Friday, April 18, 2014

Is Diddy The New Milli Vanilli?

One thing the world knows about Puff; He gets money. I’m not talking about the kind of money that would help you or me pay our cell phone bills or meet rent payments. I’m talking about long, sticky dollars. Diddy gets the kind of money that opens global channels to “hood” brothers. We’re talking about an official IRS portfolio member. That’s long cheddar. 

For years Diddy aka P Diddy aka Puff Daddy aka Sean Combs (whatever he chooses to call himself this week) has been the leader on Forbes Hip Hop Cash Kings. His business partnerships with various brands have made him a consistent leader in stacking chips. Do you want a drink at the club? Chances are you’ve just contributed to Diddy’s bank account. Oh you like that hip hop fashion, do you? At some point you probably paid Diddy. And now with his long arms of wealth extending into television, guess what? Cough up some more of your paycheck for this cat. And we haven’t even talked about the money he’s made from his Bad Boy record label in the 90’s. Diddy stays getting money. 

Recently in an interview 50 Cent brought up an interesting point about Diddy. In the interview 50 Cent says, 

The guy says don’t worry about if I write rhymes, I write checks and then sings to you. But this is why we got rid of Milli Vanilli.”
On the surface it seems like more sour grapes coming from 50 Cent. He has a well-documented history of going at anybody he perceives as not being down with his program. But hating aside, does he have a point about Diddy? Why is Diddy given a pass when Milli Vanilli had their careers destroyed for impersonating? Let’s analyze the situation.

Everyone knows the story of Milli Vanilli. They were a lip synching and dancing concoction from Frank Farian out of Germany that sought to take advantage of the music industry by impersonating singers. They humiliated themselves, The Grammy’s, and angered numerous fans when the truth was discovered. Total Fugazis.  

So how is Diddy even compared to such a group?

In order to understand this comparison and where it comes from you need to analyze both hip hop and Diddy and how the two interact. How original is hip hop and how does Diddy fit into its historic construction?

One of the core elements of hip hop is sampling. Hip Hop artists search for old records and transform sections or pieces of those sounds by adding percussion, keyboards, and effects to make the original recording their own. What is the element of originality in that? The element of originality is finding a sound or record so rarely used and forgotten that when manipulated it sounds fresh and new. BUT! Since the original piece was created by another musician it isn’t new and it is borrowed upon. So yes, hip hop largely steals original work, albeit they do it by chopping and manipulating the original recording. 

But emceeing is different.  Hip Hop MCs take pride in crafting their lyrics themselves and basing those works on their reality. In order to be considered a real MC you have to write your own stuff. And therein is the problem. If you are a “Real MC”, how can you use the words of others?

When hip hop went main stream certain negative aspects of business entered the art along with that wider audience. It was no longer about who had the best lyrical content or originality. It became more about who could sell the most records. And although many complained that hip hop wasn’t being equally respected in America, no one saw this negative aspect coming. It became more about making profit and less about originality. Hip Hop largely got treated like the other genres.

Enter Diddy.

One must first begin by defining what Diddy is and what he isn’t. Diddy is not an MC. He’s never been known for his poetic verses or his lyrical prowess. He hasn’t personally made one classic hip hop album and has never been remotely connected to any magazine’s Top 100 Hip Hop Lyricists of All Time list. You won’t find him sending out a diss record against anyone of decent skills because Diddy doesn’t possess even basic lyrical ability. He’s not a lyricist. 

 Diddy is a record executive. His sole purpose upon entering the hip hop game has been to make profit. Period. He analyzes trends in hip hop culture and manipulates those changes to his financial gain. That is what record executives do. At any particular moment he can tell you what’s hot in the street and how to get maximum value out of it. He is a salesman. 

So is it fair to compare Diddy to Milli Vanilli? 

Well…. Yes and no.

