Death of Genres

10Feb10

Had what turned out to be a long comment on TNC’s post on Nas/Illmatic/Hip hop is dead. I always think I’ve lost some of my affection for music, but I still have the ability to ramble on about it:

I guess I’ll start off by saying hip-hop isn’t my forte, and I’ve actually only really come to the music rather recently. That said, it’s worth considering what “Hip-Hop is Dead” means. The filter I’m going to see this through is when Billy Corgan called said “rock is dead” in the lead up to releasing the brilliant album “Adore.”
It’s easy to say that Hip-Hop has become pop. It’s as simple as looking on what’s on the Now! albums, which are actually a really interesting study in how the game has changed. It was almost exclusively white artists when it started, but then you saw Eminem get on (yeah I know) and Nelly, and it shift towards a much more hip-hop oriented dynamic. Aside from this, R+B songs started to pretty regularly feature rappers, and vice versa (Best of Both Worlds is prominent example). In rock, you saw some truly awful groups (and some decent ones) gain popularity by doing the rap-metal thing. And so all of a sudden pop and rock tastes were more geared for rap.
There’s also the socio-economic factors too. As TNC points out in his article on 50 Cent, the ante of violence and drug trade could only be upped so high, partially thanks to the crack epidemic slowing. And so it not only feels disingenuous, but you begin to run out of material. Even Jay-Z, who I love dearly, has basically has been talking about stuff he did in the early 90s and 80s for a very long time. I love American Gangster. But I can’t help thinking I would have loved it more if it were the first time I was hearing something like this, and it makes you wonder, did the Reagan/Bush era define hip-hop, or did hip-hop define the Reagan/Bush era.
What I do know from my own more “white” music background is that music does change with the times. It’s hard to imagine the singer/songwriter movement taking place without the 60s, just as it’s hard to imagine the alt-rock explosion happening outside of the Clinton years. While there is some overlap in influences (Neil Young, for one), the music changes enough to warrant a different genre label.
And that’s sorta where I see hip-hop now. We have Nas and Jay-Z probably the two best surviving MCs that have lasted nearly as long as hip-hops been popular, changing up their styles. Nas’ own song “hip-hop is dead” is largely a guitar based beat, but not in the same way the Beastie Boys were. And Jay-Z has added motown, swing, and jazz into his beat repetoir, while trying to stay popular with more contemporary stuff.
To bring this back around with what I was talking about with Billy Corgan, it was a time rock had grown very stale. The Britpop explosion that took up grunge’s slack died down in America. Pearl Jam were content to remain anonymous to MTV, and U2 had embraced electronic music. It did appear that rock was sorta, well, dead. So Corgan releases an album filled largely with electronic and acoustic ballads. It wasn’t possible to release another Siamese Dream from a creative perspective, because it would have been a step back, and not only that, but Corgan didn’t want to kill himself anymore. Kinda similar to how rappers stopped coming up frequently through drug game.
Anyway, while the album flopped, it did signal a change of intentions for serious “rock” artists. I think you can draw a straight line between Adore and the Arcade Fire. However, I can’t see the Arcade Fire releasing Siamese Dream, nor would I want them to. Groups like Nickelback and 3 Doors Down are deservedly mocked for trying to recapture the glory days of the early 90s (of course, the fact that they aren’t that talented isn’t helping anything).
And so going forward, Hip-Hop’s going to need to embrace change. It’s going to need wider influences on the actual music. It’s going to need to diversify lyrical content. But the good news is, I do see some pretty significant signs of that change happening. But I wonder whether fans of the older stuff will find the same fate Zeppelin fans that didn’t embrace alt-rock.

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One Response to “Death of Genres”

  1. lol some of the commentary people write make me laugh, in some cases i question if they truly read the articles and reviews and threads before leaving a comment or whether they take a moment to skim the titles and publish only the first thought that one thinks of. anyhow, it’s good to read keen commentary once in a while in contrast to the same exact, traditional oppinion vomit that i often notice on the internet


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