Last two weeks have been hectic for me. My 3 sons, 13, 12 and 8 years old were home for Spring Break. Trying to write blog posts while hanging with them for two weeks straight don’t add up. But I’m back now. We live in Brooklyn, but my sons go to some swanky private school in Manhattan. I’m not bragging, only because I have no effin’ clue how we end up making our tuition payments, but so far, none of mine are getting kicked out. Yet. Anyways, I drive my kids to school daily. Because I’m driving so much, I’m listening more and more to radio. Being Hip Hop for life, I’ve stayed loyal. But trust one thing, you listen to enough urban radio, you’ll eventually hate it. Trey Songz no doubt reigns supreme as the new King of R&B, and I finally stopped fighting against the movement that is Lil Wayne and his Young Money clan to appreciate them more, but having to hear “Say Ahh” and “Bedrock” every 25 minutes to the tee is enough to drive me to drink. If you still listen to radio, you already know what the eff I’m talking about. It’s gotten so bad, urban radio, and my increased hatred of it, that it’s caused me to have some past “disagreements” with some of its more celebrated personalities.

Please trust that as a Hip Hop father, I’ve schooled my kids on rap. They know B.I.G. is the G.O.A.T., plus how whatever their peers might say, Jay-Z will always be way greater than Wayne could ever be. They also know about Kane, Rakim, DMX, the whole shebang. Still and all, at their school, my sons put the “M” in minority.  Seems like it’s every weekend now that my 13 year old is going to a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Really. Anyways, because of their surroundings, my kids have fallen into listening to a whole lotta pop music. Which is cool with me. As long as they know their rap history.

So last week, so sick of urban radio was I, that I turned the dial to stations providing sounds I had never heard before. Initially, shit sounded like all the music being piped outta that Disney Channel. What surprised me was how well my kids knew the songs, knew  the artists. The more I listened, the more I started falling in love with the songs, the melodies. It’s no surprise that Justin Beiber and Lady Gaga run that pop shit, but the amount of “new” artists I was introduced to was humbling. That Ke$ha ‘Tik Tok” song is still heavy on the charts, and surpsisingly grew on me.  There’s this other group OneRepublic that has a hit titled “All The Right Moves”. There’s this Black looking kid Jason Derulo who has me fiending for two songs “In My Head” and “Whatcha Say” which is an effin hit if I’ve ever heard one. There’s another group, Lady Antebellum, a country pop group with the song “Need You Now” that currently has the #1 spot, and this folksy sounding group Train that’s has a song called “Hey, Soul Sister” that my sons love to sing.

What surprised me more than how I liked the music I heard was how many artists I knew that managed to cross over to the pop side while still maintaining urban cred. Black Eyed Peas fell off on the rap side a long time ago, so it’s no surprise how much that horrid “Imma Be” gets played. I fucking hate that song. I was surprised at how much T.I.’s “I’m Back” gets love. Jay-Z is also a pop radio favorite with “Run This Town” and “Forever Young”. I can’t remember the last time I heard “Forever Young” on Hot 97. Cats may hate, but that song was always a pop hit. It wasn’t a surprise that pop loves Drake and Wayne. “Over” is getting mad mileage right now. It’s also good to see last year’s F student from XXL’s ’09 top ten freshman class B.o.b move to the head of the class with his current song “Nothin’ On You” featuring Bruno Mars. Homewrecker  Alicia Keys is also present with “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart”. This week, Rhihanna’s “Rude Boy” remains comfortably in the top 5. As annoying as her voice can be, especially on rap radio, “Rude Boy” is so much of a pop hit it almost sounds way better on the other side. I hope  I’m not falling for that “white man’s ice is colder” syndrome. There’s also this other Black kid I never heard of, Iyaz, who’s smashing with this “Replay” song.

The biggest surprise to me though, is how strong Ludacris’ presence on Top 40 is. Before last week, I thought Luda was most definitely on his way out, Wrong. Ludacris is heavy in the mix, not only on his own “How Low”, but also on how he’s featured on Justin Bieber’s “Baby” and the smoker of a single “Break Your Heart” by new kid on the block Taio Cruz. Seems like Ludacris smartened up, opened his market up, in the same way Flo Rida and Pit Bull did. Who needs to keep it real when they can keep the money coming in?

