Examining Cancel Culture in Music

As times change, people’s sense of values changes as well to fit the social standard they have set for themselves. It’s a climate change that can’t be denied because someone’s personal life and relationships can be directly affected by it. Each generation having issues that it stresses more than others. Some issues stretch across generations but today’s social climate stresses the importance of racism, homophobia, misogyny, and sexual assault. If one does not fall on the right side of these issues, they can be swiftly “canceled”.

You have probably heard this term more than once in casual conversation in millennial circles. Whether it’s in person or online, the simple act of canceling someone or something is just dismissing it in all of its entirety. And while it is a simple act itself, the actual rejection of said thing can be easier said than done. When it comes to music, canceling someone or something can have a huge impact on an artist’s career and their forthcoming work. It is done when an artist shows signs of “problematic” behavior. This being something that often aligns with the previously mentioned acts and being on the wrong side of the social climate.

Acts that have been canceled as of late and saw repercussions on their relevance and power in hip-hop and R&B include Nicki Minaj, Kodak Black, Sabrina Claudio, R. Kelly, and Tekashi69. Nicki has suffered a loss in fan base with the attacks on sex work, Claudio went quiet for almost half a year after the discovery of a Twitter account that was used to disparage black women, and the rap sheet for 69 is probably the longest, even though he’s only been relevant for the past year. In the #MeToo era, anyone accused of these actions can and will be easily dismissed in different circles. But the thing is that some of these “canceled” artists are thriving, especially in hip-hop.

Hip-hop, in particular, has always been a complex moral landscape to navigate. Historically, having problems with homophobia, sexual assault, and misogyny. Of course, there is the fact that some of its most popular artists having sketchy to problematic past themselves. Big Pun, a great in the game, was a known abuser but is still held in reverence. The artist that are current superstars weren’t the best in their pasts. Gucci Mane threw a woman off his moving bus for not having sex with him. Of course, he is one that has “reformed”, but a lot of others haven’t. XXXTentaction never publicly apologized for the acts of his apparent allegations but was always apologizing for his past behavior. Joe Budden stated on his podcast that for better or worse, “hip-hop has accepted everyone”. Unfortunately, he is right.

Now, the act of cancellation isn’t a group decision that is decided by a higher power and followed by the masses. The act of canceling comes down to a personal decision for the consumer. Some consumers choose to separate the art from the artists. But in today’s climate, there shouldn’t be a line anymore. R. Kelly, after many decades of thriving, has flourished and made many comebacks after every incident, just because his music was good and gave listeners “Ignition”. He then used his power in the industry to create a cult. From this, we, as an audience, learn that keeping some of these people in financial and social power can only increase the problem. But alas, most fans, once they’ve stuck to an artist, they don’t stop sticking with them. Look at Chris Brown. It’s the reason why the act of “canceling” comes down to the individual and is never decided and acted upon a predetermined day.

The majority of these artists that still have fan bases and haven’t been completely “canceled” are male. After Kanye West decided to publicly support Trump, many denounced him and have boycotted him but Ye still put up enough numbers to question on whether he really was canceled. This wasn’t the first case of his problematic behavior either. He’s had many morally complex situations but has kept his clout. Nicki, on the other hand, has been damned for her many acts. And while the criticism is justified, there is a level of hypocrisy. She worked with alleged abuser Tekashi69 and received hate like hell. Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole both endorsed XXXTentaction but have been safe from the backlash. It’s a double standard, plain and simple. The female artist is dismissed for less than their male counterparts. Neither behavior should be let go and should be addressed.

The fans of artists almost have a strike system set-up to determine whether they should support an artist after the problematic behavior. If there is less than three strikes, they seem to forgive and forget, but others aren’t as lucky. The frequency of behavior determines everything. The status of legend can also help them. Nas was accused by Kelis of abuse but all talk has seemed to disappear because he is so well respected that it’s not affecting his overall place in the game. They’re granted diplomatic immunity. There is a danger of this because we don’t know what will continue to happen or disperse behind closed doors.

