For as broad and inclusive as hip-hop has become, it still catches a bad rep by both outsiders and those involved who criticize the culture for being too basic.
Those not familiar with the genre's rich history are forever distilling 40-plus years of diverse and beautiful art into “money, cars and women,” and contributors themselves often get wrapped up in their own circle or what the mainstream offers as a representation of what's popular.
Today (March 16), TDE emcee Ab-Soul took to Twitter to voice his frustrations over what he called “narrow subject matter” within hip-hop.
Upon closer inspection, it appears Soul has been feeling this way for quite some time, as he tweeted similar sentiments just over a year ago.
We couldn’t help but wonder what Soulo thinks is the reasoning behind this perceived lack of creativity, so we asked him, but Ab kept things diplomatic.
Now, if Soul is speaking about the lyrical offerings of the mainstream, he absolutely has a point. One third of the hip-hop songs on this week's Billboard’s Hot 100 mention taking someone else’s woman at least once. Even his labelmate Kendrick Lamar alludes to female-jacking during his appearance on Travis Scott’s “Goosebumps.”
Soulo himself has, at the very least, been an accomplice to several girlfriend thefts in his own music, and he admits he’s no saint, but by that logic, I think it’s worth noting that even if repeat lyrical themes do dominate the mainstream, the “underground” is rife with subject matter diversity, and at a certain point this begins to mirror the same tactics used by hip-hop veterans to discredit a new generation of artists.
Instead of highlighting what’s wrong with the culture, it might behoove us to start truly propping up everything that's right. If our mental space is dominated by the missteps of those we deem detrimental, it’s inevitably going to affect those trying to offer another way, as it arguably has done with Soul’s own music.
Soul’s last album DWTW was so jam-packed with esoteric references and conspiracy theories that it often became tough to decide what to focus on. If Ab wasn’t consciously combating the legions of emcees he feels are dumbing down the culture, there may not have been such an urgency to his rebuttal, allowing for a complete understanding of his themes.
So, does hip-hop have a problem with narrow subject matter? The short answer is yes, but that’s an answer that over-simplifies the culture and I’d really like to steer clear of that. The long answer is sometimes, and as always, there are plenty of artists offering rich diversity if you know where to look. In just the past few weeks alone, artists like Smino, J.I.D, Stormzy and Oddisee have offered far greater thematic elements than retreads about fucking another man's woman.
The mainstream has always been dominated by one-dimensional offerings, that’s nothing new, but as the digital era continues to blur the line between mainstream and underground, I say let’s put a little more effort into propping up those that are fighting the good fight.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
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