Eric B and Rakim aren’t too happy about the current state of hip-hop, and they sent a few tweets to let people know about it.
“You are now witnessing the devolution of rap music,” wrote the legendary group from their joint Twitter account. “The death of poetry and smoothness, they use this. The absence of a message, the inability to create meaningful change through words and verses but the worse is, they don’t even know they hurt this artful purpose. It’s tragic.”
It didn’t take long for people to respond since the tweet went viral, which made the duo send another message.
“You need to look real close at this previous tweet that’s reached almost 1 million people already and see what you read,” they wrote. “It says ‘rap’ not ‘hip hop.’ If you don’t know the difference you can’t make a difference. #KNOWtheLEDGE.”
Some may find it interesting that the duo has taken such a strong stance against modern day rap because a lot of veteran artists have been reluctant to come down on the younger ones — probably in fear of being called old, a hater or irrelevant.
But is what Eric B & Rakim tweeted true? Are we really seeing the decline of rap music in terms of song quality, or does quality mean something different to a younger generation of rap fans?
To answer that question, one would first have to differentiate rap music from hip-hop as Eric B & Rakim advised.
Hip-Hop, of course, is a sub-culture and rap is one of its elements, to include breakdancing, graffiti and DJing. Some say knowledge is the fifth element, but that’s been debated for quite some time.
So based on their tweet, it’s safe to assume the group didn’t mean that hip-hop culture is devolving, just the craft of MCing is and newer rappers don’t seem to be as concerned with wowing people with words.
Instead, many of today’s artists seem more interested in capturing a high energy feeling in their music, rather than using a bunch of metaphors or creating intricate stories.
In other words, it’s all about the “turn up” to some kids — a popular term these days — or getting things “lit.” That certainly doesn’t apply to all of the younger rap fans but a good number.
Hot 97’s Ebro Darden touched on modern-day rap music and how some of today’s younger fans stay away from music with a message. He did it during an interview with the now incarcerated rappers Bobby Shmurda and Rowdy Rebel in 2014.
“You young cats hate smart sh–. Why is that?” Ebro asked the twenty-something-year-olds.
“Nobody wants to hear that. Later for that,” answered Rowdy. “‘Cause I wanna get in the club and hear something to turn up to.”
Then Bobby chimed in.
“Some music is for Sundays, some music is for late night on the highway, some music is club music, some music is block music, some music is to go put in work music,” he explained.
Surely, what Rowdy said about wanting to turn up may seem like a new thing in rap but it’s not. Since the beginning, fans have always sought out music that focused more on the energy level than metaphors and similes.
For example, on the family-friendly side there were turn up songs like Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock’s “It Takes Two,” and on the grittier end cuts like “Slam” from Onyx had the club going crazy.
Although there seems to be more of a focus on the lyrical content in those two songs compared to today’s, they were successful because they made people feel not think. At least that’s one theory to consider.
But the fact that a lot of today’s rap fans want to turn up isn’t what Eric B & Rakim complained about, it was about wanting artists to be good at the art of rapping.
In the early days of hip-hop, most rappers honed their skills in the streets, in battles or at shows before they even attempted to release music to the public.
Why? Because most had to go through rap’s gatekeepers first, who were usually producers, engineers, studio owners, label execs and radio programmers, and they wouldn’t bother with you unless you had slick words and flow. But due to those technological advancements in music, the barriers of entry changed and anyone could drop a song or album at anytime.
All that person would have to do is simply purchase equipment, which isn’t that expensive these days, hook it up in their bedroom, record a song and put it out on a streaming site. After, they’re in the music business just like that, and their work sits next to other artists on the Internet who’ve been rapping for years.
So as a result, the gatekeeper is far less important these days, since there’s no one to tell a rapper whether he or she is good enough to release music.
Another major difference is that in the beginning, rappers were able to create art for art’s sake, since it hadn’t turned into a multimillion-dollar industry yet. But once the cash came in, labels weren’t signing those who had the best or most inventive songs, it became about who could get radio play and be packaged the easiest; which songs could be sold to the masses with the least amount of effort.
“The original hip-hop has been lost to the music business,” said Public Enemy’s former DJ Terminator X in a past interview. “The original hip-hop music was done out of love of hip-hop music and culture. Rap music today is a product of the music business which decides what it thinks is sellable and marketable.”
“I think the subject matter of modern rap is, for the most part, the worst it’s ever been,” he added. “Most of what I hear out there is either sex, violence or drugs. I would be happy if they would simply find anything else to rap about. That would be a good start.”
Eric B & Rakim has since deleted their tweets about the current state of rap music.