What would Black Music Month be without some Hip Hop beef?
This latest verbal shot-licking doesn’t involve a rapper shooting at another backstage at a rap show, but it does involve two iconic figures who represent the full spectrum and rise of Hip Hop in the world. The Triple O.G., who is an institution, licking shots at the O.G., who is smelling himself these days and in his celebrity prime.
If you are a true blue Hip Hop head and understand its origins, struggles and successes as it has evolved into the No. 1 form of pop music in the world, and the most listened to musical genre, then you knew it was only a matter of time before legendary Public Enemy frontman, hip-hop historian and culture overseer Chuck D had his, “I just can’t take it anymore” moment.
The problem with Hip Hop culture is that it has deviated tremendously from its origins as its popularity and marketability has exploded since the early 70s, when the artform was relegated to urban jungles and the darkest underground venues. It was founded on the elements of rap music, DJ'ing, b-boying and graffiti art, which represent the different manifestations of the culture.
Over the decades, Hip Hop's identity has experienced a continuous evolution and become the music of nations rather than local boulevards and blocks. The Hip Hop that 80s babies enjoyed sounds very different from the cross-cultured sound that dominates the airwaves and is offered by the mythical artists that have benefited from this captivating genre.
Kanye West is one of the self-centered, beneficiaries of today’s lucrative commercialism of the artform, but he comes from the old school ilk of Hip Hop execution. Before he morphed into a larger-than-life celebrity known for his emotional outbursts, love of himself and his iconic celebrity wife Kim Kardashian, Yeezy was a cat from Chi-Town who grew up on the legends and had aspirations of making a dent in this coveted, crowded and lucrative entity.
Maybe that’s why Chuck D went at Yeezy recently. Chuck is one of the founding fathers of the craft and he is protective of the genre and the artists that shape it. However, he has been more vocal of late in his criticisms against self-aggrandizing, chart-topping artists like West. In an interview with Billboard, Hip Hop's most enlightened mind said artists like Kanye have turned it into a disgrace.
"When comparing rock and Hip Hop in terms of groups and bands", Chuck stated, “the group was the only thing that made Hip Hop even competitive to the rock world in the first place. But the minute that you started taking the DNA of the thing that worked, it’s the guy and the mic — the guy is Kanye and just Kanye and nothing else — it started shooting down Hip Hop as being a legitimate genre and being more of a spectacle. I think it was a disgrace that individual came into the talk of the genre. So the whole thing of ‘Me, me, I, I,’ has really brought it down to the point where people feel they have no power because they’re not connected. Hard to bring it up as an individual — that’s why collectives work.”
Chuck must have been sitting in his crib watching TV and he got hit with a Kardashians marathon, and then one of Kanye’s fashion rants, and finally blew his gasket. The sad part about it is we know Kanye has tremendous respect and historical understanding of Hip Hop and he grinded his way to the top by authentically putting in that work and building relationships, the most important being with business and rap mogul Jay-Z.
Unfortunately, he’s gotten caught up in the excessive celebrity lifestyle that his music career and heightened visibility due to his relationship with Kim has brought him. He’s been more interested in convincing everyone that he is this cult-icon, multi-faceted genius and marketing maven rather than uplifting the culture that blessed him with unimaginable wealth.
Chuck’s not one to knock anyone’s hustle and the type of music Public enemy made is held in the highest esteem in Hip Hop history. Teenagers may not totally understand the musical and social climate in America at that time, but the internet allows them every opportunity to be educated on a Top 5 All-Time Hip Hop group.
Chuck D’s point isn’t to bash Kanye. He needs to go at Yeezy so others will acknowledge and feel the impact of his statements. Kanye is an ends to a means. Chuck is too smart to get caught up in black people bashing. His larger point was that Hip Hop was always about sharing, community and uplifting, expressing, healing and revolting through music. There was a camaraderie that existed and groups especially represented that brotherhood and a goal to unify through common sound.
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Now, Hip Hop groups have gone the way of the pager, and it's causing a void in the music. There’s a shift to this obsession with individual artists and their obsession with themselves is even greater. With this kind of narcissism spreading throughout the culture, the elements of Hip Hop that are innate and vital to its existence, despite the changes in musical style or subject matter or lyrical content are disappearing as well.
Chuck knows better than anyone that the music has been wrestled from the inner city like diamonds in Sierra Leone, and sold to the highest corporate bidders. And he’s slowly watched the greatest elements of the music become watered down as the genre has expanded.
When you see something that was started for all the right reasons be used and disrespected for all of the wrong reasons, it’s time to speak out and shift the narrative. And that’s what Chuck is doing.
He knows Kanye respects the origins of his come up and the folks who paved the way for him to build his kingdom. Humility, TALENT and hard work got him in in the door and he is setting a distorted standard for these new jacks.
At the very least, he's confusing them. This is Chuck's way of reaching out to Hip Hop before it’s lost forever.