Has Hip Hop Entered the 'Post-Hood' Era?
Remember 2003? I know it seems like ages ago, but in February of that year a rapper by the name of 50 Cent released his debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, to the tune of 12 million in worldwide sales. The album was filled with enough gun-touting bravado to appease even the hardest street veteran and 50 transitioned from N.Y. gangster to hip-hop icon in a matter of months. Following in his footsteps were G-Unit members Lloyd Banks, Young Buck, and The Game, who all enjoyed platinum success while sharing 50’s affinity for firearms. Southerners Young Jeezy and Rick Ross both emerged from the shadow of Get Rich or Die Tryin’. And the list goes on and on. Hip-hop’s Guntalk Era had officially begun, with 50 sitting proudly on the throne.
08:00PM ET August 17th, 2010
Contributor: Mathis Bauchner
A Rocky Williform Company
Fast-forward to 2010 and take a good look at rap’s new faces. Let's start with the most successful of the bunch, budding superstar Drake. He’s a biracial Canadian who grew up with his Jewish mother and spent his childhood as an actor on the T.V. series Degrassi. He raps (or sings) about girls, being famous, and little else. He’s never been shot, he’s never shot anyone, and he was too busy collecting acting checks to even consider dealing drugs. Yet the masses have embraced him just as they did 50 Cent seven years ago.
The answer, in part, is the growing irrelevance of “street cred.” A term long-associated with hip-hop and once upon a time a prerequisite for any rapper looking to crack the Billboard charts. Now, however, listeners couldn’t care less about a bullet-ridden past. Just last week at his concert in Indiana, Drake was joined on stage by none other than Justin Bieber, teen-pop idol and the heartthrob of prepubescent girls the world over. The crowd went absolutely crazy. Could you imagine 50 Cent teaming up with, say, Clay Aiken for a performance circa 2003? Hell no. There would’ve been cries of “50’s gone soft” from Jamaica, Queens to L.A. But Drake decides he’s contracted “Bieber Fever” and no one bats an eye. Why is that exactly? What’s changed? Well, for starters, Drake was never “hard” in the first place. He never claimed to be. He raps about what he knows and does so with enough swag to make even your most casual hip-hop listener’s ears perk up.
Also, audiences today seem much more willing to embrace rappers who choose to collaborate with musicians from other genres. B.o.B worked with Hayley Williams of Paramore and Rivers Cuomo of Weezer on his debut album. The result: two smash hits with “Airplanes” and “Magic.” Kid Cudi perhaps branched out even further, teaming up with indie acts MGMT and Ratatat for songs on his ’09 debut. Like Drake, neither B.o.B nor Cudi spends much time discussing anything resembling the street life. Kid Cudi’s a self-proclaimed stoner, B.o.B loves his guitar, and both rappers have likened themselves to extraterrestrials more often than thugs.
So who’s to blame (or thank) for this shift in hip-hop culture? My answer’s Kanye West, he of the pink polo and Louis Vuitton backpack. A man who arrived not long after 50 with 2004s The College Dropout, an album too good to be ignored, even if he spent a good portion of it making fun of higher education. Kanye did a song with Adam Levine, dedicated another one to his mama, and declared “we all self-conscious, I’m just the first to admit it.” Indeed he was. Kanye made sensitivity cool. He also proved that a shared interest in crime isn’t required when it comes to connecting in the studio. At the end of the day, talent recognizes talent. Kanye’s worked with Jeezy, Game, and other aforementioned Guntalkers, creating a kind of cultural harmony that’s been well received by fans and critics alike.
As Drake so succinctly put it on 2009s “Ignant Sh*t,” 'them hipsters gonna have to get along with them hood n*ggas.' Thanks in large part to Kanye, so far it seems they have. The rap universe no longer revolves around 50 Cent and his nine bullet wounds. The Guntalk Era had ended, and ringtone rap was a flash in the pan. Culturally, hip-hop has expanded, encompassing more types of rappers than ever before, “street cred” be damned. There’s now room for the singers and the stoners, those who spent their teenage years dealing coke and the ones who starred in network T.V. shows. If the initial success of Drake, Kid Cudi, and B.o.B is any indication, hip-hop seems to have found itself three very talented artists to help carry the torch. Things should work out fine, just as long as they don’t all catch the “Fever.”