A friend of mine and I got into a discussion as we often do about music. This time though it was more than just music, it was mainly focused on a shared passion of ours. Hip hop. It all started when he compared Usher to Alicia Keys. I know what you are thinking . . . "WTF, neither of those artist's are hip hop". True, but it does pose many a question that can easily lead you to a lengthy discussion about real quality music, and of course the ultimate definition - real hip hop.
He stated that Usher is in fact deeper into the ranks of RNB than Alicia Keys, and I suppose that is what sparked our debate. I initially thought - How can you put Usher and Alicia Keys in the same box? How do you determine who is "deeper into any genres ranks"? and frankly what does that even mean? ha! Of course those questions were then applied to hip hop.
Alicia Keys is not RNB to me she is soul and jazz. Usher may have originated through RNB, and may still very well maintain that description. Unfortunately however to me he has not pioneered a new fresh sound, and over the years conformed to the mainstream music society. Which is what many if not most musicians seem to be doing in our "era" of music. Therefor the similarity and/or difference between Alicia and Usher isn't simply a genre, it is the integrity and quality of artistic, creative, genuine music they produce.
This points us to the next question - How do you rank artists? Is it more important that they are successful commercially, or is it that they bring something new to the table? New being a sound, a style, something to say, the way they communicate it, basically something that hasn't been heard before. A pioneer. As I would put it something "raw and real". To me that is what makes an artist valuable or highly ranked.
Creating is defined as - "To cause to come into being, as something unique that would not naturally evolve or that is not made by ordinary processes. To evolve from one's own thought or imagination, as a work of art or an invention." That is what all forms of art should do for an individual, and in turn for society. Mainstream music to me has become the opposite of this.
Mainstream of course can be numerous genres, but when hip hop is being considered special circumstances apply. Hip hop was and is still special to me because it originated as a voice for the people. A way for the streets to have a dialogue. One which was rarely heard. That is why the old school hip hop is so important and relevant. No matter what there will always be a social struggle and hip hop was one of it's loudest voices. Emphasis on the was. In today's "era" (I keep quoting this term as in reference to my dear friends argument) the real purpose and soul of hip hop has been lost. Lost in ballin', bitches and hoes, beamer's benz's and bentley's, all and all living the high life - smoking, fucking, and being a pimp. While I am glad that those that have been struggling for more than one reason or another are getting what they deserve, have they forgotten where they came from? The world they/we live in? In doing so, I wonder if they have defeated the initial purpose for this powerful expression. Hip Hop was originally a raw genre. The pioneers never compromising throughout their careers. Presently MC's drop a mixtape or album and then conform to the commercially, socially expected mold. Horrible. In the process diluting the definition of creating, and dare I say the definition of real hip hop.
The music industry as a whole has lost much of it's authenticity, and to me the artists that continue to stay true to their talent, intelligence and continue to grow creatively deserve success. A high ranking if you will, at least in my books. Here's hoping.