Will.i.am
Joel C Ryan/Invision

Will.I.Am Is Wrong About The State Of Hip-Hop

“It’s become the lowest-hanging fruit.”

That was Will.i.am’s assessment of hip-hop in an interview with Rolling Stone over the weekend (Dec. 1), and another troubling quote in the ongoing fallacy that rap is somehow a lower form of art. It’s the same trope many rappers – especially those who tend to steer towards white audiences – lean on when they want to “evolve” or “grow” as artists. Kanye West would rather design water bottles than dabble in the slums that are rapping. Tyler, The Creator wants to score movies because rap isn’t good enough. Miley Cyrus is going back to country because “Come sit on my d**k, suck on my c**k” and “Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my c**k” music is just too vulgar for her.

Even if part of Will’s point, that the bar for entry into hip-hop is low, is true, the situation is more nuanced than that. The bar for entry has historically been low, which is how you end up with “Ice Ice Baby” running the world in the same year Ice Cube told us about AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, or 69 Boyz’ “Tootsee Roll” doing the same while Nas gave us Illmatic and Biggie gave us Ready to Die.

If anything, the bar isn’t any lower, the net is just wider. Hip-hop has expanded so far beyond its Bronx house party origins that calling it worldwide feels like an understatement. If aliens are picking up Earth’s frequencies somewhere, there’s a good chance they’re hearing some hip-hop whenever they do. It’s that big.

In the ancient rap world Will speaks of, the one where he was part of a Los Angeles backpacker group that existed far, far away from the mainstream, rap was not a privilege, it was a necessity. Most of the black men and women who lunged towards rap did so as an escape and last resort. They did so from impoverished conditions, with few options and even less hope. Rap was a way out and, for some, the only way. It was truly life or death as their choices were either make it big by telling your story or return to your desolate conditions to live out the rest of that story. So they persevered.

This, of course, led to the golden era of rap, but plenty of sameness as well. Many of the stories were the same, even if the lexicons between regions were different. As rap continued to evolve, so too did the stories, and the perspectives that were introduced into the zeitgeist.

Eventually, we grew to a place where rap became a privilege and not a necessity. Now, after generations of rappers setting trends and generally being the coolest people in the room at all times, kids were aspiring to be rappers, not just resorting to that profession when they were out of options. Now, kids could study their favorites their whole lives and work towards being that. Suddenly, and perhaps unintentionally and with a ton of misinformation, rap was a desirable profession. Jay-Z rapped because he had to. It was that, or sell drugs and play that story out. J. Cole raps because he heard Jay-Z and wanted to follow in those footsteps. That’s growth of a genre of music and of a culture as a whole. That’s admirable, not scornful.

With that new influx of hopefuls came a whole new set of perspectives as well. If rappers in the ‘90s had to be the coolest and hardest mothaf**kers in the room, rappers in the 2000s changed that just a tad. Before then, rap only had Will’s perspective, the cool cousin who got all the girls and wore all the best clothes. When folks like Kanye started striking platinum, rappers could be Carlton as well.

In this era, the perspectives widened even more as the talent pool got exponentially bigger. As always, music and technology walk hand-in-hand as well. At the same time all those aspiring rappers began to come of age, technology advanced to a place that made it easier for them to try their hands at achieving their dreams. Computers made music easier to make, functionally not artistically, and the internet made it easier to spread it around. Before, if a young Chris Wallace wanted to make it rapping, he had to find a state of the art studio, pay large sums of money to record several songs, and then do the footwork towards getting attention from record labels himself. Now, Malcolm McCormick, a son of an architect and a photographer, only needed a computer, a microphone and an internet connection to rise to worldwide rapping fame.

In the world we live in now, we don’t get just Deebo’s story in rap–we get Craig’s, Smokey’s, Joi’s and Big Worm’s, too. Hell, we get Hector’s and the Pastor’s, too. And if we fall deep enough into a SoundCloud wormhole I bet we get Mr. Parker’s story, too. For all the complaints about Lil Yachty and the like, we still have Kendrick Lamar and his gravity. If you hate Lil Baby, you can find J.I.D. on the same playlist on your streaming service of choice. All of them exist, and none spite the other.

And this is all a good thing. Where hip-hop was once a specialty store, a Foot Locker of sorts where you could buy new sneakers and maybe even some socks and a shirt, now it’s a whole mall. You can get anything you need in hip-hop, as long as you’re willing to go find it. Foot Locker is still there, but you can go to Macy’s or PacSun, too.

With all of that comes plenty of music we don’t understand or value, but that doesn’t mean that music isn’t good or important. Mainstream has always gravitated towards a more accessible, or dumbed down sound when it comes to hip-hop. Some of the greatest rappers of all-time have capitalized on this trend and made careers out of that. That is why it’s called the music business. But that doesn’t mean the artistry isn’t there still. The current generation’s mastery of melody and cadence is just as impressive as the complexity and poignant lyricism of eras past. It’s just impressive in different ways. Jordan won one way, LeBron won one way, and now Steph Curry and his buddies are winning in another. But the game is still putting the ball in the hoop and preventing the other team from doing the same. The game is still telling our stories with an immaculate collection of sounds and organizing them into a song.

