ALL TALK: The Problem With Mainstream Hip Hop

Kate Tittley has no love for the contemporary trend towards hip hop / dance crossovers…

This morning I listened to a little Usher and Nelly albums circa late 90’s/early 00’s. In my opinion, when they were actually good.

As I bopped around my room to the dirty bounce of ‘Country Grammar’ and the stripped back tinkling of ‘My Way’, I scrolled through Spotify to find some more current tracks by these guys that I enjoyed. And there was nothing. Well, nothing after about 2004 anyway. I know that artists develop, tastes change, sounds become more polished, genres merge. But how you can go from rugged ‘Southern Hip Hop’ to the Eurotrash of ‘Hey Porsche’ is beyond me.

In my teens I consumed everything Hip Hop. Riding off the back of Dr Dre’s 2001 I traced a spider web of artists and bought everything I could. I loved it’s aggression, it’s danger, the lyrics that genuinely gave zero fucks. I was captivated by the stories of the artists, the rags to riches mythology, achieving global stardom out of brute determination and sheer self belief. The style and the artists were completely alien to a little English girl growing up in largely white West Midlands town, and I adored it. It felt like total rebellion.

With the help of Walsall’s Sundown Record Store, Virgin Megastores and MTV Base, I built a lovely little collection. I delved into Death Row releases of the 90s, bought Wu Tang Clan old and new, had tracks by DMX, Nas, Common, Ludacris, 50 Cent and a little Timbaland. Got totally obsessed with 2Pac and NWA, the most bad ass of them all in my opinion at the time. I sang along to the beautiful beats of Aaliyah, and obviously learned the epic dance routines. I scanned copies of The Source magazine for new releases I’d enjoy (aside from the questionable purchase of Foxy Brown’s second album, I chose well). At one point I had 10 extra long VHS tapes of documentaries and music videos all meticulously recorded from MTV Base. And although I had become a little bedroom obsessive, I didn’t have to look too far or go too specialist. Music television, commercial radio, magazines and shops all provided me with an in-road to the harder stuff I craved. I was never a connoisseur, but I knew what I liked.

As I got a little older and started indulging my more guitar-based sensibilities, I never stopped listening to hip hop, but I found the tracks and the artists that were coming out just weren’t speaking to me any more. It was all too much about ‘the club’ (although ‘In Da Club’ is obviously a big tune), the glamour, the whatever. I enjoyed albums by NERD and anything produced by The Neptunes because the beats were different, but my commercial in-roads had all started to sound too same-y. All the fucks I felt hip hop didn’t give, I felt like they started giving them.

And then came along Flo Rida, Rihanna and the like, with their big bloody tacky electro dance beats that I just cannot stand. That pretty much killed it for me. For me, hip hop is hard, it’s rugged, it absolutely has to have that funk, that beat you can bounce to. But that beat should never have been plucked from the dance floors of some Scandinavian techno club. Even bloody Snoop Dogg went all 90s rave on ‘Sweat’. Snoop, the poster boy for G-Funk sounding like he needs a glow stick and candy rave bands.

Hip Hop and RnB are absolutely not dead. They’re still the biggest selling genres in the world. My issue is that it now seems that instead of being innovators with their beats and rhymes, the big artist have just fallen into line with the populist dance crap. Although mixing dance and hip hop is experimental and I will never slight someone for trying that, it just feels like we’re dealing with what will sell as opposed to what sounds good. Now more than ever, popular hip hop sounds too same-y; hell it often doesn’t even sound like hip hop, the genre lines have blurred so much. I am by no means speaking as an authority; I’m not even close to one. What’s happening now is just not for me.

I’m off back into my bedroom to hibernate with my Public Enemy albums until someone changes things up again. Call me out when it happens.

Kate Tittley

Paul Sng

Paul Sng

Editor-at-large, Brighton. Likes: Lee Hazlewood, Lee Hazlewood songs and Lee Hazlewood's moustache Dislikes: Celery, crap nostalgia and people who raise their voice when speaking as if they're asking a question?