“Biggie Smalls fell off! He was never that nice anyway! I mean Life After Death to me was better than Ready To Die and even that could’ve been one CD instead of two.” As I sit here and conjure up all sorts of imaginary vitriol one might have found on modern day social media had Biggie still been alive, I can’t help but wonder if there is any rapper whose legacy has not been tainted by simply remaining alive?
Every other genre, sport and special interest seems to have untouchable heroes and legends that represent their brand. So why not hip hop?
Hip hop is an unforgiving genre. It’s rooted in urban culture and, if there’s one thing that has always been lacking in urban culture, it is long term praise for our heroes. Whether a learned or innate attribute, a Mount Rushmore of hip hop could probably never be constructed by virtue of dissension in our ranks. No one would ever concede long enough to formulate any sort of general consensus (aren’t there three hip hop museums in NY alone?!) The hood may sing your praises but you better believe someone has a problem with every single component of your ascension (“Why you work so hard?!? Why your girlfriend so pretty? You ain’t special!”) Be that as it may, every other genre, sport and special interest seems to have untouchable heroes and legends that represent their brand. So why not hip hop?
At no point in time was hip hop ever expected nor intended to come as far as it has. Competition has also always been a purveying component of rap. But is it possible that every single emcee has fallen off or was never really that good? Every single one? Slick Rick fell off? Rakim fell off? Nas fell off? There isn’t one rapper who sustained any sort of complementary track record throughout their entire career? DO we really believe there ain’t no Tony Bennet of this rap ish? Now that to me just seems ridiculous. Of course no one is above reproach and no one is infallible but come the hell on now? Everyone sucks except for the dead guys?
For every “Top 5 debate” ever had, there’s so much acrimony presented as to why everyone we love should not be that heralded that I’m not certain if these debates should be called a “Top 5” or “Top 5 things wrong with your fave emcee (“Jay -Z is a biter, Nas can’t pick good beats, Andre 3000 don’t record enough, etc.”). Even the dead guys get it occasionally (“Tupac wasn’t as lyrical as the rest, B.I.G ain’t have a large enough body of work”). The “battle” has over taken the “rap” in every instance and contention is the ONLY order of the day these days.
Could it be that all our favorite emcees didn’t become terrible and our irrational formula of [nostalgia + consistent innovation/newness * personal expectation= all emcees will eventually suck] is what may be the driver? I’ve said it before but you can only lose your virginity once and with each additional occurrence, no matter how pleasurable, the newness will eventually wear off and you start to look for other benefits to satiate your needs. In other words, a dope emcee is a dope emcee.
If the only artists you can truly appreciate are the dead ones then it may not be the artists who’ve changed for the worse (hint; it’s you you cranky curmudgeon.)