All of hip-hop comes from the same rebellious spirit that was encapsulated at those Bronx block parties in the ‘70s. All of it. Everything is about that youthful energy, and counter-culture. In taking the traditional, and changing it enough to invent something our own. Sure, we might not all enjoy the Lil Pumps and Tekashi 6ix9ines of the world, but somebody younger than us does, for sure. And sees it in the same light as we saw our heroes. Trend-setting, rebellious deities, speaking for us and telling our stories. They all come from the same place, even if they don’t sound the same. The bar is not lower, the net is wider, and the window into understanding the youth may be a little more opaque than it used to be. But that’s what age does to the eyes and the ears.

The constant degradation of hip-hop, its culture, its values and most importantly its sounds, is beyond problematic. The people who belittle the genre in an effort to hold it down, are the same ones who dabble in it every time they need a boost in popularity or the coolness factor. Hip-hop is the culture where they find their looks, their sounds, and everything else. We can’t let them work to depreciate the value of the culture they so often steal from.

It’s a classic case of gentrification, but this is a soil so pure it can’t be salted. This is a neighborhood so culturally rich, its natives can’t be run out of town even in the harshest of conditions, because we know once they buy up all this land they’re going to try to price us out. Don’t let them tell us hip-hop is the low hanging fruit when we know it’s the whole damn tree. If they can’t reach the sweetest of fruit at the top of the tree, that’s their fault. Not ours.

READ MORE: Stop Playing Into Female Rappers' Catty Feuds And Demand The Bars

From the Web

More on Vibe

Nick Rice

25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

The female voice in hip-hop has always been present whether we've noticed it or not. The late Sylvia Robinson birthed the hip-hop music industry with the formation of Sugar Hill Records (and fostering "Rapper's Delight"), Roxanne Shante's 55 lyrical responses to fellow rappers were the first diss tracks and Missy Elliott's bold and striking music and visuals inspired men and women in the game to step outside of their comfort zones.

These pillars and many more have allowed the next generation of emcees to be unapologetically brash, truthful and confident in their music. Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy and Nicki Minaj's Queen might've been the most mainstream albums by womxn in rap this year, but there was a long list of creatives who brought the noise like Rico Nasty, Tierra Whack, Noname and Bbymutha. Blame laziness or the heavy onslaught of music hitting streaming sites this year, but many of the artists on this list have hibernated under the radar for far too long.

VIBE decided to switch things up but also highlighting rap albums by womxn who came strong in their respectively debut albums, mixtapes, EPs. We also had to give props to those who dropped standout singles, leaving us wanting more.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

Continue Reading
VIBE / Nick Rice

10 Most Important Hip-Hop Artists Of 2018

We’ve reached another end to an eventful year in hip-hop. From rap beefs to new music releases and milestones, 2018 has been forged in the history books as a year to remember. But more important than the events that happened over the span of 12 months are the people who made them happen.

While fans received a large dose of music from our favorite artists and celebrated some of the most iconic album anniversaries, there are a few names that stood out as the culture pushers, sh*t starters, and all-around most significant artists of the year.

For your enjoyment, VIBE compiled a list of the top 10 most important hip-hop artists of 2018 based on a series of qualifications: 1) public actions - good, bad, and ugly; 2) music releases; 3) philanthropic/humanitarian work; and 4) trending moments.

Be clear: This list isn’t about the most influential, the most talented, who had the best music or tours. While we are commemorating artists for the work they’ve contributed to this year’s music cycle, we’re looking beyond that and evaluating how these particular artists have shaped conversations and pushed hip-hop culture forward.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

Continue Reading
Stacy-Ann Ellis

NEXT: Intent On Impact, Kiana Lede Is Ready To Leave Her Mark

After learning The Alphabet Song as a little girl, Kiana Lede would always “get in trouble” for singing during class. “My mom was like, ‘why can't you focus?’” she laughs while reminiscing on her career’s formative years. “I was like, ‘I don’t know! Songs are just playing in my head all the time!’”

Whilst sitting in a shoebox-sized room at Midtown Manhattan’s Moxy Hotel on a humid September day, the now- 21-year-old Arizona-bred R&B songbird, actress and pianist speculates that she “may have had ADD.” However, she settles down after taking off her white cowboy boots and flops down on the ivory-clothed bed, demonstrating that her fiery Aries energy can be contained. Cool as a cucumber, Lede shuffles between chewing on banana candies and blowing smoke rings after taking drags from a pen, all while musing about her journey to becoming a Republic Records signee.

“I just grew up singing and doing musical theater, and reading a lot of books, and playing piano way too much in my room by myself,” she says, pushing her big, curly brown hair out of her face. Her expressive green eyes widen as she grins. “It was my thing. Nobody in my family does music, just me.”

After winning Kidz Bop’s 2011 KIDZ Star USA talent contest at 14 (which her mother secretly entered her into), Lede was signed to RCA Records. She was released from her contract and dropped from the label three years later. However, thanks to guidance and friendship from the Grammy-winning production duo Rice N’ Peas, (who’ve worked with G-Eazy, Trevor Jackson, and Bazzi), she released covers of songs such as Drake’s “Hotline Bling” while working to get her groove back. The latter rendition resulted in Republic Record’s Chairman and CEO Monte Lipman flying her out and signing her to his label.

