The Death Of Hip Hop, The Birth Of Pimp Hop

2015-03-11 08:40

The Cover Of Nas' 2006 release, Hip Hop Is Dead.

Tupac is considered by many Hip Hop heads to have been a prophet, or prophetic. Many of the good and not so good predictions he made in his short but illustrious career have since turned true, for better or for worse.

I remember listening to an interview of his back in 2003, which he had made in 1996, a few months before he was gunned down in Las Vegas. In the interview, made on the set of his ‘How do you want it’ video, he prophetically claims ‘One day they’re going to shut the game down’, referring to the US authorities shutting down the rap industry.

When I heard those words in 2003, I sincerely thought Tupac was tripping, because to my untrained eye, the rap game was only growing stronger and more competitive. At the time, the game was overwhelmingly filled, wealthy, and ever threatening like a looming tropical rain storm.

I couldn’t in my wildest dreams see the rap game being shut down, when it boasted a rich variety of competent MC’S like Nas, 50 Cent, Ja Rule, Common, Eminem, Jay Z, Wyclef, Talib Kwali, Ludacris, Wu Tang, and a host more hungry rappers with the hard core edge we had all come to love and respect.

South African Roots

On the South African front, we didn’t have an official high capital generating industry around 2003. But there were plenty of groups and eager rappers who were grinding hard and bubbling over the stringent SA music industry. Rap legends like Amu were leading the pack with what could have been the first officially professional Rap release of that period – an iconic album titled The Life, The Rap, And The Drama.

Other rappers who were making waves at this time were Skwatta Kamp, Optical Illusion, HHP, Mizchief, 5th Floor, Goddesa, Spex, Proverb, Cashless Society and plenty more who were making their hot presence felt, challenging cultural preconceptions and stereotypes on a rap battle scale.

Without the great influence of Gauteng based youth station YFM, Hip Hop music in South Africa would have taken much longer to flourish. YFM’s influence in this regard goes as far back as the founding of the radio station itself, in 1998. Since then, through ground breaking shows like Rap Activity Jam, emerging MC’s got to rub shoulders and cut teeth with the elites of the Music Industry, which the youth station was entertaining at the time.

This was where many aspirant rappers who would eventually become household names used to frequent, clad in the latest Hip Hop gear and bagging major hopes in their back packs. YFM was where they sharpened their weapons and made essential acquaintances. It took the efforts of popular DJ’s like Bad Boy T, Lee, Sanza, AK, Thato and Thato, and Rudeboy Paul to take SA Hip Hop to the next level, as it was decreed then.

A Threat From The Top

Corporate America had hated Rap music since its mid 80’s inception into popular American culture. But it was the rise in the late 80’s and early 90’s of what they termed as Gangster Rap which prompted the Authorities into action, to suppress and possibly end a rising threat in their eyes.

So the 90’s were spent by the state with concise but effective efforts to vilify and launch campaigns against this new and expanding black youth cult. Tupac was often on the wrong end of such efforts and repeatedly bemoaned them in his music, most especially a woman who worked closely with Congressmen named Delores Tucker. So ‘Pac was speaking from profound wisdom when he said in 1996 ‘One day they’re gonna shut the game down’. But there would be plenty of years of prosperity before that eventually took place.

In the aftermath of the Tupac and Biggie killings and the end of the second millennium, with its mystic predictions and prophecies, there was a healthy rise in Socialist content in mainstream rap. This is not to suggest the early to mid-90’s surge of ‘Gangster Rap’ was counter-productive, but it rather seemed like a step in the evolution of young black America.

Gangster rap was vilified by authorities as a promoter of violence, women abuse and drugs. This was the fear of white America, which could neither provide solutions for the entrapment which dispossessed minorities felt or experienced. Rather than address the content of Gangster Rap, Corporate America sought to stick a silencing prop through the mouth of the ghetto youth.

The Days Of Glory

But the Rap of the Tupac epoch was evolving in a positive direction and generating wealth at the same time. There was definitely black activism in the content of 80’s Rap, with influential rappers and crews like Run DMC, Eric B & Rakim, KRS 1, Public Enemy, Geto Boys, Gangstarr and many others addressing issues of black culture and purpose. This was however overturned by the violent rise of overly militant early 90’s ‘Gangster Rap’, which still had a social outcry behind its apparent aggression.

