On the 8-time Grammy nominated LP, Jay covers topics that usually aren’t addressed in rap, like achieving financial independence, supporting Black businesses and trying to be a better spouse. But according to 50, hip-hop is mainly for the youth and those topics are just way too adult.
“Hip-hop culture’s connected to youth culture,” he stated. “The kids gon’ bring new innovative stuff. He just had the maturity bleed off into the material … It’s cool for me, like, in my car I’m listening to it but the kids, I don’t see them actually listening to it … He was like talking down at them a little bit. Like ‘I’m up here, baby.’ I felt like Carlton Banks [from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”] when I was listening to it.”
50’s Carlton Banks reference has to do with another statement he made about “4:44” in July of last year, when he said it sounded like “golf music” and was too intelligent.
“I listened to Jay sh–, that ‘4:44,'” he said. “I thought the sh– was alright. I liked the sh–. But I’mma keep it a hundred, the sh– was too smart. I felt like I was supposed to be wearing, like, glasses and shit and tie a f—ing sweater around my waist. It was like Ivy League sh– … Now I’mma tell you the truth, n—– is hot out here, so they don’t wanna hear that shit, they just wanna have a good time.”
The G-Unit founder said the same thing on the show “Access” when he was promoting his cable series “Power” a while back.
“I said ‘[4:44]’ was good, I just said it was too smart,” he explained. “I think you do got to kind of dumb down the material to fit into what the culture is producing. Now, it’s more melody-driven; it’s not as sophisticated as it was when I first came in … [My album] won’t be as smart as the JAY-Z record. I want to make music that people can have fun to, so you don’t have to stop. You can get it immediately without having to sit and analyze it.”
But is what 50 said true? Do rappers need to dumb down their music to connect with the youth? Moreover, should it be assumed that Black youth can’t find music they can “turn-up” to that’s also intelligent?
Lupe Fiasco, who’s built a career on crafting intelligent lyrics, addressed the topic on his cut “Dumb it Down.” In it, he challenges the idea that in order to reach young people through music, an artist has to stay away from sounding too educated.
“You going over n—– heads Lu, dumb it down / They telling me that they don’t feel you, dumb it down / We ain’t graduate from school, n—-, dumb it down / Them big words ain’t cool, n—-, dumb it down,” he says in the chorus.
Some may agree that creating music that’s considered intelligent has little to do with using big words, like Lupe suggests and more to do with songs having a substance that inspire people.
In an interview on “Mr. Davey D’s Hip-Hop Corner,” Law talked about a 1972 white paper called the “Harvard Report,” otherwise known as “Study of the Soul Music Environment.”
Based on his findings, the report was conducted by Columbia Records and carried out by a team of students at Harvard Business school, and its purpose was to teach executives how to control the Black music industry, so it’s less authentic, less rebellious and less likely to motivate Black listeners to revolt in some way.
Law also said this same control exists today, specifically in gangsta rap music and it’s why certain artists get supported by the big labels and others don’t.
“One of the things they pointed out [in the report] was that it has to be subtle, and you have to create a product that the audience won’t recognize is not the authentic Black product any longer” he stated. “I believe [gangsta rap] music is being used as a weapon against Black people. It’s being used to set the climate to destroy Black people and to encourage young Black people to participate in their own demise.”
The legendary rapper Scarface is another person who believes there are people who don’t want intelligent Black music to thrive. In a past interview, he said when other racial groups make intelligent rap music it doesn’t meet the same type of resistance from the media gatekeepers and is given a bigger platform.
“I feel like the powers that be are intentionally dumbing-down our craft,” he told the late podcast host Combat Jack. “Because the dumbest sh– I ever heard is on the radio right now … It seems like all our sh– is sounding really stupid and really, really dumb. Really, really corny and then you got the other sh– that sounds really, really [good] … When urban hip-hop sounds like this and suburban hip-hop sounds like that, I kinda feel f–ked up.”
On the flip side, some artists have argued that since there seems to be a dislike for songs with a deeper meaning, they dumb down their lyrics in order to reach the listener later on. It’s the same reasoning that Lauryn Hill used on the Fugees’ song “Zealots” more than two decades ago.
“I add a motherf—er so you ignorant n—– hear me,” she rhymed on the song.
Future is another person who talked about staying away from lyrics that have to be analyzed and said it has to do with the youth’s attention span.
“There’s a time when you have to dumb your lyrics down,” he said in 2011. ‘Cause people ain’t that patient and they got a short attention span. You got to catch their attention really quick, ‘cause they gon’ be gone on to something else.”