My observations with all of this:

1. No matter how much of a pop format it is, most of the music has mos definitely been influenced by Hip Hop. I don’t ever recall hearing pop songs banging so hard in the beats department. Hip Hop ain’t dead, it just spread itself into become a major fabric of what I now call “New American” culture.

2. The smartest rap acts have made the switch without selling out. For the most part. Young Money, Hov, Luda, they found the formula that keeps them playing in both formats. I can’t ever be mad at someone getting money. God bless them.

3. Ludacris never fell off.

4. As a member of the “Urban” Internets, I know a whole lot about rap, so much so that I was kind of arrogant to cats not yet up on the information age. I realized last week that most of us, as much as we’re changing daily how information travels, don’t know shit about shit that bangs beyond the four walls of our laptops.

Last week I happened to be in the Duck Down Records office in Manhattan. I started talking to one of the execs at the label when we started discussing Sean Price. Without a doubt, Price is on a lotta people’s top rap list these days. Anyways, I started suggesting to Duck Down that Price might wanna do a pop record, like with an act like Derulo or Beiber. It’s not like Price would be selling out, on how dope he’s stayed over the years, how long he’s been in the game. There’s not a lotta rap acts that could do some shit like that without looking faker than a $7 dollar bill, but I think Kimbo Price might could pull it off. Funny thing is how that Duck Down exec got it. The problem, he said, was convincing a hard core act like Price to take that chance. It would all come down to the song, and how naturally Price would fit in. I’m betting though, that I Price did a smoker of a pop tune, it’d take him out the urban ghetto he’s currently stuck in. I don’t think Urban Radio will ever give my dude the love he deserves.

The last thing I learned is how us arrogant Internets cats NEVER buying music ends up financially killing our favorite artists for how free their music is. On the other hand, Pop music fans like my sons still BUY music. One of my sons got a $10 itunes gift card. The first thing he brought was Ke$ha’s album. You do the math.

Don’t take my word, but I strongly advise that you too take a break from rap radio, immerse yourself in pop. For like a week. I guarantee you, next week this time, you’ll be agreeing with me about how Pop Radio > Urban “Rap” Radio.

My two faves; Justin Derulo’s “In My Head” and Taio Cruz’s “Break Your Heart” Featuring Ludacris

  • http://twitter.com/PaulCantor PaulCantor

    This is one of the best things you've written, and I'm glad someone took notice of what's going on (except for me).

    As far back as 2005 I'd been in people's ears within the hip-hop industry, singing the praises of acts like Natasha Bedingfield (go ahead and tell me this is not a rap beat with singing on it- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dszlw_kzNbc) and the like. I distinctly remember sitting in Violator, playing it for my dude there, telling him that's where music was going, and him looking at me like I was nuts.

    The industry follows the dollar, basically. It also follows trends. For a time, many years in fact, rap was on top. But rappers got sloppy, started getting in trouble, blowing money that labels were spending on them. It became too high stakes. So the labels, producers, decision makers behind the scenes said, hey u know what people really like the sound of rap, they just don't like rappers themselves. These guys are arrogant assholes and think the world revolves around them. We underwrite their projects then they give it away for free on mixtapes. How does that make any sense? Let's just take the sound of hip-hop, the drums, the swing, and let's add more melody to it.

    And so Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake kicked it off. They became practically pop acts doing rap-style shit. They were universally accepted. Urban people love Justin Timberlake. This was 2006. Since then you've seen rap practically phased out at major labels. Akon is arguably a rapper. He doesn't rap though. He just retains elements of hip-hop, but makes pop records. Fergie, while she does sing, also raps, in case you haven't noticed. Nelly did a song with her. That could have easily been Lil Kim. But why put Lil Kim on it. She thinks she's special. Fergie can do what Kim does and do it in a way that pop people like. Pop people matter. Pop people buy records.

