Recently an article penned by fellow RepPittsburghHipHop writer Rami Bensasi discussed the underwhelming album from two of rap’s greatest artists ever, Watch the Throne. While I respect the effort and opinions laid forth in the article, I couldn’t help but disagree with just about all of it. Rami is an incredible writer and I see where he’s coming from, but I have an entirely different view of not only what Jay and Kanye have done for hip hop, but what they continue to do to make rap one of the most influential and amazing cultures we have today.
To start, it’s 2012. What that means is that the messages of rap’s early days are dated and the culture itself has progressed to a point far beyond the street corners and cardboard boxes laid out for breakdancers. Graffiti is a recognized art form and turntables have been replaced by dual iPod stations and laptop playlists. The internet is the new record store and the mp3 tweet has replaced standing on the corner handing out a mixtape. It’s only natural that the music has changed to reflect that. What’s also changed is the structure of hip hop in the business sense. No longer must an artist perform endlessly while handing his demo to everyone he sees, hoping to secure a record contract for maybe one album which may or may not get shelved depending on what the label feels like doing that quarter. Now artists have the ability to form their own labels, create their own distribution, and get their music directly to the people. Labels are still instrumental in converting an indie startup to a cultural phenom, but the majority of big name artists today got their start pushing their own product in their own lane.
Jay and Kanye made an album full of million dollar lyrics and lavish lifestyles. Yup, that’s right. Because in 2012, unlike in 1992, having a gold chain doesn’t mean a goddamn thing, but having multiple companies and private jets does. This SHOULD be celebrated. Russell Simmons isn’t operating out of a small office anymore, he has a multi-level building with penthouse suites and is sought out for his valued opinion on various social issues. Hip hop has gone from an underground art form to the face of pop music, and in the process it found a way to make a whole lot of money. That’s literally thousands of jobs for a group of people who once struggled to get off the streets and into a McDonalds. Again, this should be admired, and should be what everyone strives for.
Did Watch the Throne produce a couple of hit radio singles? Absolutely. And that’s what any successful artist knows is crucial in staying relevant and maintaining any type of push and success. Wale dropped a great album and sold like 5 copies. Then he followed up by signing to Maybach Music, dropping a couple hot singles, and then an album which has been revered by critics. Contrast that with Jay Electronica, who’s easily one of the most conscious and positive rappers out there, who can’t get a release date because Jay-Z says his album, while amazing, doesn’t have a single. Just look at Slaughterhouse to see what not having a single gets you; three dead weight singles and their album gets pushed back with the promise of a mixtape prior to the album just to try to generate some type of hype for lyrical hip hop that no one wants to hear.
It isn’t Jay and Kanye’s responsibility to do anything other than what they want to do, which is clearly to make great music. I’m honestly sick of people claiming rappers have a responsibility to their fans to make positive rap, they don’t. They make the music, we listen to it. That’s as far as it goes. If they rap positive and we buy it, good. If they wanna be ignorant and we buy it too, good. Either way it’s money. Rap has always been about expressing yourself and Jay and Kanye have done that in the way that they want to. If that means ripping the roof off a super expensive car and driving it around recklessly with white women then that’s awesome. Trust me, if Das EFX could have done that they would have, but in 1992 the best they could do is gather up everyone in the hood and film them rapping in the sewer.
It’s amazing how far rap has come since its inception, and to continue to strike down its accomplishments by complaining it has no substance anymore is to ignore the powerful influence it has and the income it has produced for those involved. A thousand dollar check meant something at one point to an up and coming rapper, now it’s a million dollar check. That says a lot about how far rap has come. And just like in 1989 rappers were flaunting their gold chains and new cars, rappers today are flaunting their multiple watches, cars, boats, and companies. It’s a culture of not only knowledge but celebration of success and progression, it always has been, and the fact that two of its most successful artists can make an entire album filled with genre-bending music boasting about their worldwide ventures just shows how far rap has come in a few short decades, and how rather than yearn for a return to a past time of struggling rappers getting fucked by their labels that we should instead focus on great it is today to be a part of rap. Hip Hop doesn’t need saving because it’s stronger than it’s ever been, all it needs is more recognition for its continued accomplishments and respect for its top players.