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