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Friday, June 10, 2016

[Article] The Celebration Of Mediocricity

As many of you, my loyal and trusted readers, know for the last year or so The Lost Tapes have gone from a site with multiple updates daily to somethimes only 10 updates a month. I intend to get back on track with some more dope compilations and such (like the recent Freddie Gibbs one that I think came off realy well). The reason is that I've been totally immersed in the musical world of jazz and it's many offshot styles - many people think jazz and they think some lame big band BS but that's about as accurate as thinking that all hip-hop is equivalent to trap music. So one of the reasons for my lack of interest (add to that a new full-time employment) is the hundreds of incredible Hard Bop, jazz-rock, BeBop, Modal records and funk jazz albums that I've purchased over the last couple of years. 

But the more important reason, and which I think it's fitting to discuss in an article of this type, is the total watering down of Hip Hop as an artform over the last few years. There's so many times I've seen a Trap video or something remotely popular like a Rick Ross song getting heavy airplay and bringin in the big numbers and being absolutely disgusted by what I call the celebration of mediocricity (a term that I've borrowed from the great Mtume as you can see above). An estimated 90% of all aspects of commercial Hip Hop today features laughable excuses for musicians, whether we're talking about the "producer" or "the rapper". There's no virtuosity in putting together one of those beats, and there sure as hell ain't no virtuosity or skill involved in putting together half-assed rhymes celebrating the killings of young black men through direct violence or through the spreading and selling of hard drugs that ultimately destroy the nation and keep the people, especially black and poor, down. At the same time the music video has become a parody of what started out as rappers wanting to flaunt a little after growing up with nothing. Today you see a ridiciolous amount of flashing money stacks, expensive bracelets, watches, the pouring of expensive champagne and what not. It's like these peoples lives and talents are so empty that their only hope is that their blind followers might catch the sparkle of that blood diamond and want to achieve the same level of "success". Capitalism at it's finest right there. The main problem with this is that it has created a generation of a so called music scene where the majority of artists are not in it for any love of art or anything even appraoching it. They are in it for the money and the fame, and it's translates to their unimaginative wack tracks. Plain and simple. The celebration of mediocricity, indeed.

But this is an old argument and I know that most of you who read this site agrees, but there's another problem at hand which I think might upset a few more people reading this. Hip Hop, the genre as a whole, has become stagnated. Reading the above paragraphs about the commercial wackness I know many will automatically say "but you're just looking at the wrong place, there's tons of underground rappers killing it right now". Indeed, there's plenty of underground and not-so-underground rappers putting out pretty decent music at this time. They got their dope little beats, spit some cool darts, but more often than not it lacks any true originality. And this is a huge problem. Without naming names there are so many groups around today that I might listen to their new stuff and be like "yeah, this is cool, these cats can flow". But what it comes down to is that I've heard it all before, and done much better too. Back in the '80s and '90s, the real greats had their own styles, their own lane of creativity that were distinctly theirs. That is largely missing today; so many try to recreate the boom bap vibe and flows to give the fans that stuff they've been craving for years, but I've heard the beats done better if at least not just as good on projects before. Projects that is much dearer to my heart and who I'd much rather revisit. The same goes for the emcees - a lot of new(ish) MC's are nice with the wordplay and flows, but who can you name that has the instant recognizabilty and charisma of a 2Pac, a KRS-One, a BIG, a Ghostface, a Jeru The Damaja, a Posdnos, and so on, and so on. It's like why listen to the next best thing?

The most important aspect of this is that for any music to continue to thrive and stay relevant it needs to elevate, and continue to improve and change. The past is already there, and with albums like "The Chronic", "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..."; "Illmatic", "ATLiens", "Soul Food", "The War Report", "The Diary", and so on. that classic style has already been perfected. Many of the original artists are still churning out good music, but to me they have more nostalgic value than having me truly blown away in the manner i was when Ghost came back resurrected like Jesus with "Supreme Clientele" in 2000. But as I've said before there's plenty of perfectly good Hip Hop out there but if we don't get more creative artists who care as much about the art and virtuosity of creating an impeccable product we're in for some big trouble. I loved Hip Hop since the first time I heard it - never in my life had I so identified with a culture and a music that truly spoke to my soul. And throwing on "Word... Life" I still get that feeling so Hip Hop music will be a huge part of my life for as long as I live. I just hope there will continue to be many more great albums released over the years. Luckily there's been at least a handful this decade. But there's very few albums from this decade which has that effect on me. 

Was Nas prophesizing when he boldly stated that Hip Hop was dead in 2006? No, I don't believe so - I can only hope that this is the genre's weakest moment before a proper turnaround takes place where eventually real, young artist will come back to the forefront. For me the two most important artist working in the Hip Hop field today, and this might be blasphemous to many of y'all, is Kendrick Lamar and KanYe West. Kendrick Lamar proved with "G.O.O.D. Kid, Madd City" that he was not only a virtuos technical emcee (and that is something else, if an emcee isn't among the best in some respect - why the fuck would I chose to listen to him?) that could compete with the best of the old school cats we so cherish, and he had modern music on there, he had boom bap music on there, but it was all seamless, and the way he told a story had the listener on the edge of his seat. All in all, it was fine art. And then came, "To Pimp A Butterfly" which not only avoided the sophomore jinx, it absolutely crushed it - trust me when I say that this album will be held in the same regard as many of the other classics mentioned previously in this post. From start to finish there's nothing that shouldn't be on there, it's extremely well thought-out from start to finish, from lyrical concepts (much of it very complex, requiring several listens), to flows, theatricals, excellent beats, and a very fresh originality in the music. We've heard combinations of live instrumentations and samples before, but never like this. "Butterfly" is like "There's A Riot Going On" for 2015. Lamar is a true artist, not just an emcee, but someone who cares about the art of Hip Hop, someone willing to push boundaries and elevate the state of the music and as I said that is exactly what we need.

