The Wall Street Journal has organized a series of conferences regarding certain subjects of culture known as Summer Scoops. Art, technology and even the tragedy of Katrina seen from the point of view of a New Orleans born musician have been the issues under discussion.
Hip-hop is a topic especially due to be discussed. Born at the beginning of the eighties as a music genre whose lyrics involved social issues in its majority, its influence nowadays can be recognized on media, society and even fashion. But what does hip-hop mean today? Is it still a trendsetter music genre?
A selected panel of hip-hop artists and entrepreneurs, composed by Bajah, Chuck D, Steven Stoute, Richard Nichols and Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson gathered at the Lincoln Center to reflect on hip-hop and where is heading -if it's heading anywhere at all...
"I don't know what's hip-hop right now! Is it the drums? The lyrics? I really can't say what it is!", that's how Richard Nichols -manager of The Roots and creative director of Okayplayer.com- described his vision of the genre nowadays. Chuck D, leader and founder of Public Enemy, said: "If hip-hop were the Olympics, USA wouldn't win any medal! The other parts of the world took our seed and took it to another level".
In that respect, Bajah -a successful rapper from Sierra Leone commented-: "We started to imitate the american rappers in the 90's. I heard M.I.A.'s Paper planes and it talked about something that was happening. I love positive music that brings consciousness and hope. After the war, you have to talk about reconciliation and we had to play something positive. Rappers have to sing about peace too. Africa is really trying to break out with our voice. We're trying to pass our message".
Questlove -music producer and the drummer for The Roots- expressed: "Hip-hop stopped being edgy when it stopped criticizing. In the Bush age, The Dixie Chicks -a girls pop-country band- criticized even more than rappers!" Later on, he listed a group of artists that 'muted' their music throughout the nineties: "Mos Def started his acting career, Erykah Badu didn't make another record for 10 years, Lauryn Hill and D'Angelo didn't make another record ever. These voices remained silenced".
Chuck D agreed: "Since they didn't want to sabotage their careers, they ended in paralysis. The fear factor paralyzed those artists". He was emphatic when he remarked one of the reasons of the current hip-hop crisis: "The definitions of hip-hop now come from the outside, when they usually came from the inside."
The only person that sounded optimistic in the forum was Steve Stoute -brand manager and better known as the person who launched the careers of Eminem, Mariah Carey and Will Smith. He pointed out: "Kanye is the future of hip-hop. If you are honest, you can have a fan base. You gotta have an authentic voice. And that what Kanye is. Artists have to find ways of obtaining the lost income from record sales -in advertising, brands, etc. The music sales' slumping has nothing to do with the artist's popularity. Artists have to stick to a brand. The opportunities are bigger -Kanye is making sneakers for Louis Vuitton, Pharrell is making ice creams... ".
Richard Nichols -the most controversial of the panel- reacted quickly: "Kanye is a business person, and he is one of the most contrary black artists. Hip-hop is about celebrity now. It doesn't mean it's worse; it just doesn't belong to people anymore".
So how could hip-hop recover from this dark scenario? Chuck D was categorical when it came down to establish a solution: "There has to be honesty in the business. That has to come back; you have to build believers of music. To become a fanatic there hasn't to be a price on it. If you get people to believe in something, then that's authentic."
Questlove embraced Chuck's statement by saying: "That's why Common is one of the most loved artists in hip-hop, because he believes so much in himself that people end by believing in him".
"Exactly -Chuck D continued-, you cannot love something that won't love you back ".