It’s amazing what can transpire over the course of a year. Relative unknowns can get fast-tracked to the A-list with one hit, and it only takes one lackluster release or public relations gaffe (Hello, Charles Hamilton) to go from popular to the butt of an Internet meme. Before getting lost in a sea of tweets, selfies and the headlines associated with the albums slated to drop in the latter half of 2014, it’s good to step back and take inventory of the first half of the year.
Like we always do about this time, HipHopDX’s decided to celebrate the midpoint of the year with Halftime: Four Trends In 2014 Hip Hop. Members of our editorial staff are highlighting a trend specific to this year, and delivering a close (yet more concise) look at what's going on, and just what it means to the culture, sound and industry of Hip Hop.
We hope you enjoy, and continue to make 2014 the best year it can be.
The Artist-Driven “Power Trip” – Omar Burgess
If your favorite Hip Hop mogul is acting batshit crazy, don’t worry. It’s to be somewhat expected. The ‘90s were the era of unprecedented sales—from Master P earning 85 cents on each dollar earned with Priority to Roc-a-fella’s opulence—and it seemed every rapper of note had a label and a pressing and distributing deal with a major label. The second decade of the new millennium has been a reality check. Through April, digital album sales were down 14.2%, to 27.8 million from 32.4 million in the US, according to Nielsen SoundScan obtained by Billboard.com.
So Kanye spends the better part of 2013 “turning up” because he’s getting what he refers to as “a diminishing return on being great in one field.” Swizz Beatz is in a Massachusetts dormitory attending Harvard Business School because it turns out being a “brand ambassador” or any other hoity-toity title doesn’t equate to real ownership. There’s a common thread here.
“The illest thing my professor said was, ‘Make them feel like they own something, and they’ll work harder for you,’” Swizz told Power 105’s The Breakfast Club. “I’m like, ‘Oh, God. That’s what they do in the music industry—‘Give ‘em a label deal.’ Then when you get the label deal, it becomes a ‘we’ conversation, like, ‘I’m an owner.’ We want things so bad that we’ll take anything to have a title. But when you do the ratios and the math, does that title even mean anything?”
It took a while, but everyone’s coming to the sad reality that the split label, P&D deals (and the diamond-encrusted medallions that come with them) are the corporate equivalent of being a shift manager at McDonald’s. Wanting tangible power and creative control over your art in an industry that has historically treated participants like chattel? Yes, that is indeed crazy.
The Lack Of A-List Albums – Andre Grant
2013 blessed us with music from almost every major star in the game. They polarized you like Yeezus or had a thousand quotables like Nothing Was The Same, but they existed—dammit—and that’s all that matters. This year there’s been a dearth of music released. TDE has held it down with Schoolboy Q’s Oxymoron, SZA’s Z, Soulo’s These Days…, and they’ve got Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City follow-up as well as Jay Rock’s next one on deck. But it’s the rest of the industry we’re worried about. Have slumping sales finally given rise to a lax album environment? Is it really not worth dropping a hotly anticipated follow-up the year after previous release?
If so, we couldn’t blame them. The hyperactivity of the Internet has, I guess, caused huge artists to experience inertia in their rarified airs. Either way, it’s a bit of a let down. Instead, we’ve got folks either dropping really great loosies like Drake’s “Trophies” and “0-100,” and people hopping on said loosies as if it were ‘97 and you could make a hundred stacks or land a record deal on an “I killed your song” come-up. The terrible thing about it is that no one has yet to break through that way. While Your Old Droog made waves for either being a Nas alter ego or a God’s son doppelganger, it’s the guest verses of those same super-huge stars that have us talking. Nicki Minaj’s verse on Young Thug’s “Danny Glover” as well as T.I.’s verse on the same track, for example. The conclusion? Artists, the folks Ayn Rand referred to as “Atlas” are beginning to shrug and it sucks. It’s creating an unforeseen division between the musical haves and have nots where the barrier for entry isn’t a DJ, radio host, or journalist, but other artists themselves.
White People – Kathy Iandoli
Yes, that’s the only phrase that needs to be written. White People. I’m white, well Italian and Sicilian, which gets me places further in Hip Hop by way of “You’re the whitest Black ethnicity,” “you don’t act white,” and of course my favorite: “you look Puerto Rican anyway.” The presence of white people in Black music can be polarizing given historical (and present day) exploitation, so not looking the part gets you far (your respect for the culture keeps you there though). But this isn’t about me, it’s about the mainstream perception of the uber pale penetrating Black music like this is brand new. There are many sides to this Halftime debate: For one, white people have been a somewhat integral part of Hip Hop for three decades. Check the Zulu Nation roster and the handfuls of the melanin deficient, or the rare non-shady label execs who helped bring South Bronx talent to the next level, the amazing Rick Rubin and of course the Beastie Boys. Eminem, Eminem, Eminem. The list goes on.
However, what’s with 2014’s current obsession with white folks in Rap? It started last year-ish when Macklemore & Ryan Lewis capitalized on throwing Lil Wayne under the bus in an effort to promote being drug free or bringing same sex relationships to a culture that drops “the other F-bomb” like it’s a Flex bomb. The dynamic indie duo did do some good for Hip Hop in their forcing of progressive values through their music, especially considering how many soccer moms approve of them. The downside to that though is “changing the face” of Hip Hop to the masses—something that couldn’t and shouldn’t happen without some aesthetic representation of the architects. And then we have Iggy Azalea, whose super model looks eclipse her poppity pop bars, yet she succeeds in 2014 as a chart-topping female rapper. That’s clearly a testament to society’s ability to listen with their eyes, but considering the “feedback” on Iggy’s whole life, it would seem as though her chart positions would be nonexistent. Then of course we have countless think pieces on whether or not these artists “belong,” chased with mainstream publications using phrases like “White Hot” to describe the current landscape of Rap music. Here’s a Halftime Public Service Announcement: Hip Hop is NOT White hot, White people didn’t just enter Rap, and discussing their presence in some random blog doesn’t make you profound. Everything you did has already been done, including singling out the obvious.
TMZ’s invasion of Hip Hop – Janice Llamoca
What once used to be a source for high-profile mugshots has turned into an index cataloging your favorite rapper’s headshots. Actually, let’s take one step closer. TMZ has been dipping its big toe in the Hip Hop whirlpool since it’s launch in 2005. Of course, Hip Hop falls naturally under the entertainment umbrella and provides as much insanity as its Pop counterpart, but coverage of Rap artists on a mainstream celebrity site was not as common as the recent influx we’ve seen in 2014. It feels as if TMZ side-eyed WorldStarHipHop, another website that also started in 2005, and came up with a plot to take some of its traffic. You won’t see twerking videos (unless it’s Rihanna in a see-through dress) and random fights (unless it’s T.I. fighting Floyd Mayweather at Fatburger), but TMZ knew exactly what the Hip Hop rumor mill needed—verified sources.
So far, TMZ obtained exclusive footage for one of the biggest Hip Hop stories of 2014. Three words: Jay Z, Solange, Elevator. Three words that still makes us feel either uncomfortable for peeping inside Jay Z and Beyonce’s private relationship or simply makes us laugh because of the multiple variations of the muted dialogue imagined. Three words that made a now ex-employee of The Standard Hotel in NYC happy after he received $250,000 for the leaked elevator footage. Maybe it’s not too bad to have TMZ around if they can provide the appropriate “tip fee” for their “verified” sources.