Hip-hop heads have been saying it for over a decade, Nas proclaimed it in album form in 2006, and today the sentiment is at a fever pitch, but hip-hop is far from dead.
In a recent interview with Hot 97’s Ebro in the Morning crew, Mick Jenkins fielded a question from Peter Rosenberg regarding the same Chicken Little mentality that’s been plaguing hip-hop since at least the beginning of the 2000s, this time with hip-hop doomsday preppers pointing the finger at mumble rap and claiming there’s a lack of “quality” hip-hop.
I kinda look at it as like, these are people who get fed as opposed to going out and finding the food. If you're saying, 'Oh, hip-hop is dead. Oh, it's all just mumble rap'...Well, you're not really looking. You don't have to look too far. You really don't, if that's what you're looking for, you don't have to look very far. If that's all you see and that's all you hear, it has a lot to do with where and why you're getting your music. That is the laziness of people that has kind of been since...I was born.
Mick’s sentiments couldn’t be more on point. For example, the fine folks here at DJBooth feature anywhere from 50 to 75 new songs and videos every single week, 90% of those coming from independent artists. The pool of talent is absolutely there, yet take a look on any social media platform and you’ll see exponentially more posts complaining about Lil Yachty and Fetty Wap than those championing artists like Mick and the plethora of artists out there with a similar artistic integrity.
It's true that part of the problem is many hip-hop naysayers just don’t know where to look for music these days. With a sprawling, internet-wide distribution landscape at our fingertips, things can absolutely start to resemble the Wild West for the uninitiated, but that’s also kind of a cop-out. It’s never been easier to access information, and even basic searches around respectable hip-hop outlets would yield some eye-opening results for the average “hip-hop is dead” subscriber.
As Mick mentioned, it comes down to laziness. Corporate interests, with the help of the major label system that has dominated the culture for so long, has created a generation of music consumers that are literally being fed music, as opposed to searching below the surface. As a hip-hop nerd myself, it’s sometimes difficult to understand someone when they describe only listening to what’s on the radio. Entire music tastes are being dictated by pay-for-play, Top 40 hits, and that’s a huge cause of many of these symptoms.
The mainstream, for as long as it exists in the way it does now, will always feature largely vapid, easily-consumed content. That’s what it’s there for. However, the underground, as it has done since the beginning of hip-hop, will always be there to provide much-needed balance, both with consistently experimental and thought-provoking content, and the occasional crossover star like J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar to reassure the world that no, hip-hop is not dead, you’re just not looking hard enough.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Bryan Allen Lamb