This starts part one of a five part series by J-Zone on the death of hip-hop.
CLANS, POSSES, CREWS & CLIQUES: WHO U WIT? by J-Zone
Safety in numbers. Movements, collaborations, big name guests, teams, crew beef, etc. The days of the solo roller are over. In the prime of rap, you were judged solely on your music. Rakim, Nas & Biggie (early on), LL, Kane…they all built their legend on music alone. Hell, Rakim had no guests on his first 4 albums. Sure there was Juice Crew, Native Tongues, Lench Mob crew, etc. But it wasn’t mandatory.
Then for some reason, in the mid-late 90’s, it became totally necessary to have a movement. A crew with 1,000 different artists all on the same team. Touring together, crew t-shirts, beef with other crews, collaborations, etc. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it’s like people cannot identify with one artist, there has to be a movement or somebody else involved to validate them.
Look at today’s most successful artists. They all have a movement. Rocafella, Def Jux, Stonesthrow, Rhymesayers, G-Unit, Dipset, Wu-Tang, Hieroglyphics, OK Player, etc. Or if you’re not part of a movement, you collaborate with other high profile artists. Doom, Danger Mouse, etc. It’s all about cross-pollinating fan bases. You don’t? You die. And for some reason, I see Da Youngstas album, Da Aftermath, as the beginning of this from a beat standpoint. That and Run DMC’s Down With The King (both 1993) were the first albums I can remember to use a lot of different producers with totally different sounds. It worked back then, they were dope albums. But it wound up being a cancer.
Nowadays you need a Timbaland track, a Neptunes track, a Just Blaze track, a Dre track, a Kanye track for people to really care…and for the most part it sounds like a collection of songs, not an album. Why not let one of them just do the whole fuckin album? Can’t please everybody, why make a futile attempt? Good albums are about a vibe. Wu-Tang was a movement, but it was cohesive and made sense because they all vibed together and RZA was the sonic glue. Sans Illmatic, Ready to Die and a few others, every single great rap album had a maximum of 3 producers and 3 guests. In this fascination with movements, name association and special guests, we’ve lost album cohesiveness and the focus on just music. It’s no longer about how dope you are, it’s who you rollin’ with and who’s cosigning what you do. And usually 92% of the crew isn’t up to par with the few star artists in the crew.
Quantity rules, not quality. You can have a 5 mic album, but nobody cares unless there’s a bunch of other people involved. 10 producers and 7 guests. And now so and so with a platinum album can put his wack ass brother or cousin on and cheapen the game, cause they’re part of the movement and its about who you with. Back in 88, Milk D said he had “a great big bodyguard” on “Top Billin”. But that was it. In 2007, there would be a Great Big Bodyguard solo album.