The Death of Gangsta Rap

“What music do you like?” is probably the most asked question after “What’s your name?” when meeting someone. While most people casually reply, “Oh I like everything”, truth is we all have a genre of music we love more than others and nothing is better to me than a great rap album.

The first spark happened when The Chronic came out. I believe I was in 5th grade and I remember seeing the videos for “Nuthin But a G Thang” and “Dre Day”. I was like, “Wow these guys have blurry hats and topless chicks at their barbecues.” And who couldn’t forget the toddler that hit the perfect pose on the beat drop. There was something about the music that hit me but that’s about as far as I could go with it. I was just young enough to not understand that music was something you buy. I’m happy to say that as a child, I was actually a child. No real means of real world skills at all unless you count Oregon Trail. With that being said, not only did I not realize how to obtain a rap album, I couldn’t do it even if I tried. Lucky for me, my older sister started listening to gangsta rap around that time. She had Too Short, Eazy E, Snoop Doggy Dogg and MC Lucious. I would listen to these songs through my bedroom wall. I remember hearing Too Short’s “Cusswords” and thinking Nancy Reagan was a naughty woman. My mother eventually heard the music also. She caught enough of MC Lucious’s “Boom! I Fucked Your Boyfriend”, found my sister’s tapes, yelled at her and tore them all up. But it was too late, the seed was planted.

It started to sprout after my sophomore year of high school when I took my first visit to California. For some reason, only actually known to my mother and cousin, I was sent to Santa Monica to help babysit my cousin’s baby. It was during this time I discovered fried green tea ice cream, calamari, the Spice Channel and WC. My cousin’s friend was responsible for the last discovery. I think his name was Pat and I ended up taking a ride with him to a grocery store. It was on this ride that he played WC’s “Fuck Wit Uh House Party” and explained the metaphors to me. “On my eyes and head, more knots than Berry Farm” was the lyric. He explained to me that WC got his ass kicked in a fight and I was like “wha…!” At that moment, I realized that not only rap music but all music was actually saying something and not just rhyming words together.

When Biggie’s “Hypnotize” dropped, I was officially a hip hop head. That song tied up all the loose ends of my rap intrigue and became the first song I ever knew all the words to (and understood the metaphors also). I was more of a West Coast fan at first. I love the beats, the lyrics and the back stories to all the songs. Plus West Coast rap had more of an immediate gangster feel to me. I would go to a local CD/Tape shop that would take trade-ins and sell them for a cheaper price. I was so into rap, I would read the linear notes and figure out who wrote what, what production company the song was issued under and even see who these guys thanked. I would search rap lyric websites for lyrics I couldn’t understand and even sent some corrections. I also loved reading the deleted lyrics that labels deemed too extreme and viable for a lawsuit. I bought XXL, The Source, Vibe and countless other magazines that may have only had a four issue run. I was all about gangsta rap.

Then like most teenagers, I grew up. They say your taste buds change every 7 years. I actually believe your tastes in general change. I started to actually listen to all types of music, especially songs with a beef attached to them. I was amazed to find out that diss songs are in almost every genre of music, from Smashing Pumpkins poking fun of Trent Reznor to Lynyrd Skynrd taking jabs at Neil Young. I loved music with angst behind it. Possibly because I’ve never been one to let my temper flare so I need harder music to soothe my casual soul.

But now… rap is just not the same. Drake has great guest appearances and beats but to me he’s a former child actor. I listened to the entire Kendrick Lamar album and it never built into that gangsta angst I was hoping to hear from a Dr. Dre artist. If you’ve seen my stand up, you know how I feel about Lil Wayne (he wasn’t even good enough to get a verse on Back That Ass Up). Snoop, one of my favorites, is a Rastafarian now. On his first album, Kanye bragged about putting together his own IKEA bed as proof of his struggle. Even Eminem is calming down. I need my angry hip hop and it’s just not there… but for good reason.

The main reason gangsta rap was so hard hitting in the 90’s is because the rappers of that era were developing teenagers in the crack era. They had to deal with the streets at its scariest head on. (Or so they would have us believe.) The music was really a sign of the times. So what happened? Crime rates dropped all over the country. The country in the late 90’s seemed to get better as a whole. Who was developing during those times? The rappers of today and their fans. The reason hip hop heads like me aren’t picking up anymore albums is because the youth of today grew up in slightly better times and music will always be geared toward the youth. You may argue the years post 9/11 aren’t really better times but that’s even more of a reason why music today isn’t as angst ridden. The country as a whole got better and worse all together. The war and the recession left the country so exhausted from fear and anger that we would rather just have a good time when it’s available. It’s the reason for so many sequels and remakes (more on that in the next blog). Even Daft Punk is putting out music again. Music now is very reminiscent of the disco era. And what was disco all about: Good Times!

Good time music is what the country needs right now. We don’t need gangsta rap because the streets aren’t as scary as the world. Even rock is going through a very angst free time. It’s been awhile since we’ve had a new Korn, Manson, or System of a Down. We may never have another Rage Against the Machine. Right now it’s about Fun, Mumford and Sons and Of Monsters and Men. All great bands in their own ways (even though I really don’t get Fun).

There will always be a part of rap that is gangster but the country is just chilling out. There is no need for the old “set tripping, pistol whipping” days. Those guys have kids and those kids are trying to get into college. The only hope we have for one more great Gangsta Rap album is Detox and you know what Dr. Dre is working on: Funding a music program for USC. That means there are future rappers talking about filling out FAFSA forms right now. “I filled out my forms with an actual pen, know what I’m sayin’! Shits hard out here!”

Tune in next blog for why movies suck now.

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