While all these issues of problematic behavior should be addressed, that won’t make someone automatically dismiss the entirety of an artist. As previously mentioned, some artist reform and rebrand themselves. They give public apologies and try to become more “positive”. Sabrina Claudio has recently released new music and addressed her past behavior a second time and appears more genuine than the previous attempt to retain good favor. BROCKHAMPTON was also in the negative light when Ameer Vaughn’s past came up and had to completely rebrand and apologize. These apologies seem genuine, and now it is up to the listener to forgive these artists.

Ultimately, that is the final decision. Do you forgive and forget or banish them to cancelation hell? It is the gripping and poignant question. There is an overwhelming amount of artists in hip-hop that have been problematic. Trying to find one with a completely squeaky clean past or present is damn near impossible. You have to decide where on your moral compass you want to stop the buck. The greater point is that there should be a buck. There should be a line. Because if you don’t cancel someone, regardless if others do it or not, are you really about practicing what you preach? Is the very thing you’re willing to fall for being broken down by whom you’re standing with? That is up for you to decide and history will tell you where that falls.

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Featured image taken from this website

Hot Take: Rap is a Young Man’s Game

Whose favorite rapper is older than 40? Please raise your hand. Alright, if you did, then odds are that you yourself are an elder statesmen in this rap game. Now this isn’t a diss or attack on you for being older. Trust me. Most people want to be able to get where you’re at. But the thing is, if you’re in this category, then you’re probably not contributing too much to modern rap’s economic hold on the music industry. Let’s face it, rap is a young man’s game.

Now before you start jumping down my throat with “No it isn’t! There’s Jay-Z, Eminem, Kanye West, Ludacris, Nas, Snoop Dogg–”, I’m going to stop you there. Each of these older rappers fit into a category that we will discuss later. But even with them, the argument still stands. The older you get in rap, the harder it is to stay relevant. Now within this argument, people will and try to bring up other genres and how artists can thrive in their genre at an older age but even with that, you would be going against your own, because this is rap; this is hip-hop and rappers age differently. Now let me explain why.

To do so, you have to go back to hip-hop’s origins. We know the Sugarhill Gang made the first big rap record and how it resonated with America’s pop culture at the time. In looking back at that record, you notice pop culture (what’s cool and what’s not) is dictated by the younger generation. This continues today. Before we jump ahead, let’s move to the “golden age” of hip-hop. Music that on the surface talks about sex, drugs, and parties. On a deeper level, of course, are rebel songs that stood for something. They were the musical embodiments of the counterculture. NWA and Public Enemy were on opposite sides of the country but both still spoke on this premise. Just like rebellious rock music before it. And who were the original people at the forefront of the counterculture you might ask? Young people. Specifically, teenagers who were angry at the world and fighting against it, twenty somethings who were trying to figure it all out. A new revolutionary genre that spoke to a generation. With it, a spark began that would later define the genre.

There was something polarizing about hip-hop. Some could argue it’s the violent and edgy streak much of its music has. Whatever it was back in the day, young people were the supporters of the hip-hop wave. Anyone 30 and up “just didn’t get it” and often demonized the genre, especially mainstream outlets like Fox News and NBC. They didn’t want the highly impressionable teens to be “corrupted” by these ruffians that were selling a lifestyle that would harm their families. In white America hip-hop music was seen as the worst of the worst – something to be feared by the parents. With all of it coming together to be popularized by white youth.

In black America, hip-hop was seen as a celebration of culture amongst the younger generation. Something they could resonate too. While resisted by legends of other popular black genres at time, hip-hop had already ingrained itself into society. Oddly enough, what helped solidify it was the tragic deaths of Biggie and Tupac, two young stars taken too soon. And as tragic as it was, the deaths saw a unification of the audiences.

After the ‘90s, the 2000s era of hip-hop and rap music brought the genre into more regular circles. Ultimately, it entered the homes of predominantly white households that had no connection to the stories of the ghetto. While still having controversial faces, the public had become more accepting. Hip-hop had gone full mainstream. Rappers got promo deals and commercials. Rock and pop legends even began embracing rappers. At some point, even normalizing a feature on one of their records for a single in the later part of the decade. The dangerous side of hip-hop became part of its marketing value. The idea of selling out became possible, which was great news for the genre (business wise), because labels and artists had a chance to make more money than they could before. Rap was finally on pop radio. And finally, rap became pop radio. It’s audiences grew younger and younger. In response, the stars had to be younger too. To make it big in rap, you had to be young, or at least you had to have the appearance of being young.