First, the “yes”:  Diddy is exploiting the culture of hip hop as a business man. One could argue that he doesn’t care about “keeping it real” as much as he does about “keeping it profitable”. Assigning another person to write lyrics on his behalf is not quite the same thing as what Milli Vanilli did, but it is pretty close. Those are another artist’s thoughts he’s using for his financial gain. And in the vein of REAL HIP HOP that is a Milli Vanilli sin. Diddy is exactly what’s wrong with hip hop. He’s more interested in selling the product and reaping the financial rewards than history or making sure the world knows what the art form is supposed to be. No wonder you have a guy that can brag about being a drug dealer while actually working as a prison guard. Who cares as long as his records sell? In the tradition of hip hop Diddy may as well start wearing braids and jumping up and down on stage to “Girl You Know It’s True”. He’s a sell-out to its core principles. 

And “No”:  Diddy performs what is written. The words that you hear in his songs belong to his voice. Milli Vanilli never used their voices until after their fake act was discovered. So technically, Diddy isn’t like them. What he is doing is no different than the way Beyonce has a whole team of people write her lyrics. In fact, the majority of all music on the Billboard charts is written by other people! Since hip hop is now accepted there, why should it be different? 

But there is another thing that separates Diddy from Milli Vanilli. Without Diddy the world wouldn’t have known The Notorious BIG in the way that they did. Diddy has given over and over to the art form he so easily takes away from. In fact, with his new television venture he has the possibility to give a platform to up and coming artists in a way that MTV or BET never could. He continues to give opportunities to numerous African Americans and has become a success story to those seeking a better way in life. That cannot be understated. 

So overall, 50 Cent’s statement was 50/50 on accuracy. If you’re looking at Diddy from a hip hop purist perspective, sure 50 Cent is dead on. But in terms of being honest about the big picture, it oversimplifies the situation and doesn’t account for the contributions of Diddy. 

50 Cent made his statement from a place of hate. One, he doesn’t like the fact that Diddy did a new song with one of his rivals (Rick Ross). And two, the new Forbes Magazine Hip Hop Net Worth article was recently released in which Diddy ranked at #1 and 50 Cent ranked at #5. If 50 Cent were being genuine in his statement he would also have to admit that most of the music that he’s released since entering the hip hop game has more than a couple of “Milli Vanilli Moments” too. After all, his backstory is what really propelled him in the game. Not his lyrical skills.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hip Hop Has Left The South

Nobody can take anything away from the South’s contribution to hip hop. The South has always been present in hip hop’s short history and through up and coming artists will continue to be there. From the Chop & Screw Movement in Houston Texas, to the Young Money crew in New Orleans, indeed the South has provided a lot of the gasoline that has fueled hip hop’s fire.

But let’s keep it real here folks. The South just isn’t doing it any more. For a while it could be argued that the South had the hip hop crown (in my opinion, they did). But if you look at the numerous changes that have happened on the Southern hip hop scene, things have changed drastically, and not for the better.

Take a look at Georgia. The Peach State gave hip hop the most popular and lyrical group in history. Outkast was and is still considered to be the best hip hop group to ever emerge from the South. Andre 3000 and Big Boi were not your average rappers. They spoke to social issues and pushed forth lyricism in ways that made New York dudes proud to have them under the tent. They’ve dropped arguably 3 classic hip hop albums with the crown jewel being Aquemini.
photo credit: erik.aldrich via photopin cc
But after Outkast took a hiatus there have only been a handful of MCs that delivered that level of high quality lyricism and respect for hip hop. T.I. stands out as one of the most gifted of that handful but he couldn’t properly sync his lyrical ability and his personal life and so he has fallen off quite a bit. Other artists in Georgia have had success but have not been able to carry the torch in the same manner as the kingly Outkast crew. Young Jeezy had the fame and the power but has been neutered by unnecessary beef with other artists and family problems. B.O.B. showed some promise but he seems too concerned with chart-surfing to really be able to make the social connection that Outkast made. Ludacris has never made a type of album even remotely close to what Outkast produced. He seems to be mostly about partying and getting his shine on. All other artists in Georgia can be summed up as “not worthy” or “cash seekers”. And so, when Outkast took a leave of absence from the game, they left a huge crater in the middle of Georgia that has yet to be filled today.   

