I really wanted to write a post about how the local media here seems to have a kind of blind, puppydog love for the local hip hop scene, endlessly, hyperbolically praising everyone without really offering any insightful criticism. Sometimes it feels like certain members of the media are just home-team cheerleading because they don't know enough about hip hop to really dig into it.
But it'd be hard to write that essay, because the local scene IS really that good.
I went to a show last night that featured Truthmaze, DJ Drea and Autumn Compton & the Most Wanted, and it was crazy, one of the best shows i've seen in a long time. Autumn and 'em do it EVERY Friday at the Blue Nile too, with different features and guest artists (i'm playing it on the 14th). Just a great vibe, great performances-- a lot of fun. Truth killed it-- people know him as a rapper and poet, but i can't get over how great of a singer he is. Not an American Idol type voice, obviously, but a beautiful stab-you-in-the-heart kind of voice.
The only halfway disappointing thing was that turnout was kind of low because of the Prof and Rahzwell CD release going on at the same time. Now i've never met these guys or seen them perform, but they're interesting. It's the kind of upbeat, goofy hip hop that i absolutely can't stand (could say the same about MC/VL), but it's SO well-done (at least judging from the stuff i've heard online) i really can't hate. Very professional, great production, very fun. I just hate fun. But check 'em out if you don't.
I've also been listening to New MC's solo joint, the Big Quarters album, the POS album, a bunch of stuff that stays in regular rotation. Then of course there's Carnage, Desdamona, the whole Doomtree crew, M.anifest, Kill the Vultures, Toki Wright and his various crews, the list goes on and on, including a million lesser-known acts (young rappers, more street-oriented rappers, hobbyists, etc.) who don't get the media attention yet but are still doing their thing.
Anyways, back to my original point, which i think still has some validity. While this area does have a surplus of talented hip hop acts, sometimes i wonder how many critics and fans are genuinely feeling the music, and how many are caught up in either celebrity worship (when it comes to the big Rhymesayers acts) or simple hometown pride. Nothing inherently wrong with either one, really. It's just that if this scene is to really grow (and with so many rappers at least trying to make a living off music, it has to), i think that at some point we'll need more constructive criticism-- from writers, from fans and from the artists ourselves.
A few points for discussion:
1. People say good hip hop is "hot beats and hot flows," but at what point is that not enough anymore? Where are the songwriters? Where are the rappers who aren't just rapping about rapping or rattling off pop culture references or stringing together impressionistic images and ideas without having a point? Of course, every song doesn't need "a point," but i think we're starting to see more listeners demand SOMETHING deeper than "rapping really well over bombastic production." Punchlines and platitudes get cheap applause, but thoughtful songwriting creates lasting art.
2. How can we tap into the non-hip hop audience? I think of this as the "Kanye Effect." Kanye, when you strip away his celebrity and hype, is basically an underground rapper with GREAT pop sensibilities. I think indie rappers can learn from him in that sense. I for one am not going to be satisfied with sharing the same fans as every other rapper in town, the couple hundred kids who stay going to shows. I love them, but they're not enough. How do we reach out to the college audience, the rock crowd, the activist community, all these different groups? I think the key is in songwriting, which relates back to point one, but also in marketing, which relates to point three.
3. This is now an age where the music is only part of our potential impact as musicians, if that makes sense. How can we become true multimedia artists, intertwining visual art, photography, video, fashion and other elements to create a total artistic package? I know this is thin ice, becuase a lot of cats still be on the "i just do what i do and don't like to think about that other shit" tip, but i really think that other shit is important.
And these are just a few points. It's fun to think about. I get to test ALL my theories in the next three months as we start the promo machine for my album. We'll see how they play out i guess.