But what about Kanye West then? Does he truly qualify as a groundbreaking artist in the same vein? In my opinion, yes he definitely does. He has a tendency to dissapear so far up his own ass all too often the last couple of years, which puts his musical output in an unfair light (both "Yeezus" and "The Life Of Pablo" had some horrible decisions). But what makes him so powerful as an artist is that he is truly passionate about his music and cherish it as art, not as a museum piece but as somehting living and breathing that represents a time and a place. And just like Lamar he dares to experiment like crazy which shows an unflinching willingness to go beyond his comort zone to try to find new expressions..This is an imporant feature of all genius musicians - had Prince, Sly Stone or Miles Davis been afraid of what the critics might think of him, they would not have revolutionezed the music world as many times as they did. To me Kanye's "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" and Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp A Butterfly" is for the reasons stated above, as well as their pure musical bliss, extremely important albums that should be seen as a template for artists for the sake of the elevation of Hip Hop. 
Don't get me wrong though, I'm not saying we need records that sound like those two particular albums - I'm actually saying the opposite, we need more artists with unique styles but the common denominator need to be to expand on a stagnant genre. I'm equally impressed by Roc Marciano's "Reloaded" album and Freddie Gibbs "Pinata" LP with Madlib if we're talking about this decade (for my top 5, throw in eiher Nas' "Life is Good" or MF Grimm & Drasar's "Good Morning Vietnam" trilogy as well). But those albums as well had something that was far from the celebration of mediocricity I've been ranting about. Both Gibbs and Marciano (as are Nas and Grimm) are naturally born artists (coupled with years of training in writing and spitting) and their voices and subject matters are extremely captivating while their respective albums are cinematic and creative to the max. Add to that that they are full bodies of work, well thought out from start to finnish and present the listener on a journey inside the mind of the respective artist. 

The album is unfortunately somewhat of a dying trend in this iTunes microwave fast food consumer music world which is a shame. A single can of course be a banger but a single in the context of an excellent album that builds on it is something else entirely. And I don't fuck with the whole mixtape thing at all anymore. That's another thing that perhaps more than anything has enhanced the celebration of mediocricity. What I mean by that is that it has allowed artist to constantly put out three or four good songs mixed with all types of weak stuff that would have been better left on an harddrive. It needs to be a real special favorite of mine to even consider listening to a mixtape in this day and age for me. What happened to the classic EP? 5 tracks of the absolute best an artist had to offer, no filler, just straight heat. And for the record, I will always love Hip Hop and only wish to see it thrive and continue to grow but these are problems that I feel the need to discuss - pleace comment. Over and out!


  1. Good article thanks, for me hiphop died in 1999

  2. Good piece as usual. I agree with everything you said. I've given new stuff a try over and over again but it really is plain awful. Occasionally a decent song or something catchy but more often than not trash. What jazz albums do you recommend?

  3. Good article, I would add the Run The Jewelz/Killer Mike albums to the list.

  4. Thanks for the nice read... I mainly agree but wouldn't probably see it as pessismistic as you do. I.e., lately, I was very impressed with Dirt Platoon, Fel Sweetenberg and Conway the Machine. At least, we could still spend life times listening to all the great stuff from the last 30 years. No shame to that!

  5. Unknown... yeah i have a tendency to come off a little bitter as i always cherished hip-hop and although I live in Sweden (although have been involved with very real shit throughout the years which i'm sure a lot of so called hardcore emcees doesn't come close to).

    I love hip-hop from my heart and soul and since I first heard it it instantly changed my life and up until this point. But I have become somehwat disillusioned with hip-hop a bit - there's still excllent albums being churned out but i think it's a shame so few rappers, even legends, seem to be so afraid to try something totally left field. That's why I cherish GZA's upcoming project "Dark Matter" (a concept that has never EVER been done before), Kendrick's last two albums, and then some... but I will always love hip hop, it will always be in my soul and that's why i'm taking a pessimistic stand - all the while that i after many years i realized that there's a lot of incredible music from the late '40s onward (mainly jazz) that are almost as intriguing, if not more in the context of an artist like Miles..

    And that is still not the reason I have been giving you so few posts lately. I work a 9-5 (which I love, as a librarian since my five year university studies have passed.

    But looking through the hip-hop sites besides a few artists like Nas, Jay Electronica, GZA, Ghostace Killah, Raekwon, Big Boi / OutKast, KanYe West and others who really takes this music to the next level and in the process securing the future of hip-hop. If you don't take risks hip-hop might just be dead in a short few years... Don't get my words twisted here and I hope y'all understand!