As a music genre, rap has always stood out with straightforward and often more than clear lyrics informing other members of the society about what’s going on in rapper’s hood, community he has been raised in and, of course, in his bed. Straightforwardness is one of the main elements of hip-hop distinguishing it from other genres — bitches are called bitches, big butts are called big butts and cops are called pigs. Often enough, at the end of the day song is just song and it was a long, long time ago when N.W.A. got warning from FBI for their song “Fuck The Police”. Things that some time ago were shocking and eye-opening mirror of society now are just standard and even a necessity — whether you like it or not, you have to talk about poverty, drug dealing and struggle in your songs. In the same way, songs telling us what is wrong with the world (the first one coming to mind — R.A. The Rugged Man & Talib Kweli’s collaboration “Learn Truth”) have topics we have heard about ~100 times. Of course, such topics will make someone rant, but hardly will motivate the listener to avoid drinking tap water as the government is adding sterilizing chemicals to it.
Of course it’s natural and I wouldn’t like to criticise the curse of the people gradually getting blunt against anything creating strong excitement. However, there have always been artists kicking up a row and creating awkward situations by saying what they have on their minds in their songs and especially in the interviews. Music industry is music industry — it’s the source of income for millions of people. Of course, there are both written and unwritten laws in the business environment. Even though everyone knows Rick Ross is a former prison guard rapping about drug flow into the streets of Miami, industry respects him as his music is commercially successful. Everyone knows that in the best case scenario rap is a breathtaking, interesting movie. In the worst case scenario it’s just a circus. Of course, there are very ignorant and less ignorant rappers. Some are using their music to say that everything is in our own hands and we have to stop being slaves of the system, but, as I already mentioned, at the end of the day it’s just a song. The artist is just doing his job (hopefully he is doing his job well) in order to pay the bills, ensure his kids have a great future and, after all, watch some TV and drink some beer. However, there are rappers that are 100% sure about what they are saying. I am not talking about people who start believing their own drug dealer stories. I am talking about people finding it hard to adapt to show business. I am talking about people who know that it’s forbidden to talk about what’s going on off-stage, but who sometimes cannot hold their tongue. I am talking about people who take the rap motto “Be real” seriously and get in trouble for that.
There are not many people like that and the first ones coming to my mind are 2pac, Lauryn Hill, DMX, Kanye West, Eminem during the „The Marshall Mathers LP” period, Erykah Badu, Brother Ali, Ice Cube after leaving N.W.A., Lupe Fiasco and Immortal Technique. Firstly, most of them at some point in their careers were (or still are) seen as little crazy and weird and were depicted in media as unpredictable, scandalous and incorrect. Each of them survived the shocking part of their careers in their own way. For example, 2pac did not survive, while Eminem successfully used it as a driving force for his further career. Less known rappers like Brother Ali and Immortal Technique are still trying to emphasize it as their popularity allows them to do that without getting attacked by media and various rights protection organisations.
In my opinion, one of the main reasons why 2pac was shot was his big mouth. Even though 2pac was one of the commercially most successful artists in the industry, he often wanted to breach the rules. For example, after the interview where Snoop Dogg told he has nothing against Biggie and has love for everyone (which was a pretty normal and politically correct statement), 2pac stopped communicating with his friend. During the whole Eastcoast vs Westcoast situation Biggie remained calm and did not respond to 2pac’s incitements while 2pac got beef with each and all and tried to change the world. Biggie was a rapper just doing his job and at the end of the day he could pay his bills and ensure his kids have a great future, while 2pac was openly talking about the things he didn’t like about the practice in force and it looked like he was ready to do anything to change it. One can image that 2pac could be a state governor if he was still alive, while Biggie would now have the same status as, for example, Busta Rhymes. I am not trying to say something bad about Biggie — I’m just trying to show the main difference between those two artists.
DMX is also one of the rappers who became hugely successful with his music and was an unpredictable member of the industry who said what has to be said not only in his songs. Probably, crack played important part in the decline of DMX’s career, but even after serving his time in prison DMX refused to sign a contract with MMG and stated he would most probably rob Drake if they were in the same elevator. As I mentioned already, music industry has its own laws therefore we could see Dr. Dre attending Rick Ross’ birthday party. If you do not want to say that has to be said, you can also remain silent, but clear utterance of your opinion is a crime.
Similarly, Lauryn Hill left the industry with the album “MTV Unplugged”. The album consisted of previously unreleased songs with Lauryn playing acoustic guitar, ignoring her biggest hits and talking about the dark side of the music industry and finding oneself in it (Rolling Stone magazine called it a public breakdown). Kanye West is now in a similar situation. Several times he has clearly expressed what most people are thinking, for example, „George Bush doesn’t care about black people”. As a result, Mr. West is no longer giving interviews, he is avoiding the press and is still doing what rappers should not do (performing in masks and straitjackets) and being the centre of attention while releasing high-quality stuff. Interestingly, Eminem had many problems when all eyes and ears were turned towards him and he gained giddy success. It looks like the hardest part of artist’s career is when his words really have some meaning and everything the artist says is like a birthday present for yellow press as the things said by the artist are not the standard ones. No one is expecting for a rapper to behave in a manner represented in his songs, for example, to become a vegetarian and move to Africa. It’s a nice sentiment, but everyone would be shocked if someone would actually do that. Likewise — Lupe Fiasco is know as a rapper with a stand against the practice in force, but surprisingly everyone is shocked when he announces he would not vote for Obama.
Nowadays the most sensational cases of artists shocking others with the things they say are connected with unintentional, indelicate expressions derogating some part of society too clearly. As a result, the rapper can lose his sponsorship from Nike, Nickelodeon or other brands. I think that it’s not a coincidence that the musicians strongly believing their own principles are usually depicted as eccentrics. Sooner or later their careers suffer because of that. However, the history tells us that there have always been such musicians (no, Tyler The Creator is not one of them). There are not many of them pro rata, but there is always someone with conscience clear enough to take the torch that their forgotten colleagues, whose reputation has been stained by the media, have passed and become the next “crazy people” of this dirty game. I really do not know what works in the music industry, how it works and who knows who, but I assume the diplomacy and compromise are two of the main things in this field that help to find a way through the maze of record companies. Therefore, in my opinion, it’s not a coincidence that the artists really having something to fight for are getting pushed off the big stage. I do not want for this to sound like a conspiracy theory, but I think there is a set limit to which one may shock, influence and inspire people through music. When it gets too serious, the artist, most probably, will get shut out from the industry somehow.