Yeah, I said it.
Any discussion about what happened to hip-hop - and by what happened, I mean the apparent downfall of it - usually starts and ends with the South and the rise of one Percy "Master P" Miller and the point when he and his No Limit tank invaded NYC and DJs began playing our alleged southern brand of country-tunes and horrid lyricism. Alleged. While this myopic view clearly feigns convenient amnesia of the contributions of Scarface (a favorite of nearly every rapper), UGK (also a favorite of nearly every rapper), and Outkast (#cmonson), the current state of hip-hop does sound an awful lot like what happens when you let the nuts run the nuthouse.
We've got artists (I can't even call them rappers considering how I'm not sure if they're rapping, singing, talking, speaking gibberish or incepting me with language from another galaxy, yo no se) making music that nobody can actually understand and its just what hip-hop looks like in 2014. Long gone are the days of breakbeats, creatively flipped, samples and lyricism being a major component of one's success.
To be fair, I do think that while in the golden era (1988-90s), you just couldn't make it without being a dope lyricist (there are notable exceptions, Guru comes to mind, and no he was not a lyrical beast), things have changed. And while everybody wants to pin that on No Limit's rise and the ensuing Cash Money absolute takeover, I actually blame Jay-Z.
Yes, that Jay-Z.
I'll tell you why.
That gotdamned "I don't write…I just go in the booth and spit" bullshit that is the ethos of EVERY rapper since he made it such a point to let people know he was able to brilliantly craft verses without putting pen to paper. For what it's worth, you absolutely cannot convince me that he did not write down, physically, 90 percent of Reasonable Doubt. You just can't. That swag rap shit he's been doing since Vol. 1: In My Lifetime was NOT present all over Reasonable Doubt. And by swag rap, I mean living in the pocket and having the most immaculate flow possible. He and Biggie were brilliant at it. But RD sounds written to me.
Jay-Z is brilliant. He is. He is a gifted wordsmith and was able to use his God-given ability to become the arguable greatest of all time. Arguing about Jay's GOAT status is more an exercise in debate than facts. Here's the thing, everybody ain't able. Failure is real. Hip-hop learned this the hard way.
I was listening to a great interview with Jermaine Dupri on a taping of The Combat Jack Show during A3C at Tree Sound Studio in Atlanta. He shared a story about the making of "Money Ain't A Thang" off of his Life In 1472 album and how he saw Jay-Z do that shit that everybody who ever works with Jay-Z sees him do. He heard 8 bars of the beat and said, I'm ready. Jermaine Dupri said that was the last time he ever wrote a verse. You hear stories like this a lot. Biggie was also famous for doing that albeit considering his short life there aren't as many stories. Tupac on the other hand, seemed to write endlessly, becoming one of the most prolific artists in the game by the time he died.
Anyway, every time somebody talks about not writing their lyrics, an angels loses its wings. Every rapper nowadays just hits the booth and spits from their head. Allegedly. But let's be real, there are not a ton of geniuses out there. The news proves this daily. With the advent of ProTools and Fruity Loops, everybody and their grandmother became record producers and the time it took to create a song went from hours to 15 minutes. When folks tell you they created a full song in half an hour, that lets you know how much time and attention went into it. You are not getting brilliant masterpieces in half an hour. Rare cases possibly, but let's just be real about that.
When T.I. dropped his album Paper Trail in 2008, he informed us that he titled it that because he actually wrote his verses. Think about that for a minute; a rapper WROTE VERSES for an album and felt it significant enough to name his album after the endeavor. And it was significant. It was also some of his best work, lyrically. Beat wise it suffered from standard synth-beat struggles. But you could TELL he wrote those verses because they were dense and layered and careful and thought out and, hell, put together. And T.I. is a great rapper, so when he put his mind to it, he came up with all types of dopeness.
Writing lyrics can be a painstaking process. Anybody who has ever attempted to really write a verse can tell you this. It requires a lot of thought and creativity. Jay said he ain't write anything down and niggas were like, "Jay ain't writing? Fuck it, me neither!" Except, again, everybody ain't able. Any silly motherfucker can walk into a booth and freestyle. Style over substance is the course of the day, and that's Jay's fault. Sure he's one fo the few who can drop a hot 16 that he's crafted "without writing" and make a hit. But the thing is, he knows what he's doing. My guess is that every thing doesn't take 2 minutes. He's probably crafting some of these verses for hours in his head. But his method has taken on Bo Jackson levels of mythology where if a nigga told you Jay created "P.S.A" in 37 seconds after hearing the first beat you'd not even bat an eye.
Other rappers? Not so much. That's how we get rappers like Chief Keef and Migos and hell most rappers nowadays. The beats aren't the problem, though they are a bit repetitive, its the fact that nearly every rapper is literally just walking into the booth and yelling, "BITCH YOU GUESSED IT! You were right!" and somebody is like, that's hot. Enough people hear that and dance and then yes, it becomes hot. Some of these producers nowadays are absolutely amazing. Those Justice League cats and The Runners that Rick Ross was using to make most of his beats took the best of sampling and the best of synth beats and meshed them together to make absolutely beautiful soundscapes. But with niggas not taking the time to sit down and write good verses you get a niggas id on front street: money, hoes, and clothes. Or more money, more cash, more hoes. Whichever you prefer.
In 2004, Lil Wayne released Tha Carter. Wayne had become a totally different lyrical monster, thanks in part to wanting to become the best rapper alive (since the best rapper retired) and also thanks in part to Gillie Da Kid who apparently taught Lil Wayne how to spit. Not rap, but spit and construct verses that were fluid and plain out dope. It was APPARENT that Wayne spent time writing those verses on that album. When I heard "Bottom Of The Map" I was like, "when the fuck did Lil Wayne learn how to rap??" And "Go DJ"? Forget about it.
All that was gone on Tha Carter II when he hit his swag rap stride and was just riding the beats. Wayne, like Jay, just happened to be good at it. Love or hate Lil Wayne, those Dedication mixtapes were beast mode status. Mixtape Weezy wasn't just some shit Jay threw in a song. Mixtape Weezy was a lyrical force to be reckoned with. Probably owing a lot of it to Jay-Z. But he became Lil Wayne we know today in those years and 2006-2008 Lil Wayne was damn near better than any New York rapper. That sent every other rapper influenced by Wayne into, "NO WRITTENS" mode as well. Point is, nobody is writing anymore.
The only thing Master P brought to the game that was a negative wasn't to the artists, it was to the record companies. They learned that those southern boys were controlling their own destiny. Nobody was getting deals like No Limit and Cash Money. Now everybody shows up with their own boutique label and seeks distribution from a major. There were some actual lyricists on No Limit. But they didn't destroy hip-hop. Naw, NYC's own convinced niggas to stop writing lyrics and thus lyricism goes down the hooooooooooooooooooole.
Jay told niggas to stop using auto-tune and he quit wearing jerseys because he was 30 plus. But he ALSO forgot to tell niggas to start writing their lyrics down because they were sucking. It turned hip-hop into a sound driven entity.
Just so happens everybody else has better sound libraries than the East Coast, too.