So we got jiggy (i.e. swag) and shock rap covered on the airwaves. Funny rap is M.I.A. but it’s been discussed. What else is missing? Oh…everyman/social commentary records. Y’know, the kind of rap that makes people think and reflect on their lives.
That’s not to say no one delves into societal issues. However you have to admit there’s a dearth of entertainers who pay mind to the travails of the common person.
Hits primarily involve themselves with catchy tunes, party vibes and/or fleeting themes. That’s not really a complaint in so much as it’s a common observation of popular music. Club tracks are nothing new and they aren’t going anywhere as long as people use them as momentary escapes from their everyday problems. With that said, their predominance in radio and online spaces get monotonous for my tastes.
Take Kendrick Lamar’s “Cut You Off” as an example. More than a few people know what it’s like to deal with people that talk your ear off about nonsense or don’t help you be a better person. KD has seen a bit of shine with songs like this but much of his success is relegated to the internet. Granted, that’s where his fan base resides. But that’s the same audience that made “Look Out For Detox” and “Michael Jordan” his most popular songs. Of course he’s free to rap about whatever he wants. In spite of this it’s routine to see a rapper’s instant gratification records get more shine than those with more substance; which is also based on quality as well as their track record.
I feel at odds with music’s obsession with having fun 24/7. It’s fine in the right atmosphere or in occasional doses but the feeling is lost when you’re inundated with it. What exactly are we celebrating anyway? I mean, I’m grateful for my life and everything I have. Nevertheless, I don’t feel a need to be in a party mood for most of my day. Ergo it’s refreshing to hear music I can relate to or compel me to put myself in someone else’s shoes.
Also, this isn’t a case of black and white in so much as I’m advocating for more material that fits in between. I’d be just as annoyed if most entertainers preoccupied themselves in excessive self-deprecation.
It ain’t hard to tell why such music isn’t getting played. There are plenty of conspiracy theories floating about pertaining to why urban music is as vanity-obsessed as it’s ever been. One of my main theories suggest this occurs because audiences, for various reasons, classify such music as mundane or lecturing even when it’s not preachy. Chalk it up to conditioning, short attention spans and/or a genuine dislike. What remains is an audience who largely doesn’t intend to spend time and money to be reminded of their responsibilities or what bothers them. They seek unbridled enjoyment and, either consciously or subconsciously, see a mirror of their lives as uninteresting. Therefore, over the top presentations look more alluring.
Some of it slips through the cracks via infectious elements and/or the right placement. Aloe Blacc’s “I Need A Dollar” reached moderate success. Becoming HBO’s theme song for How To Make It In America had much to do with its appeal. Still, enough people found interest in a somber record revolving around the pains of being dead broke.
Music is said to be shaped by the times we live in. Last I checked people are still looking for jobs, schools nationwide are getting closed down and times are generally hard. Yet escapist records run the charts. That’s not surprising as such entertainment soars in times of turmoil. Yet you’d think there would be a few more popular tracks and albums that connect with common folks. Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” coexisted with Rod Stewart’s hits. “Midnight Marauders” managed to be a top ten album while Snoop Dogg and Mariah Carey ran the charts. I guess Em’s Recovery is the closest comparisons to serve as a modern alternative with big numbers. But it’s not met with the same level of acclaim as the previously mentioned albums.
Perhaps I’m searching too hard for a current, idyllic example or I’m just getting old. But the gap in developing popular everyman records can be filled. Charisma and commonality aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s just that today’s music landscape will tell you otherwise.