Maturation of Hip-hop?
I’ve written before on Jay-Z’s partnership with Water For Life and the UN to raise awareness of the world’s water crisis, but after seeing a video from the World Food Programme about rapper 50 Cent visiting Somalia to see how his donations have helped during the famine, I started to think further on what we are witnessing…
Even 50 will tell you that what viewers are seeing violates their expectations of their image of him, and that he may be alienating his core musical audience by getting into the philanthropy ring. “I don’t care if my audience is prepared to move forward with me. They may not necessarily be growing at the same pace.” (video below)
Jay-Z was one of the first elite rappers to use their name to raise awareness for global issues. Much like Bono has done for AIDS, Jay-Z took on the responsibility for making it cool to grow as a person and acquaint yourself with how the rest of the world lives and survives…After all, Hip-hop is global and reaches every nook and cranny.
I think what we are witnessing is a maturation of Hip-hop artists (and therefore Hip-hop culture) – a culture that from the outside may not appear so, but promotes inclusion, individuality, identity, and voice. As Hip-hop culture matures from it’s 1978 genesis, we could effectively say that Hip-hop as an entity has reached it’s 34th birthday and is starting to take assessment of where it has been, what it could become, and where it would like to go. Add to this that the primary audience consuming and promoting its cultural relevance is the video game culture, the texting/mobile culture, and the users of social media (as well as the inventors of it…). Video games have taught our generation that there is a solution to every problem in that no video game was ever created that just ended in a manner that left no conceivable way for the players to beat it, or to win. Much like every movie or book has a cohesive ending, the gamer generation has grown up with this imbedded in our cultural identity, and we bring this belief system with us into the work place, society, and school. As the mobile generation, we are on-the-go and connected in real-time. If it is happening, we find out about it and understand it often times before the majority of others even find out about it. The sheer fact that we are mobile tells you that we are used to our need for connectedness and “always on”-ness to be satisfied to the far ends of the planet…”What do you mean I won’t get reception when I climb Mount Everest?! – #WTF? Someone needs to fix that ASAP!”…And for the social component, much like it has been said that basketball is a universal sport in that it only requires your ability to play the game, nothing has done more for cultural integration and acceptance since the explosion of social media. To be able to peer into others lives at a pace and level of acceptance never before seen in history means we are more connected and aware of others’ perspectives, and this further fuels our gamer mentality. You can now connect, follow, and subscribe to the lives of nearly anybody around the world. The boarders have been removed or lowered and it is now all about reach and accessibility. The more I know about that which is different than me, the more I have to work with as I try to move forward or solve other unrelated problems. Geography, time, and language have dissipated through the internet, and the culture that is all about inclusion, individuality, identity, and voice, is really beginning to hit its stride as its patriarchs start to grow and share their experiences with the younger audiences. Many of us may not be able to rally the UN or the World Food Programme to allow us to raise awareness, but we can participate in causes we care about (and share this participation via social media to further expand the reach) through sites like kiva.org or by donating directly on individual websites for things we care about.
But where did this come from? In Hip-hop, everything is somehow a derivative of something else. Either a shout out, throwback, or mashup/remix of something prior. So to answer this question from a Hip-hop perspective, I’d say we may have seen this in the maturation of lyrics by artists, but also the cross-pollination of influences in different industries. As some of you have observed, Bill Gates himself has moved into the world of philanthropy and global issues with the same force and energy he developed Microsoft; becoming one of the worlds wealthiest individuals. I think the same search for self-growth and desire to problem solve that was triggered within Gates is the same feature we are seeing in rappers and members of the culture. What do you do once you have accumulated all the wealth you ever dreamed of and reached a level of success unparalleled by others in your craft? Maybe you get a little bored – kind of like the “it’s lonely at the top” saying. The funny thing about success is that once you attain it, you have to keep working hard to stay there, and that often requires diversification. Perhaps we are seeing an expansion of interestes and influence that artists have through their music to raise awareness for other causes. Just like the album gets you to buy a seat to a concert, the album and concert now influence you to get involved with the artist’s passions outside of music. No more is the extension a clothing line, a fruit drink, or a shoe. It is becoming something bigger than just consumption.
Even Jay-Z has been criticized for losing his toughness or his “street cred” because he is now worth an estimated $500 million, has an art collection, and finally settled down to raise a family. But, what do you expect? He can’t write 72 more “Big Pimpin” songs just to keep his fans happy. As he grows, so too do his lyrics, and so to does his audiences. None of this happens in a vacuum. And as he climbs the charts (Rolling Stones and Forbes), he is interacting in analog with other global players. This convergence of leaders of different industries and cultures is bringing about some very interesting ripple affects, and I believe we are just starting to see them take shape.
Jay-Z and Microsoft Bing collaboration:
They choose to lead and others follow. They are influencers no matter how much you may disagree…