Take a look at Louisiana. For years Master P had been plucking gold from that state and putting it in his personal coffers. But none of his artists were even close to being able to carry the title of “hip hop artist”. And so after many years of making paper, another hungry outfit came and snatched the cash machine from Master P’s hands. Enter Cash Money.

Cash Money had a stable of decent rappers but none of them could be called MCs. That is, none of them except for one: Lil Wayne. Most hip hop heads are reluctant to call Weezy an MC based off of his popularity and the unconventional flow he has. He sometimes sounds like a cross between a Martian and a Gremlin. But make no mistake about it, a few years back he was an absolute monster and could body any MC from any state. And in terms of talent Weezy stood alone in the state of Louisiana.
photo credit: kennethkonica via photopin cc
But that was the problem. There was no other artist in that state that could carry the workload of Lil Wayne and what he contributed to hip hop. And Weezy was getting tired. Being in the game for as long as he has could make anyone want to take a breather. And so, Lil Wayne, sensing that his fatigue was catching up with him, created Young Money. Drake and Nicki Minaj have been killing the game in terms of lyricism. But wait, they’re not from Louisiana. Drake is from Canada. Nicki is from New York City via Trinidad. So in finding these artists, Lil Wayne did nothing to solve the ghost issue within his state. And with his retirement rapidly approaching, one doubts that he ever will. 

But hold on… There is one artist from Louisiana that absolutely crushes Lil Wayne in terms of lyricism. This dude gets a lot of love from New York hip hop heads as well. He could be the answer to Louisiana’s problems. His name is Jay Electronica. But he hasn’t done anything for the majors and Jay Z is holding him in such shrouded secrecy that he can’t even contribute anything to this conversation.
photo credit: David Salafia via photopin cc
Let’s go over to Texas.

The Ghetto Boys. Scarface. Bun B. The late Pimp C. These were some real dudes that did big things for hip hop. They were undeniably attacking the art form with charisma, lyricism, and respect just as much as anyone in the game. But things happened. The Chop & Screw movement came upon the scene. And although it was innovative, it brought forth no true lyricist to replace the aforementioned group of rappers. And so Texas, as it currently stands, is in its own zone. It hasn’t had a true lyricist since Scarface and The Ghetto Boys. And while Scarface is still somewhat active, an infusion of new blood is needed to carry forth the flag. But no one currently exists.

How about North Carolina?

Things look a lot brighter for Southern Hip Hop in this corner of America. J Cole has put Fayetteville NC on the map in ways that no one expected. His lyricism is impressive and with the major label support of Jigga, there’s no telling how high he could go. 9th Wonder, Phonte, and Rapper Big Pooh, while originally forming the group Little Brother and then disbanding due to growing pains, now are putting in a lot of work. 9th Wonder in particular has established a curiously successful alliance with Duck Down Records based in New York City and formed his own company, Jamla Records. In addition to the label 9th Wonder has produced his own answer to Nicki Minaj in a more traditional female hip hop artist by the name of Rapsody. Not to mention that he teaches hip hop classes at Duke University and at Harvard University. All of the work going on in North Carolina is an absolute torch to the rest of hip hop.

And lastly we take things to Florida.

Florida has a lot of artists. But the only artist seeming to do anything right now in terms of hip hop is Rick Ross. The boss definitely has lyrical skill. But his checkered past and constant beefing with certain people has placed him in the position of having to branch out beyond the state. He’s not really doing a lot of good in nurturing new talent in his backyard. All other artists in that state are rappers looking for paychecks. They’re not respected in the art form. So what does this mean for the South?

photo credit: DivaDina785 via photopin cc
It means that the South no longer holds the hip hop crown. While record spins and radio play do mean something in terms of relevancy, nothing means more to the art form than able MCs that can carry forth the message and bring forth attention to social issues affecting our communities. Outkast understood that but have taken a multi-year break. Bun B understands that but needs some help in doing so. Scarface is a lyrical beast but cannot carry the load alone. With the exception of North Carolina, hip hop has left the South in a big way and so has the crown. The question is who is going to bring it back?