Moving forward to the 2010’s, the genre matured and evolved. The violent era of the ‘90s and early 2000s were basically over. Rappers were allowed to grow old physically but the ideas that were originally brought to the table were not. The fans of rap from “back in the day” were now older, more refined and in some ways, needed an evolution or growth from their artists. Some obliged, but in turn, lost the audience the genre thrived on. What teenager wants to hear about tax brackets, family struggle or alcoholism that isn’t being used to party? Very few. The younger audience would like to hear what they’re going through. And who can do that better than a younger artists? The audience want to see themselves through their stars or at least some representation of it.

The three biggest names in hip-hop today have found a niche in the younger market. J. Cole has resonated with the college crowd. The simple man’s plight that have to deal with love, drugs, and a life they aren’t necessarily ready for. He’s perfect for the kids who want to be on rap’s older radar but can still have something to sing along to. Drake has mastered the mainstream rap and R&B formula. Sometimes shallow but “deep” enough because there is something about that relates to broken hearts of people who don’t know what they have done wrong in a relationship. And of course, there is Kendrick, who has the modern hipster wrapped around his finger because of his artsy take on the mainstream level of the genre. Because only he could make a song about alcoholism and simultaneously make it catchy enough for drunk kids in the club to use it as an excuse to pour up and drank. All three rappers are all in their early 30s but have teenagers singing their hits.

Now back to those elder statesmen I was talking about earlier. Something that some have done better than others, is that they transitioned over to where their age helps them or they have something that makes seem younger. Eminem is the “best rapper” ever in some young suburban kid’s eyes. He will never be old, even if his music has regressed. He’ll always have an audience. Kanye hit the hearts of hipsters and people who love to think musical genius exceeds whatever is going on today. Ice Cube and Ludacris have transitioned to acting, being in a hit movie every now and then. Snoop Dogg has become the nation’s favorite uncle and has weed, the popular mainstream and illegal drug on his side. Last but not least, Jay-Z has Beyonce – there is no getting younger than that. Queen B will forever have the hearts of all masses.

They all have something that make them seem younger, relatable, or desirable by the audience that is fueled by memes, parties, or pop culture. As long as they do, they’re going to be forever young and the genre will thrive off it. Because you can obviously be old in rap. Once the listener gets older, their favorite rapper might become Jay-Z because they want something relatable to them. Plus, the CEO position will always be desired as another transitional part of hip-hop. The blueprint was laid down for them after all. But until then, the young will rule the elite of hip-hop and the crown is waiting for the next heir to be born.

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Featured image taken from DJ Booth

Hot Take: Do We Really Like Growth?

What is growth? Like what actually is it? Is it simple as change or is it something more? The internet defines growth as a “process of developing or maturing physically, mentally, or spiritually”. In terms of art, we always ask if an artist is growing in some shape, form, or fashion. Almost as a marker to test if the artist is getting better or not. So the word itself is thrown around pretty loosely just to gage if you like the music more than the last project. It is a word used to criticize more than praise. But usually, in the same breath, we’ll then hear fans saying they want something similar if not exactly the same as the previous project – wanting a part two more anything else. Hence, there’s a basic disconnect between the artist and fan/listener and it begs a question to be asked: do we really want our artists to grow?

The knee jerk reaction to such a question is ‘of course!’ Most people would say that back, almost as challenging that statement. Who wouldn’t want to see their artists improve and get better as they continue? As you get older and age in your taste, you want that artists grow and mature. You might want to have that relatability or connection to your artists when you’re growing as well. So when they don’t fulfill that, you might feel hurt or betrayed. So there’s often a backlash or criticism towards it. But why is that?

Don’t we want our artists to make what they want? Their art. It is theirs after all. They made it. They enjoyed creating it at some point in time and thought it was good enough to put out there. Shouldn’t we just take it as it is and choose not to purchase it or not? I understand that can lead to a problem in thinking as well. As the listener, we can choose not to listen to something, but as a consumer – because music is a business – we pay for our artist’s art. The stake we have in it is that we’re paying our hard earned money to someone we “respect” or “enjoy” to give us good music.

