It’s a strange fact that hip-hop has often been poorly represented by it’s best selling artists. The XXL “Freshman List” is one prime example of over-looking the true emcees of our time to instead give that spotlight to some rappers with zero talent. Whilst people still bemoan the quality of modern hip-hop, I’ve always felt most detractors have been going to the wrong sources for their music. Make no mistake about it, XXL are a powerful force within the industry and one of the few physical publications left with a large audience. It’s just unfortunate that journalists without love for hip-hop can be responsible for it’s direction. But industry politics aside, it is often some of raps most high profile figures who are responsible for not showing love to hip-hop’s greatest secrets.
Now we’ve all heard the narrative of “real hip-hop vs fake”, and at this point it’s been done to death. But recent comments from T.I. and Nas made me chuckle and forced me to come back to the issue just one more time. T.I. stated last week in a radio interview that he wants to leave hip-hop because it’s “lost it’s authencity“. He also added “I just feel like in some ways the game is going in a direction that I can’t follow“. Of course being a critic of commercial rap music myself I can sympathise with his sentiments, but here comes the amusing part, in attempting to praise some artists for keeping hip-hop alive he name drops Drake and Big Sean. From my perspective the emcees that have pushed the boundaries in hip-hop this year have been the likes of Open Mike Eagle and Aesop Rock. How any self-respecting artist can see the work of Drake in that bracket is beyond me. But then T.I. is not alone in over looking hip-hop’s best new music.
It saddens me to say it but Nas has been just as neglectful. Like T.I. he is guilty of complaining about where hip-hop is going and at the same time giving no respect to the artists moving the genre forward. When he released “Hip-Hop Is Dead” in 2006, it looked like Nas was set to change the landscape of hip-hop. It gave me renewed hope that a major label artist would reach out to legends like an Immortal Technique or a John Robinson, giving them much needed exposure.
A quick look at Nas’s new album however will show that instead of giving some shine to real talent going unnoticed, he gives a feature to Rick Ross. This is from an artist I love, yet he is unwilling to give back to hip-hop in a way that would enrich the genre. In a recent interview with Tim Westwood, Nas listed his current favourite emcees as Lil Wayne and Drake. I find it hard to believe Nas would give that endorsement if those two artists didn’t sell large amounts of records.
It is a pattern which is repeated time and time again. One of the strangest cases of a major label artist getting his argument mixed up was when The Game had a go at his fellow rappers for not agreeing to do a feature. The track was a protest record in memory of Sean Bell, and Game hoped to gather together the hip-hop World. Yet he broke down in tears when he couldn’t get his chosen artists to agree to appear on the record. Game makes a point of saying rap isn’t what it used to be. I’ll leave it to you to imagine who he may have asked.
So why is it the likes of The Game, Nas and T.I. have not set about working with the finest from the underground. Everybody remembers AZ’s feature on Illmatic but it’s unlikely Nas would put him on a lead single now. The sad truth is, it all comes back to money. It seems that once you’re on a major label, the only artists that matter are those that move units. This is why the face of hip-hop globally isn’t an accurate reflection of the artistry thriving on an indie level. Commercial artists may often have a moan at the state of their competition, but they’ve done little to highlight their unexposed equals.