So beyond 1996 toward the millennium, gangster rap had more or less matured, and the rap game was less regional and more demanding in terms of militancy and content, still maintaining that enigmatic coolness with it. A multitude of gifted rappers flooded billboard charts, billboards, endorsement opportunities and magazine covers in the now billion dollar industry of Rap.

Artists like Busta Rhymes, Nas, Wu Tang, DMX, Scarface, Warren G, Mase, Gangstarr, Master P, Redman, Cannabis, Rass Kass, Big Pun, Da Brat, Fugees, Bone, Thugs & Harmony, LL Cool J, and even the late Tupac and Biggie, were the largest selling artists in all of America, and ultimately the biggest artists in the world. The game was rich enough to accommodate even one hit wonders like Lord Tariq & Peter Guns, Charli Baltimore, Dru Down, Skee-Lo, and several others.

As the millennium turned, and the world hadn’t ended as feared, social consciousness was growing big in Hip Hop culture and the rap industry. The coming and dominance of introspective MC’s such as Talib Kwali, Dead Prez, Mos Def, Xzibit, Dilated Peoples, and Lauryn Hill, added to the already impactful content of the likes of Nas, Gangstarr, Wu Tang, Cannabis, Keith Murray, Red Man and more. This was a beautiful time which coincided with the temporal global rise in general consciousness, which characterised the turn of the millennium.

The Rise Of Swag

So in 2003, I didn’t understand Tupac’s prophecy about the game being shut down. But by the time Nas released a critical and controversial album in 2006 titled ‘Hip Hop Is Dead’, a lot of damage had already been done on a massive scale. If Hip Hop was dead, then what had taken its place and was now dominant and mainstream?

Corporate and Capitalist America clearly did not appreciate the revolutionary Hip Hop which was being led by the Common’s and the Talib Kwali’s of this world. They preferred the kind of rap which complemented their capitalist tendencies and cooled their consciences. They preferred a rap that prioritised profits and prostitution than social consciousness and unity.

Throughout the history of rap and hip hop, there had always existed that element of flair in the image, which some have called ‘swag’ in the latter ages. Swag, flossing, blinging, or bragging, had always played a minor role in the content of Hip Hop music, even on the mainstream level. Tupac or Snoop could brag a little about their accomplishments, but they never made brag music altogether.

This trend of idolising materialism and promoting capitalism was markedly pioneered by Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs in the mid-90’s through his Bad Boy label, entrusting The Notorious BIG as the chief ambassador. The lyrics of Biggie were distinctively swarmed with constant references and acclaims to material things, from cars to women to clothes, and fine living. This was quite uncommon in the content of the day.

The swag/brag/floss/bling generation eventually took root in the South, as some Hip Hop Historians might attest, where labels like No Limit and Cash Money were founded. Prior to this, the South itself had been represented by street credible and hard-core groups like Geto Boys, Outkast, Eightball & MJG, and Goodie Mob. Their music was not the bubble gum crunk, snap or bounce which was popularized by subsequent Southern artists like Juvenile, Lil Wayne, Slim Thug, Ludacris, Chamillionaire, T.I, and Lil Jon most notably.

Hip Hop Is Dead

But even at that, Southern rap was still in the background around 2004, which was the era of G Unit, which also played an important role in the downgrading of content based rap. 50 Cent became the new Biggie as such, admonishing for a quest for material wealth at all costs, as backed by his classic Shady-Aftermath release, ‘Get Rich Or Die Trying’.

As G Unit rose, many other trustworthy groups faded further into the background. Gone was the prosperous early millennium vibe, wherein even underground MC’s like Pharaoeh Monch and Immortal Technique could catch a shine in the limelight at any given time without consequence. So in 2006 when Nas released the album ‘Hip Hop Is Dead’- whose title offended some Southern Rappers - the arena was already dark and bloodied.

The coming of Lil Wayne in 2008 and the later launch of Young Money sealed the deal and marked the beginning of the darkest period since the founding of Hip Hop culture. Social consciousness and militancy were completely stripped off the face of rap, and commercialism, narcissism and gothic content became prominent. Artists like Kanye West, Jay Z, Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, T.I, Drake, Pitbull and others, promptly adopted this passive pattern and rode with it at full speed.

Corporate America, the biggest pimp on the face of the earth, was for this once silent and content. It is in this spirit that we acknowledge the death of HIP HOP and the dominance of PIMP HOP, wherein the beats are soft, slow and dark, and the content is disturbing, opulent and purposeless. The game has been shut down for real. ©

(Visit And Follow My Blog on Twitter: @JustSmartRage)

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