In that thinking, we should be able to demand something of our artists, right? But then we get into the area of entitlement to someone and their art. Because even though artists are selling something, it is theirs to sell. They can do whatever they want with it. DMV rapper, Wale, even spoke on it before on Twitter (since deleted), frustratedly saying “y’all obsession with nostalgia is so dangerous”, because as the artist grows in their own way, we want or expect something different without knowing their headspace. Even Jay-Z said, “niggas want my old shit, buy my old album”. And it’s not entirely false. The old catalogue is still there. Available for a listen and visit anytime the listener wants. It’s fine that way right? Do you still have a say or desire for it? What does it all mean for us as the listener when the artist is also tired of hearing the complaint? That’s it. We can’t really do anything about it.

I’ve discussed how we react when the artist does change, but what happens when we encounter artists that don’t change and make music for their fans and demographic that they originally reached? Some could argue artists like Raekwon and Migos fall in that vein. Oh, there it is. I have the audacity to compare a respected vet to a group that only appeared this decade. The answer is simple. They work for this comparison because one could make the case they fit in the latter half of this argument. There hasn’t been “musical growth” for either of these artists in my book. When someone is a lyrical beast, such as Raekwon, the audience is expecting is for him to put together a song that consists of great rapping. When it comes to Migos, you expect them to put out a banger that bumps in the whip. All we want from them are good songs. So what is the difference there?

We look at artists and how they market themselves. One that comes to mind is Kanye West, a public and self-proclaimed musical genius who elevates his music as high art. Another example is Jeezy, a street-king legend, who provides anthems for the hoods he once thrived in. They both make music. But we look at what we expect of them differently. One we expect to push musical boundaries and from the other we expect trunk rattling, grimy records. Is it their fault that we expect them to do these things? Yes and no. When coming out they established their perception through interviews, appearances, and the music they provided. But then it falls on the audience for how the music is received.

So after all that, it begs the ultimate question of what we’re asking for. When these two kinds of artists release a song, what is the one thing we expect from both of them? Above all else, more so than growth or artistic maturity. The question we should ask is, is the song good? After this back and forth of questions looking at the artist and listener, the best question to ask yourself on whether the new song we’ve received from the artist always boils down to that. Because at the end of the day, we only care about whether the song itself delivers to YOU. Not anyone else, but you. The maturity, or lack thereof, doesn’t really matter in the face of us liking the song or not. Because you’ll be the final judge on whether you like the song or not. No growth or maturity. No real change in sound. You’ll like what you like. So the answer to the question of us caring about the artist growth isn’t yes or no. It’s that we don’t really care as long as the music is good. So at that point, you have two options. You can either put your headphones on or just press play.

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Featured image taken from The Spectrum website.

New Music Roundup: Brockhampton, Charli XCX, N.E.R.D. and more

New music roundups are a monthly recap dedicated to covering the latest music in a series of short, descriptive reviews. This month’s edition includes new releases from BROCKHAMPTON, Charli XCX, Travis Scott and Quavo. and more.

Brockhampton – Saturation III

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BROCKHAMPTON’s third release in just over six months fulfills one of the most prolific short periods we have seen from a rap group in recent years. What makes them stand out in comparison to other crews, is that while the band is made up of many talented individuals, the members truly are their best as a collective. They feed off each other’s energy like a bunch of wild animals around a carcass, something that was largely evident when I saw them in concert in Orange County last weekend. Going into this new album, Saturation III, I was expecting more of the same: hyphy beats, weird and chaotic flows, all balanced out by some smooth tracks. My expectations weren’t far off, but I have to give the group credit for coming through with a couple nice switch ups in their aesthetic. They sound more ethereal then ever on tracks like “BLEACH” and “SISTER/NATION”. It will be interesting to see what their next move is and just how creative they can get as they grow older.

