Gentrification: Why More Hip Hop Legends Can’t Have Longevity

Spike Lee has been all over the news because of a ‘rant’ (I hate that word) he went on about gentrification and the condition of inner cities, Brooklyn in particular. All you hear is the word gentrification and they trying to make Spike look crazy by attaching this word ‘rant’ to the headline so you can overlook his point. Gentrification, for those who don’t know it’s cool, is basically when middle-class families move to low-income areas causing the poorer families to move elsewhere. Now Spike is saying why the city didn’t have more services when the low-income families lived in the area. Services like police patrol, sanitation, and utility maintenance. These happen because people with middle class income drive up the housing market because they renovate their homes. Then the price of their home goes up and some of us can’t afford to stay in homes we’ve had and worked for our entire lives. That’s how some people become homeless.

Hip Hop has been buzzing about Spike Lee and his comments but they’re guilty of the same thing within our culture. It has been a long standing critique that Hip Hop does not support legendary MCs and lyricist in the longevity of their career allowing them continued success throughout their lifetime providing an income source when there is no other. Other music genres support their artists until the death allowing them to tour worldwide in sold out arenas for the rest of their lives. U2, Madonna, The Beatles, and other artists outside of Hip Hop are able to maintain a lifestyle well deserved for their contribution to the music. Legendary artists are dropped once the record label deems them finished. Even though there is still a market record labels take on the role of the city by not providing services such as marketing to their artists. There is always a market for a true MC or lyricists there will always be a lane for true talent.

Sometimes the label may not know how to market the artist in the ever-changing genre of Rap music. A lot of these artist understand their worth and won’t sign the dreaded 360 deal. The fans need to teach their children about these artist and their contributions to Hip Hop as a culture. When your child asks who is Wu-Tang Clan? Who is Rakim? Afrikka who?! Very few legendary rappers have music careers spanning over ten years. Snoop Dogg, Jay Z, and Nas are in elite company as they are still able to make music have it heard on mainstream radio and receive marketing budgets just as big as the new rappers. These days legendary MCs get small budgets, if they aren’t already independent, and are lucky to have any internet buzz about their album or other musical projects. The best example I can give in this day and age is Ghostface Killah. Ghostface Killah is one of my favorite MCs of all time and since his 2000 release of Supreme Clientele he has consistently dropped an album every single year. Recently in 2013 Ghost dropped Twelve Reasons To Die a collaborative effort with Composer/Producer Adrian Younge. This album was deserving of a Grammy win topping Jay, Eminem, Pusha-T, Ye, and even Mr. Lamar in all Rap/Hip Hop categories. Even the album packaging was phenomenal but why can’t Ghost get radio play like a Rick Ross, a Wiz Khalifa, or a Drake? His album is just as good if not better. Ghost and a lot of other legendary artists continue to make music and tour oversees where Hip Hop Culture is loved and respected.

Gentrification in Hip Hop Culture only seems to happen in the United States. In other Asian cultures Hip Hop is not watered down by record label politics the core elements are prevalent and don’t take a minimal role behind the musical element. The record labels stop providing marketing and promotion and tell an artist ‘we don’t know what to do with you.’ Excuses. They just want to jump on the new families coming into the neighborhood and get their money and forget the old money that’s been paying their bills thus far. People in the industry are quick to jump on ‘what’s hot’ for the moment instead of investing their money in a long-term situation. We do not support our artist like we should and there is a lack of respect a type of disconnect between generations. A few years ago I went to a Raekwon show and a relative who grew up in the early years of Hip Hop was shocked to learn Rae had new music and even seemed slightly appalled that I would go. What type of thinking is that? The people we should be looking up to we are treating them like they are new to the game. This is why you see artists in dire straits unable to pay medical bills or send their children to college. If we supported our artist they would be able to do things to support the new artist like buy a distribution warehouse and we wouldn’t be slaves to Universal, BMI, Sony and the rest. We all are responsible for the gentrification that goes on in Hip Hop Culture. We need to respect our elders and those who came before us. This is what I eluded to in my Black History blog post. We need to respect ourselves because nobody else is! They are exploiting us and we are aiding in the new age Blaxploitation. Gentrification is real and is present in every inner-city and urban neighborhood in America. Our music reflects that same societal problem that’s happening coast to coast. The question is what are we going to do about it? How long will we allow people from other cultural backgrounds to take away something we cultivated for our own culture? Always remember in western society, black culture is popular not black people.