[Opinion] What Happened to Gangsta Rap?
I do a lot of reading. Not everything I read is always thought provoking but nevertheless I try to make a habit of it. Yesterday some quotes from a rapper got the wheels in my head turning. In an interview with ABC News Radio, CTE signee Freddie Gibbs had some rather interesting things to say about the current state of the rap.
“People ain’t scared of the rap game,” says Gibbs. “Parents ain’t scared of the rap game no more. They not fearin’ it. It’s not taboo no more.”
Later in the interview Gibbs describes his upcoming debut album as “something like you ain’t heard since ’95.” That really got me fired up. I remember rap in 1995 and can remember as clear as day how taboo it was, it my household at least. It was gangster, even on a mainstream level. It represented struggle and painted pictures of parts of America that had been ignored to the point that only we knew they existed.
Not only do I remember what rap sounded like in 1995, I remember what Gary, Indiana was like in 1995. The first time I read about my city, outside of our local newspaper, was an October 1995 issue of Jet Magazine in an article entitled “Indiana State Troopers Arrive In Gary To Help Fight Rising Crime.” No doubt Gary looked like any inner city in America did at the time so when Freddie Gibbs says his album will be something not heard since ’95 I know exactly what he means. I remember hiding albums like 2 Pac’s Strictly 4 My Niggaz, the Juice soundtrack, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and Snoop’s Doggystyle from my mom around that time. She was “scared” of rap.
Unfortunately back in 1995 major companies like Time Warner were scared of rap as well. So scared, in fact, that after tons of pressure from Senator Bob Dole, former drug czar William J. Bennett and C. Delores Tucker, the huge media titan backed out of their $115 million investment deal with Interscope, home of Death Row Records. Can you blame them? A music label named after a prison block that only the worst criminals in the world call home. The logo alone was enough put fear in parents and corporations alike. But the music represented the time in which it was produced. Just think about the movies that were released in the 90’s that depicted life in the hood. Juice, Menace To Society, Boyz In The Hood, New Jack City all played their role along with hip hop to show that life in the inner city was far from all good.
I remember rap being grimy. Think of the old Mobb Deep videos or Wu-Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M.” video. Fast forward to 2012 and nearly every video takes place inside a club. Gangsta rap has been replaced by luxury drug rap. If you believe what you hear in from rappers, especially on the radio, you’d think that everything is peachy. Sure drugs and violence still exist, but seemingly only as a side note to club life. And despite the fact that our economy as a whole is worse than before, you couldn’t tell from the music.
So I’m forced ask if rap has gone soft and if so, is that a good or bad thing? Some will say that rap has grown and no longer needs to represent the violent undertone that it once did. While others will say that today’s rap game is just a pop music version of its former self. I haven’t heard an actual problem that faces our community on the radio in almost a decade. And since Radio One and Clear Channel own practically every “hip hop” station in America, there’s a good chance you haven’t heard a song like that either. Remember how monumental it was for stations to play Jay Electronica’s “Exhibit C’? In the 90’s a song like that was the norm.
I’m slowly realizing that I’m not among hip-hop’s youngest generation anymore. I don’t want to be one of those fans that can’t enjoy music outside of my comfort zone. At 27 years old I’m part of a generation that grew up on gangster rap but has lived through this era we are currently in. You can catch me listening to Drake and Scarface in the same day. I recognize that a lot of new rappers grew up in a different era and in different conditions than the artists who made the style of rap that I grew up on.
I also know that a number of the conditions in the hood are the same and in some cases worse than before, yet they’re not being reflected in the music. So I’m looking forward to an album that sounds like something I haven’t heard since 1995. Hopefully other rappers will follow suit.