November 16, 1999 Dr. Dre released his long awaited follow-up to his 1992 debut, The Chronic. The album was an inspiration for aspiring rappers everywhere. The first track from the album, found here on Youtube, was his return to the rap game. Not the first single from the record, however it does set the mood for the entire work quite well. The rise and fall of Death Row Records transpired under his watch. While the track doesn’t quite dispel the rumors surrounding the demise of his baby, it does a good job reminding people that the shape of the entire industry was pretty much changed not only on his watch, but by his hands.
There is no disputing that Gangsta Rap would not have gone from an inner city, underground movement to becoming the mainstream staple it would if not for the works of Dr. Dre and his Death Row Inmates. This would not be the be-all-end-all of his career, it would be the turning point where he shifted focus away from the deceased 2Pac and turn that focus to newcomer Eminem. Looking back on those early years of Death Row and this transition period where Aftermath came on the scene reminds me why I got into Hip-Hop in the first place. Music is art, it is poetry and the stories that are told in this rugged, hard core streetwise gangsta rap music was about as real as it gets. Sure as a fan of the traditional old school music I had longed for the days where rapping didn’t have to be so serious nor laced with profanities. Yet as I look further into the depth of Hip-Hop history I realize that telling stories has always been at the core of the movement, along with demonstrating skill in manipulating beats & rhymes in unison. Dr. Dre has proven that he does all of these masterfully.
Don’t think of this so much as a look back on a particular work, but more a reflection in the changing times. I have lost interest in modern Hip-Hop as I feel the art of storytelling is no longer at the core of the industry. I listen to modern “rap” anthems and they remind me more of watered down catch phrase ridden “Whoomp There It Is” type anthems and less “What’s My Name” or U Can’t C Me, two staples in the Hip-Hop party catalog. In find that today’s so-called rap music has devolved into more about the beats and less about the art of storytelling. Musically yes the genre has improved quite a bit in some respects, at least as technology goes and production values have certainly increased right alongside this. But has storytelling become lost in it all? To be honest I have not purchased a new rap album since Nas dropped Ether and put that Jay-fucking-Z in his place. Sure S. Carter made his mark on the Hip-Hop landscape and his works are not to be taken lightly, but I still respect Nas for always keeping it real, in that he puts telling a well-crafted story in his verse number one, the beats are used as accompaniment. I am not saying rap as a whole has been too commercialized but when tracks like Soldier Boy or Like a G Six get radio play and there is no substance, I feel like I am not missing out. I guess there have always been those empty tracks throughout the history of Hip-Hop I just feel as an art form, things have changed too much for me. This is the point where someone points out those are now old songs themselves, exactly my point when those songs became the norm and not the exception I just found myself no longer as interested in Hip-Hop music as a whole as I once was.
I have to wonder if there is a chance that it isn’t the music that has changed but my tastes have changed. For a while I thought this might be the case, after all as anyone ages their musical preferences age with them. I decided to take a look at pop music and techno/dance music, the two closest cousins at least production wise to Hip-Hop to see if there were any noticeable changes there and I realized that despite not caring for the majority of acts, I could tell that the tropes were the same as always. Because pop has always been light and fluffy and Hip-Hop has always been more serious I figured it wasn’t a fair comparison. I would have looked at story driven genres such as Country or even Folk Rock but I can’t bring myself to listen to enough of those to make an honest judgement. What I can do is talk to people who do and compare their analysis with that of my own and see if there are any parallels. As best as I can tell the music, for the most part, has not changed in those genres so my conclusion is something happened specifically to Hip-Hop music where either I just lost interest to the point where I no longer care enough to bother discovering what is out there, or the music has changed enough that it no longer appeals to me as what drew me to the genre in the first place is no longer present. As far as jams go, Hip-Hop remains the go-to place to find the best booty-shaking beats, but is it still the story telling masterpiece it once was? I cannot answer this question without doing further research which leaves me asking the question, do I even care?