Early this morning, many of us got the news that rapper Phife Dawg, of the legendary group A Tribe Called Quest had gone on to Hip Hop Heaven. *Don’t question me, I’m sure that’s where he is. Most of us were overcome with a range of feelings-sadness, nostalgia, disbelief.
But me? I was mostly sad for another reason. Sure, I felt a void, knowing that Phife Dawg would never write another rhyme or bless another mic, but there was something bigger than that-I was mourning Hip Hop.
Few things are as liberating as listening to your favorite rap song. One of mine happens to be “Bonita Applebum.” There are many others like “Tennesse”, “Ms. Fat Booty”, “Cool Like Dat” and “Juicy” that truly made me fall in love with Hip Hop. I’m thankful.
Ever so often, when a Hip Hop legend passes away, we are reminded of what Hip Hop used to be. What rap music used to feel like. It’s not the same.
While I recognize times have changed, and of course art imitates life, I just can’t get over the fact that what used to be something so revolutionary, something so relatable, something so organic, had become so unoriginal, unimaginative and contrived.
So now, as we “reminisce over” Phife by playing his verses back to back, looking at old pictures, and watching old music videos, we’re forced to acknowledge that Hip Hop just ain’t what it used to be.
Last night, I watched a documentary on Organized Noize. For those of you who aren’t familiar, amazing artists like Andre 3000, Cee-lo, Big Boi, and Sleepy Brown are products of the legendary producers that helped to change the sound of Hip Hop forever. Born and raised in Atlanta, GA, these cats gave us a sound, that to this day, cannot be duplicated. It’s theirs-forever.
The same can be said about groups like the WuTang Clan, The Fugees, Mob Deep, Junior Mafia, Digable Planets, Camp Lo, The Pharcyde, The Roots-the list goes on. We could distinguish these groups from one another. They each had their own sound, their own feel. They were FRESH. They were Dope. They were Fly. There was never a doubt about that.
Nowadays, when I turn on the radio, I don’t know who is who. Basically, I just call everybody Young Thug or Future. It seems like in order to have a hit song, you have to have a catchy dance to go along with it-The Nae Nae, the Dab, the Milly Rock, it’s all apart of the package. And the package sucks if you ask me. Hate the package. Please return to sender.
So where did we go wrong? Why does it feel like I’m being put into a trance by an evil, talentless, rapper every time I turn on the radio? I blame Soulja Boy. And social media. And white men. (I’ll get to that later).
But first, let’s reflect on one of the most popular rap songs of all time- “Rapper’s Delight.” To this DAY, decades later, if this comes on ANYWHERE, it’s a WRAP. A party will be had. And while most people credit the Sugar Hill Gang with really helping rap music to take off, Coke La Rock is known for being the first rapper to ever spit rhymes after teaming up with DJ Kool Herc in 1973, both recognized as the original founding fathers of Hip Hop.
Today, we couldn’t be farther from that groundbreaking moment. Hip Hop culture and rap music started out underground. It was a subculture, attracting revolutionaries, misfits, outcasts-people with a story to tell. Now, it’s basically pop music. The first mistake that contributed to the downfall of Hip Hop was allowing rich, white men to have the ultimate say over what was marketable/popular. That robbed artists of their authenticity.
This created a scenario where poor Black and Hispanic kids were blinded dollar signs, agreeing to any and everything just to get a check. People like Jimmy Iovine and Lyor Cohen are two of the most well known music execs in the rap game, both of whom are white, Jewish men. Both of them have…well let’s just say, their reputations aren’t that great. With the music industry being dominated by three major companies, Universal, Sony, and Warner (all have white, male CEOs), there isn’t much diversity among the people who are making the big decisions.
Iconic rapper Scarface said it better than I ever could-
“The people in control of Hip Hop are so f___ing white and so f___ing Jewish, they don’t give a f__ about what the culture is about. I want to make this as offensive as possible for the old ass punks who are running the record labels…and dictate what the black community hears. I hate that s__t it pisses me off. There no f___ing way you can tell me it’s not a conspiracy. You put out a bunch of records that make us look dumb and stupid. You brainwash a generation of Hip Hoppers with this f__ing crud. Hip hop is white now.”
Who am I kidding? I probably could have said it better, but at least the brother kept it real.
The love of money got in the way, like it often does, and the culture has suffered because of it. We lost sight of the purpose, what Hip Hop and rap music was supposed to represent, and now we’re stuck with a watered down, bootleg, Dollar Tree version of what used to be.
So today I mourn. I pay tribute to Phife, and all the other Hip Hop legends and icons that changed the game for the better. We’re forever thankful.
But you see, I didn’t mourn how some of you’d expect. In the Black church, when someone passes away, we call it a “Homegoing.” A death becomes a celebration of life in many ways. So yea, that’s how I mourned Hip Hop and paid homage to Phife this evening. I threw on “Find a Way”, drank a big glass of wine, and told myself that I was the shorty whose “mind [wasn’t] corrupt with the ill C cups” Phife was talking about in his rhymes.
Rest in Power Phife.
Same to you, Hip Hop. You both will be missed.