans and sometimes the musicians. It seems impossible to think, say, Michael Jackson could have gone four years between his album releases and still outsell the competition. An excuse would be that he toured in between albums but so do artists like Beyoncé and Alicia Keys, who have had to fill the seemingly small gaps with those “deluxe” albums and EPs. Hell, even DJ Khaled and The Game are on it. Are we being too pushy for more music or is hype just a fundamental part of hip hop culture?
What I’d like to see more of this year is less attention being paid to the crazed hype and anticipation before hip hop releases and more to the indie musicians who work damn hard to get their music out. Now, I’d be a hypocrite if I said quick releases were bad (as I’m planning to drop 12 beat tapes this year myself) but it’s all the talk beforehand that bothers me. It never seems to be in relation to the quality of the music put out. The side of hip hop culture you see most prevalently nowadays is the wealthy part, constructed on a bed of privilege and excess. Even the “hustle and grind” rhetoric is all about making money from selling millions of records, an ideology that rarely comes into fruition and if it does, it never lasts long. The foundation of culture and historical struggle is no longer at the forefront but it’s still there – you just have to dig deep.
But the hip hop greats are returning. Common has planned to drop a follow up to his superb 2011 offering The Dreamer, The Believer this year as well as a mixtape and an EP. Q-Tip should be releasing The Last Zulu this year (one hopes) and Eminem and LL Cool J also have music planned for in 2013. I suppose that’s the luxury of being in that position; being popular enough to garner enough exposure so you don’t have to overdo the promo. The hip hop fans will always be waiting, so they don’t need to be told twice. It’s just the music fans who weren’t around when you were at your peak that need telling and with them collaborating with the top artists at the moment, they need to do very little. Except, that’s what you’d think. Sales are more important than ever to record companies. Albums that don’t go at least gold are seen as commercial failures in their eyes. The fact that musicians on tour actually lose money pales into comparison when it comes to album sales. And what fuels sales? HYPE! It’s a strange sort of phenomenon that grips the fans (and stans). Hype and anticipation around an album launch grips them intensely like a vice and the initial sales are made purely on this hysteria. Hype gets people to the shows and it gets them to dance and recall every lyric to all fourteen encores of Ni**as In Paris. The quality could be questionable but as long as you feel amped and you pay, who the hell cares?
Perhaps I’m hoping for too much. The fortunes of success and capitalism are fleeting but they are constantly strived for, usually at the expense of great music. I love hip hop probably more than any other genre of music because of its ability to take the external elements affecting its culture and moulding them into something new. What I’d like to see more of is creation from its roots in history and culture, not some media-driven sense of hype. Hip hop deserves better.