There is no “hip hop” anymore. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

by Marcus K. Dowling

I don’t believe in magic / I don’t believe in I-ching / I don’t believe in Bible / I don’t believe in Tarot / I don’t believe in Hitler / I don’t believe in Jesus / I don’t believe in Kennedy / I don’t believe in Buddha / I don’t believe in Mantra / I don’t believe in Gita / I don’t believe in Yoga / I don’t believe in Kings / I don’t believe in Elvis / I don’t believe in Zimmerman / I don’t believe in Beatles…
– taken from “God,” by John Lennon

I don’t believe in hip hop. No, I believe in music, and I believe in great artists, but, I don’t believe that “hip hop,” as people define it, really exists anymore as music. I argue hip hop has become metaphysical, as in the Merriam-Webster definition that it is “transcendent or to a reality beyond what is perceptible to the senses.” Hip hop is so much more. I argue it IS music. I argue it IS culture. I argue it IS relevance, and that all other which is ultimately of importance flows from it. It’s being redefined every second, every hour, every day, as it’s now the realm of everyone, a telephone game gone blissfully out of control.

Let’s take a look at this argument musically across the board. Lykke Li, the world’s hottest pop songstress, is at her core a failed avant garde MC who tucked tail, went back to Sweden, and reinvented herself, lugging hip hop along all the way. She performs “A Milli” and “Can I Kick It” live in concert this tour, and performs with grace, beauty, and, yes, that most important catch all term to unrepentant hip hop orientated cool, “swagger.” The hottest rock band of this exact moment, Chester French, isn’t signed to Epic, or Arista, or Atlantic, but to Star Trak, a label owned and operated by Pharrell Williams, a rapper who has produced beats for a band that often raps about selling voluminous quantities of cocaine. And let’s look at the Grammys. The “hip hop nominee” for Record of the Year isn’t a young American in baggy jeans from a core urban center goin’ hard, but no. “Paper Planes” is a song by the daughter of a Sri-Lankan revolutionary who had a white superproducer and DJ from Florida sample The Clash. Even further, go load up your iTunes. Somewhere in the top 5 last week was Lil’ Wayne. Not with a track about makin’ whoopee with a female cop, but, instead, a plaintive rock ballad about wanting to hook up with the prom queen. Fall Out Heroes of Cobra Panic anyone? In 2009, THIS, I argue is the cutting edge of hip hop.

To make a non musical point, hell, even those hipsters you hate? At worst, they’re nerds just trying to grab onto any fleeting bit of the coolest swag in the world to shine. How can you hate on that? Sad but true.

How many “dope (read lyrically superior) emcees” in the last ten years do you know who have achieved mainstream or even genre specific relevance in comparison to the last 20, or even the last 30. It’s so much deeper than what hip hop says. It’s how hip hop says it, why hip hop says it, and what they’re wearing while they say it more than the words themselves. Hip hop has permeated the mainstream to the point that artists that most “true” hip hop folks would be embarassed to have in the fold 20 years ago are now million and billionaires. Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em, by sheer force of charisma and accessible dance alone is more engrained in American history than Joe Budden. Fat Joe simply “leaned back” and became so much more richer and important than the days when he just “flowed.” Hip hop artsits no longer release songs. They release statements that move world culture. Just “putting out a track” isn’t enough anymore to become a star. Not to incite an argument or anything, but the most culturally relevant rapper in the world at present has a mullet, wears bespoke suits, pink polos, and his pants are so tight that if you so chose, you could see his pulse pounding in his crotch. Somewhere, there’s a guy steadfastly clutching his copy of BDPs “My Philosophy” and wondering what the hell happened?!?!?!

Hip hop is no longer the realm of credibility, ability and “blackness.” And there’s something wonderful about that. I can only imagine that somewhere, Busy Bee (who still performs!) and other hip hop originals have so sit back and marvel at the iconic, culture defining ascenscion of something they did for fun, and out of love. Hip hop had to grow. It deserved to grow, it needed to grow. And in it’s growth, I think society is better for it.