Charli XCX – Pop 2

 

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UK singer and songwriter Charli XCX returns with another high profile mixtape titled Pop 2. I don’t enjoy giving negative reviews, but after listening to this project, there isn’t anything positive I have to say about it. It has decent production – certainly more interesting than other pop artists on Charli’s level of popularity – but I just can’t get past the robotic vocals. I get that this tape is trying to be a glitchy and futuristic rendition of pop music, but the melodrama feels half baked and created more by studio tricks rather than genuine artistic expression. I don’t know, maybe in 10 years I will look back and “get it”. “Out of My Head” and “Tears” are the tracks I found most listenable.

N.E.R.D. – No One Ever Really Dies

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Did you say N.E.R.D. is back?! Back indeed, with a full length, self-titled album. The Pharrell led trio dropped some of the hottest singles of 2017 within the last couple months of the year, which built up immense anticipation for the first album by the group since 2010. “Lemon”, which features an amazing Rihanna performance is a solidified bop and “Don’t Don’t Do It!” is another eclectically produced banger that turns from slow and rhythmic to completely chaotic, thanks to an awesome set of guitar riffs and a hectic guest spot from Kendrick Lamar. The guest-heavy tracklist, loaded with everybody from Ed Sheeran to Future, steals a lot of the attention, but N.E.R.D.’s signature medley of rock, pop, funk and hip-hop production prevails to create an entertaining listening experience.

Quality Control – Quality Control: Control The Streets Vol. 1

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Released as a compilation from various artists on Atlanta hip-hop label Quality Control Music, Control the Streets Vol. 1 is 30 songs worth of material from stars including Migos and Lil Yachty, among many others. This release was made for a two reasons, neither of which was to be a sophisticated work of art. This project a compilation, a vibe and a soundtrack to the millionaire lifestyle of the top dogs in Atlanta rap. Much like the Travis Scott and Quavo collaboration, this project was made to supply the current demand for moody and melodic trap music in the mainstream, but additionally it demonstrates just how dominant some of these artists have become in terms of pop culture relevance. There are many memorable songs, especially “Ice Tray”, “My Dawg” and “Mediterranean”, but I think at the end of the day we are simply an hour and 47 minutes closer to the end of the ongoing trap wave.

Travis Scott & Quavo – Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho

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Rap powerhouses Travis Scott and Quavo of Migos are making a big splash with a new collaboration under the alias Huncho Jack. The project, Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho, has been in the works for some time and figures to make a lot of noise on the mainstream level, being that these guys are currently two of the biggest acts out in the rap scene. As one would expect, the music on this album wades in the trendiness of dark, moody trap beats, drenched in auto-tune at maximum capacity. The monotonous sound of this album makes it hard to pick stand out tracks, but “Go” and “How U Feel” stuck with me to an extent. This project is hardly sub par, but why would I listen to this when there’s so many more interesting releases within the same canon of music? I digress – die hard fans should enjoy this album quite a bit, but it uses a recipe we have all heard before.

Announcement: Best of 2017 Series

It’s finally December, which means for the next couple weeks every publication will be unveiling their favorite songs and albums of the year. Even though so many of these lists are watered down with mainstream releases and big name artists, they are still a fun way to reflect on the year that was and have some solid discussions on how everybody’s favorite records stack up.

2017 has been a great year for music on all fronts and I couldn’t be more excited to share what some of my favorite releases were. Personally, this year I made a significant attempt at expanding my palet and trying out different styles and genres that I haven’t spent as much time with before. As much as I love digging into the great music of the past and studying old bands, I feel it’s equally important to embrace the different sounds of today and submerse myself into modern music culture as much as I can.

With so many albums worthy of being mentioned this year, I won’t be limiting myself to one list…and I’m excited to say that I won’t be doing it alone! Starting on Monday next week, I’ll be featuring a guest post each day from another blogger or friend on one of their personal favorite albums of the year. I’m stoked to feature some different voices on here and highlight some projects that I haven’t touched on too much – because it’s all about perspective right?

To kick off the first Riffs and Rhymes ‘Best of the Year’ series, I’ll be sharing my honorable mentions this Sunday. These albums in particular didn’t quite make the cut for my top list, but were far too significant to be ignored.

Follow Riffs and Rhymes on Twitter for updates on guest posts and new lists. See you next week to talk about the best music of 2017!

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