“I got a second chance, which a lot of people don't get,” she reveals. “So I'm really happy that that all happened. I wouldn't be here right now in this room if that didn't happen.”

Thanks to the new opportunity she was given, Lede’s sound has evolved into something she’s proud of—equal parts soul, R&B and bohemian. As evidenced by the aforementioned ensemble, glimmers of each aesthetic can be found when observing her personal style as well. She released her seven-song EP Selfless in July, which features the bedroom-ready “Show Love” and “Fairplay,” which manages to fit in the mainstream R&B vein while also showcasing her goosebump-inducing vocals. The remix of the latter features MC A$AP Ferg. What pleases her most is that it not only garnered a favorable response from fans, but that those listeners found it so relatable.

“As an artist, it's really nerve-wracking for someone who writes about such personal things all the time,” she says. “Just the fact that it is my story… It's good to know that other people know that there's somebody on their side, and they're not the only ones going through it. A lot of people obviously feel this way, and have been through this same thing that I've been through. So I think that's cool.”

Although she moved to various places as a Navy serviceman’s daughter, Lede claims Phoenix as home. This means she hails from the same stomping grounds as rockers Alice Cooper, Stevie Nicks and the late Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. However, growing up in a mixed race household gave way to tons of sonic exploration outside of the rock-heavy scene.

“My dad's black, and both of my parents are from the East Coast,” she says of her musical and ethnic upbringing (she’s black, Latina and Native American). “[My parents] listened to a lot of R&B. My mom listened to a lot of SWV, TLC, Boyz II Men. I didn't realize I knew the songs until I got older. I played a charity show with T-Boz, and I was like 'why do I know these songs?'” Lede also says her father was a fan of neo-soul and gangsta rap, but she personally believes the early-2000s was the best time for music.

“[That era] influences a lot of my music subconsciously, and also, singer-songwriter stuff,” she continues. “I listen to a lot of early-2000s music because I played piano most of my life. I listened to Sara Bareilles, John Mayer.”

An open book, Lede details some of her struggles with anxiety and depression with the utmost candor. After being dropped from RCA, her trust in people diminished, and she experienced long bouts of depression after being sexually assaulted by someone in the industry. The track that she feels most deeply about is “One Of Them Days,” which tackles these issues head-on.

“When I'm anxious and depressed, it's really hard to be happy,” Lede says. “Most of the time, I can do it, but there are just some days where I literally can't separate the anxiety, and I can't tell anybody why, because I don't really know why myself… I was feeling very odd that day, didn't even know if I could write a song. Hue [Strother], the guy who I wrote the song with, he was like 'I totally get you. Lots of people go through this.’’’

As we’ve observed in headlines recently, mental health and being honest about life’s trickier situations can help someone going through the same thing, and Lede hopes her music provides encouragement to those who are struggling. As for how she’s learning to push through her mental health roadblocks, she meditates, runs, and is an advocate for therapy, especially in Trump’s America, where harrowing news reports dominate the cycle.

Another hallmark of Kiana Lede’s personality is her bleeding heart for others. She cites women of color, sexual assault victims and the homeless youth specifically as individuals she feels most responsible to help, since she is personally connected to all three. While she’s aiming to create a project that helps homeless youth specifically, she’s working hard this holiday season to ensure that they have a place to stay “at least for the night” after horrific wildfires displaced many individuals in California.

“My passion is really people. Music is just a way that I can get to helping people,” she says with a grin. “Helping people emotionally and physically are both very important. I never want to stop helping people. I feel if other people can respect me, and I can respect myself, then I'll be happy. Happiness is all that we strive for.”

Recently, Lede played her first headlining solo show, a one-night event at The Mint in Los Angeles. While she was thrilled to see that the show sold-out, she was even happier to see the faces of her audience members, who she said ‘looked like [her].’ “Mixed girls, brown girls, black girls, gay boys,” she explains over-the-phone. Even though she wasn’t in person to discuss her latest huge accomplishment, you could hear the pride and joy through her voice.

As for the future of her career, she’s looking forward to more acting roles. You may recognize her from the first season of MTV’s Scream, and after her recent Netflix series All About The Washingtons with legendary MC Rev Run was cancelled, she has been “reading for auditions” and is “negotiating” for a role in a film set to shoot in NYC. While her time with the Run-DMC frontman was brief, she says he taught her about the importance of “not compromising your art for money.”

What Kiana Lede is most excited about, of course, is making music. She hopes to work on a new EP and then release an album after that. The ultimate goal is to fully realize the dreams in her personal and professional life, and she assures she’s just getting started.

“I want to be able to look back on my career and think 'man, I really poured my heart into this music, and made music that mattered, and made music that made people feel a certain way, whether it's bad, good, sad, anxious, whatever it may be.’”

READ MORE: NEXT: H.E.R. Is The Future Of R&B (And Then Some) In Plain Sight

Continue Reading

Top Stories