    Urban radio is a fucking wasteland. Respect to all the DJs and people I know that work at urban radio, but even they know the shit is a fucking joke at this point. Urban is so out of touch with what's going on right now in contemporary culture. Trust me Reggie, your kids aren't the only ones who know pop tunes because they go to private school. All these kids now are doing other shit. They're singing that stuff right along with their New Boyz “Tight Jeans” jerkin stuff. That's not to say that Drake or Trey Songs aren't popular, but when urban radio went mixshow years ago, shit just became a glorified mixtape on air all day long. The average person doesn't pay enough attention to rap to know who the hell all these people are on the radio. Then a few years ago, they did away with mixshow formats and went back to largely playlist selections. But already lost the audience. So it's just a fucking wrap.

    We're already 4-5 years on this trend. Sure, there are revivalists out there, people who are still into hip-hop heavy. And i'm gonna be a head till the day I die, for sure. But there's a ton of great pop music out there. This shit has great melodies, solid production, the songwriting is catchy and strong. It just sounds good. In hip-hop i been hearing the same 808 drum kit and pattern for the past 8 years. Think about it.

    I'm glad you made the switch.

  • fosterakahunter

    Dude, I don't listen to radio at all. I still keep the classics playing in the crib, and when I do get “rapped out”, I go listen to Beach House or Charlotte Gainsbourg or some old soul dusties. Or Electric Wizard. But, never radio pop; I can't lose myself like that.

  • http://www.ihiphop.com/ iHipHop

    Charlotte is dope. You must listen to Air and Phoenix as well huh?

  • filmcave

    I'm more of a rap head but I've been a pop tart (no Jeffery Atkins) my whole life as well. This is an interesting perspective CJ, because pop radio is pretty shitty itself. I notice you were able to mention around ten songs; the rest of the playlist can't be much more than that. All terrestrial radio is so shackled by this maddening repetition. As someone who's fucked with both (not radio because it's terrible, but genres) for the longest, you just have new girl syndrome in the form of music. This will die down. She'll start looking mad regular in a few months when they are still playing Break Your Heart in fucking August.

    How do I know that? Jason Derulo's “Watcha Say” is a great song (as is the song it samples, Imogen Heap's “Hide and Seek”). It's also a year plus old and still being drilled into people's heads. That “Replay” track by Iyaz? Considerably less great (I'd say it's so-so in fact) but similar in age. I cannot fucking believe that's still played. It's disgusting how radio perverts good pop into stultifying earworms.

    Ke$ha is perhaps the least worthy pop sensation I've ever heard. No hyperbole. Her album is unlistenable. It's worse than Wayne's Rebirth. I've followed you on twitter for a while and I've come to respect you as a man and as a father. Let me be real clear Funk Flex style, listen to that album. It's brain damage to your seed. Ke$ha is Gaga minus everything that makes Gaga good. She won't be here much longer.

    Taio Cruz has another banger that I'm not sure is on the radio yet (because, you know, I don't listen to the radio). It's great, “No Other One” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-Ze9IldfvU.

    Here's Ke$ha at her autism inducing worst, “Dinosaur” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WmaUU4gnF4. If you aren't adequately turned off, try the album out. Insipid stuff.

    If you're on pop like this now, you under appreciation for Cudi's album makes little sense. That's a fantastic pop album. If nothing else, you have got to give it up for “Pursuit of Happiness”.

    Look forward to the feedback.

  • http://www.ihiphop.com/ iHipHop

    Please watch the Sam Adams video in our Featured Video section and share your thoughts.

  • filmcave

    Wasn't aware of Mr Adams. Perfect name for a Masshole. Too bad Massholes would think hes fuckin qweah. Reminds me of LFO with a heavier lean towards rap or Marky Mark leaning way pop. His flow isn't terrible but he should fire his A&R. Embrace the Masshole and lose the sweetness. All things considered, it's wack but unfortunately so. Seems he has a modicum of talent and is being marketed poorly.

  • http://www.ihiphop.com/ iHipHop

    #3 on itunes right now. Been top 5 for about a month

  • filmcave

    1. Holy Shit
    2. What do you think?

  • Sean Price 4Real

    whos Justin Beiber???
    im serious