Hip hop is art. Hip hop is even sports. Lil Wayne has a fairly intelligent blog at ESPN. And speaking of him, the world’s greatest athlete IMO, Michael Phelps, swears by his off kilter, nasal and staccato flow prior to setting records and gaining gold medals that are the envy of little American boys and girls. Think that while standing on the gold medal platform, he had such lyrics as: “When I Lick My Top Lip, I Culd Still Smell U / When I Swallow My Spit, I Could Still Taste U / Put Dat Pussy In My Face Every Time I Face U” floating in his head. Ad don’t get me started. He even climbs trees to relax. Crazy.

I could keep going, but I think my point is abundantly clear.

Hip hop isn’t dead. It’s life. Everybody’s life. Culturally unavaoidable. And it’s about time we embrace that.

My name is Marcus Dowling and I’m new to The Couch Sessions family. I can be followed on Twitter @ /marcuskdowling. I also blogs about the DC and Baltimore house/electro/hip hop party scene and a lot of other music and whatever detritus comes to mind @, and I can be contacted @ dowling(dot)marcus(dot)k@gmail(dot)com. Thanks, Stone.

  • upset the setup

    You’re conflating corporate media’s productization of modern Hip Hop and Hip Hop the cultural movement as it still exsits today. Also, you are overlooking and minimizing the effect that media monopolies have had on what people perceive as (and create as) Hip Hop in 2009. Hip Hop is not dead, but vertically integrated mass media hip hop is.

  • Ryan

    Really good read man. Enjoyed it and brought up some good points. Taking some time to think it over and chew on the opinion.

  • Sonya

    I did a slightly relevant post on my blog on a smaller scale (and probably not as articulate). I agree with you however all this is a double-edged sword to me. A love/hate relationship if you will…Although I am more than happy to see the journey and paths that Hip-Hop and all that it encompasses has taken over the last 30 years, I hate that I have to look to blogs and a couple in-the-know homies for the rappers who still display the essence and organics of what kicked it all off from the jump.

  • jconda

    Very well-stated views…

    The way I see things, however, hip-hop isn’t dead and it hasn’t really transformed…hip-hop is just diluted…it has been assimilated into the mainstream conscience of corporate commerce and no longer holds its full strength. Hip-hop began it’s dilution when it started making people money – more so record execs than artists.

    The hip-hop that you describe as “life” and “culturally unavoidable” is not the strain of hip-hop that affected and still affects, my life.

    Comparing 80% of what is marketed as hip-hop today to the true art is like comparing Kenny G to Charlie Parker…exactly…it’s a foolish comparison.

    Due to commerce, due to corporate influence, due to the incessantly tired increase in club culture, the public in general no longer has a touchstone to validate the authenticity of what their being fed.

    It’s sad…but that’s the way of the world…


  • erin

    this was so on point,
    “Hip hop isn’t dead. It’s life. Everybody’s life. Culturally unavaoidable. And it’s about time we embrace that.”

    so true.

  • Stone

    I do wish for the “good old days,” of hip-hop, when you could hear everything from Tribe to Dre on the radio, and acts like Black Sheep, De La, Public Enemy, and even Arrested Development were relevant cultural forces in underground and mainstream society.

    Even with all that said, this post pretty much encapsulates my feelings about hip-hop and music in general. Were coming into what I feel is one of the more exciting times in music in over a decade. Artists like MIA and Lykke are not only flipping the script, but coming from outside the corporate music structure to get a seat at the table. Whole barriers of music are breaking, and as someone who owns albums from both ends of the spectrum (hip-hop to alt rock to house/techno, its a beautiful thing)

    As for hip-hop, the cats who really excite me are the Kid Cudis, Protons, Mickey Factz, etc. Cats who have an eye to the future and don’t dwell in the past and may not come from that “street” background that sells records these days. These are the cats who get mad hated on by the “real” hip-hop dudes. This has caused me to be disillusioned with hip-hop for more than a minute now.

    On a side note, I’m glad that Marcus’ post is spurring some much needed discussion.

  • Jerome


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