Caution: Mind The Gap

I was in bed last night pondering upon a question I had been asked by @RupeshB: Who did I think was the most consistently on point rapper throughout their career? The answer I gave couldn’t have been a freshman MC (hell even I could be consistent for five minutes) and therefore had to be someone who had seen the changes in the demands of the genre; Someone who had spanned the 90’s and 00’s; Someone who had not necessarily cemented his stature in the hip-hop hall of fame; Merely someone who, throughout their career, has consistently brought a high standard of rapping ability time and time again and yet is still doing it to this very day.

The answer I gave at the time, and would still give now, was Ghostface Killah: an artist who, in my opinion, has stood strong yet adapted in the ever-changing climate of today and yesteryear’s hip-hop.

Now this isn’t a review of Ghostface. In fact, it’s not a specifically a review of anything. Just last night I posed a question, almost a thesis to myself, of: Why is it that non-commercial artists ‘fall-off’?

Let’s take a case study to exemplify where I am going with this. Kool G Rap, someone that I without doubt put in my top 5, gracefully declined from super-multi-syllabic-MC to almost ‘Godfather’ iconic status (yes, declined); no longer needing to lift a finger to get something done, his minions running round catering to his every need. The metaphor illustrates what you see on wax often with G Rap. Take the recent joint I posted with R.A. The Rugged Man. R.A. is a lyrical beast; I mean he would have pushed G Rap to the limit even in his prime. Yet G is happy for R.A. to destroy him. He knows his work is done with the industry so just kicks back and revels in his deserved legendary status.

Often I read on the forums that artists have ‘sold out’ by ‘dumbing’ down their lyrics and style for a more receptive audience. I’m sure we could all name a few of those commercial artists and I don’t think this argument is ever in question. Money-driven artists such as Jay and 50 soon realised that their hardcore styles wouldn’t get the commercial airplay they cater for today so it is understandable why Heads tar them with the ‘selling out’ brush.

Yet my question probes deeper than this however. Using our case study, G Rap, primarily an underground pioneer (even in the golden-age), never had that hurdle to cross, or indeed, that crave for fame, glitz and glamour. So why slow down now? Do they lose passion for the music? Do some of them live in a ‘Yes-man’ world where they are sheltered from criticism? (This is something we have the hip-hop Internet revolution to thank for. But that is an article for another time). Are some of them unable to keep that energy going for twenty years straight? Mobb Deep’s Prodigy, another legend of mine, is again someone who people regard as having ‘fallen off’. His mind is still right (albeit sometimes a bit unpredictable), you can tell it in his words, but P has battled throughout life with illness and one has to wonder how much a toll this takes on his delivery.

Let us not forget the true underground artists too. But they are also not immune from the scrutiny of their audiences. Atmosphere’s Slug, Planet Asia and O.C. another collection of artists who many feel disappointed of their progress as MC’s. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of others who are happy to fill their void, artists who I’ve been delighted to see ‘keeping it consistent’; Royce and his Slaughterhouse buddies, Reks, Reef The Lost Cauze. My list here isn’t conclusive.

On realigning my focus, the question I pose, once more, is why? It is a question I think many of us have resigned to never quite knowing the answer to. But, at the risk of digression, is it something exclusive to music? We see it all the time in sports for example. Why is it sometimes a player can never quite reach those upper-echelons of performance which we know they are able? In sport, we blame it on injury, fitness, managers, teammates, hell even the weather. There is always an excuse. In hip-hop we blame it on fame, audiences, label demands, illness, laziness. But why does there always have to be an excuse? Why can’t we have a true hip-hop scene saturated with the Ghostface’s and AZ’s of this world? Why do non-commercial hip-hop artists ‘fall-off’?

Ask G Rap when you next seem him. Maybe he knows why.

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