Confession: I have a really hard time listening to Up North music with Up North beats. Rather, I can listen to it in small doses, but it’s hard to really enjoy it. I’m not sure when this came about, because I remember the days when the North reigned as the supreme leaders of rap. That’s where it was born after all. I think the shift in the industry happened at the 1995 Source Awards, in the heart of the East Coast versus West Coast beef when one Andre 3000 said, “But it’s like this though, I’m tired of them closed minded folks, it’s like we gotta demo tape but don’t nobody want to hear it. But it’s like this: the South got something to say, that’s all I got to say.” That is arguably the catalyst to the South’s takeover of the sound and energy of rap music, which is still prevalent today.
As an Atlanta native, I look to music to be entertaining. I need to be tricked into the consciousness of your lyrics via Metro Booming or Zaytoven. If it’s a Saturday morning (when most Black people wake up to clean their homes) I’m not really trying to listen to you talk about how you’re regretful of that time you forced a chick to get an abortion over a string quartet my guy. I won’t get any cleaning done. I’ll end up doing a wall slide thinking about how that poor girl’s life might’ve turned out. In the words of Chris Rock, “If the beat’s alright, she’ll dance all night.” Hence, I have no patience for rap purists (Joe Budden and the like) who believe “real” rap music has to involve pain and struggle. I have to note that I rarely hear that from Southern rappers, where even the oldheads embrace younger artists. Groups like Migos and Rae Sremmurd, can flourish on a large scale, because they have the support of the South where we don’t mind just being entertained. To relegate black artists to expressing only one lifestyle is harmful to our growth as Black people, and our cultural influence for that matter. There’s room for expression of the Black experience on every part of the spectrum from gang culture, to the repaying of student loans. We are not a monolith and our music should reflect the diversity within our culture.
Requirements for real hip hop according to rap purists include:
-Rapper must be from the streets. To have sold drugs or still dabble in street pharmaceuticals is a plus.
-Must look dusty. If you look clean, you may be gay, and if you’re gay the rap world certainly doesn’t want anything to do with you.
-Beats chosen must evoke sadness, but must also be treated as an afterthought to the lyrics.
-Lyrics must use metaphors, similes, complex and simple rhyming patterns, and must be free styled. If you can’t freestyle, then you can’t rap.
-If you are a male, you must not be intersectional in your discussions on race and/or class. Black men are the only people who are suffering and everyone else must be an afterthought.
-Must praise and exoticize every race of women who aren’t black. Black women are meant only to be your first baby mama, who you will later degrade and disregard when a foreign chick deems you worthy.
-If you are a female you must talk about yourself in the most sexually explicit way possible for the first few years of your career. You must present yourself as extremely sexual and sexy, or the polar opposite, almost androgynous. There is no in between. This is the only way anyone will be interested in you as a lyricist. After you’ve proven yourself in that realm, then you can start rapping about what you want to, but you must take shots at other female rappers, otherwise you ain’t real. Because real hip hop is all about beef. You must be ignorant of the lack of privilege black women have in this world, and use every opportunity to tear the next female rapper down, because there can only be one.
-Speaking of beef. You must develop a certain level of paranoia and cynicism about the industry, which leads you to find enemies where there may or may not actually be any. You will need to take subliminal shots at other rappers, and see which ones stick in the blogs. No one, including you, should be able to pinpoint the exact source or cause of the beef, lest it lead to a truce. Because real hip hop is all about beef, even though two of the greatest rappers were murdered before they could squash their beef. And while the hip hop world will eternally mourn the loss of those artists, they will also hype you to end up in the same fate. You have to sacrifice your whole ass life to be real, and after you’re gone people will say what a shame it is.
-You must always be a struggling artist who is miserable. If you find joy or success in the world, then you’ve gone commercial, and lost your street credibility. And we all know how easy it is to feed your family based on street cred. Success makes you suspicious to those who never achieved it.