– Opinion Article Written by Shah
What makes for good Hip Hop Music? For years, many Hip Hop purists have used only one criterion for asking that question: Lyrics. However over the years, a great deal of the hottest songs and artists make hits with little or no lyrical ability. The likes of Souljah Boy, Kanye West and Red Cafe have replaced the likes of Jay-Z, Nas, and Jadakiss. It appears that lyrics is the one thing that does not determine how successful an artist is in this ever-changing industry. Therefore, we must take a closer look at how we determine what is good Hip Hop music.
Lyrics are definitely a valid measuring stick for talent. The industry does not knock lyrical ability. However, it is not the only determining factor in an artist’s success. Take Canibus for example, with his consistent and clever punch-lines. Canibus had some success because of the LL battle, but he quickly plummeted down the rap charts because his rhymes were too complex for the average listener. Killah Priest is another perfect example of lyrics not being the only thing to determine one’s success in the Hip Hop industry. With his strong Biblical references and super word play, Killah Priest ranks highly among Hip Hop’s underground elite, but no mainstream success. The reason is because the majority of what he has to offer is lyrics.
Background story weighs heavily on an artists success. 50 Cent went from knocking Ja-Rule for his image, to becoming Ja-Rule under our noses. Since he has a believable story, and the bullet wounds to prove it, 50 won the hearts of the hood Hip Hop fans as his image went from thug to balladeer within only a few years. 50 Cent was known as a survivor of the “hood life,” and the public loved him for it. However, even his background of shoot-outs and selling drugs couldn’t alone save his career. 50 Cent has faded into obscurity in the music business, making little noise on his own projects. Rick Ross’ story, although mostly fabricated, has also helped his career immensely. Many people were fooled into believing his tales of bringing in boat-loads of cocaine, while in reality, he was a correction officer. It appears many people don’t even care that Ross’ story is proven to be false, as he continues to make chart-topping hits.
Mixtapes certainly have a bearing on the success of an artist. Take 50 Cent once again as an example. His G-Unit mixtapes provided an outlet for many people to hear his side of the story. Because if this, he managed to create such a buzz that he attracted a then unlikely bidder for his services. Dip Set did the same thing with their unique brand of mixtapes. However, if you also factor in Joe Budden, you can see how mixtapes also are not the determining factor in an artist’s success. Due to his great push via his mixtapes, you would have thought he was the next 50 Cent. He was literally being called the “# 2 draft pick” from the mixtape game. He is also faded in fame. His first album didn’t match up to half it’s hype, and he has yet to make anything that can put him among rap’s elite.
Beats is another important factor that helps a rapper sell. Jay-Z has certainly benefited from having his lyrics accompanied by some of the industries hottest beats. Although beats help, perhaps more than lyrics, they also do not take you that far alone. Wu-Tang Clan has always had some of the most riveting beats in the rap game, however they have lost their ability to make hits. Dip Set has also had a consistent amount of hot beats, and they have also lost a great deal of momentum.
Love from the hood is always a plus for an artist. Jadakiss, although boasting very little mainstream success, has managed to stay afloat mostly because of this factor. 50 Cent rocketed to super stardom as well. However, Dip Set also had it, but lost it just as fast. Rumors of being bullied by Tru Life, and beefs within the click brought Dip Set to its knees in the game. The same thing goes for Mobb Deep. The problem with love from the hood is that if you want to maintain it, you will not go too far, but you will survive. However, hood love is extremely difficult to maintain if you are exposed as fake, or is you lose it.
The artists that manage to stay on top of the game are those that can fuse most of these factors at the right time during their careers. Ice Cube still gets love from the hood, rhymes over hot beats, and has lyrical ability. Jay-Z might not get the hood love, but he used it to catapult himself to a level that he doesn’t need it, and maintains his stature with quality music, relevance, and hot beats. For artists that want to make it to Hip Hop’s royal circle, you have to have the right talent at the right time. You have to know what the climate is like in the current Hip Hop game, and make your music to fit it. That’s the true way to either stay afloat, or to be famous.