x CB » A Labyrinth, A Maze (4): Cipher Complete

A Labyrinth, A Maze (4): Cipher Complete

Perhaps you haven’t gotten the memo, RAP FANS, but gangster rap is dead. This, the greatest interview with hip hop’s leading thinker explains:

PyroRadio.com: So is the writing on the wall for Gangsta rap in your opinion?

Asher Roth: I think it’s about that time. It will be around, but if you look at The Game for example who was the last person to really come out talking that kinda stuff. Was he successful? Yes, but were people relating to it? No. You go to Los Angeles and Mexico that stuff gangs and stuff still exist but is that what we should be glorifying, no. People can disagree with me because there is a struggle in this country but rather than glorify gangs and make kids wanna join gangs I think we should concentrate on building and teaching rather than destroying shit.

“Gangs and stuff” are out. Modern mainstream rap will soon be a cornucopia of white boys who don’t identify with the culture, middle class skateboarders in three hundred dollar sneakers and dudes who would rather get on a vlog than a stage. [1] But why has the industry chosen this moment to embrace a new rap image? Since we’ve firmly established that no human being that isn’t attached to a computer monitor knows or cares about Charles Hamilton[2], we can definitely skip the chicken and egg deliberations. Nobody is playing catch up here. The labels have abandoned the traditional model of finding the underground hits and breaking them, the model that has produced almost every significant rap act of the past twenty years. They are suddenly so arrogant to think they can create hip hop stars in a petri dish. But why this moment? After a decade or so of selling “black death” why are we suddenly seeing a unified major label push towards what my racist uncle [3] would call “approachable black men” and other inoffensive neutrals like Asher at the expense of genuinely popular street rappers?[4] Sure Kanye set something of a precedent (so did Obama, I guess? [5]) but it seems bigger than that.

A theory: in the era of the 360 Deal labels now have a vested interest in the success of an artist well beyond soundscan and BDS. Popularized in recent years, 360 deals sign artists to all inclusive contracts that give the label a cut of all their incoming finances – tour money, merchandise, ad deals, etc. I’m pretty sure they’ll still be taking a cut when the artist is working at the Checkers drive thru ten years from now. [6] (Bol has produced some great speculative journalism of his own on the subject of 360 Deals, with regards to The Knux in particular) Now I’m not privy as to whether or not the BOBs and Wales and Chamiltons are signed to these sorts of deals, hence the speculation. But the labels seem to be moving towards signing more mainstream marketable whole packages, artists who can seem just cool enough to a hip advertising firm but not fuck it (or a tour) up by getting caught with guns or beating a promoter with a pool cue. Gangster rappers are liabilities in this landscape.

It’s a lot easier to convince that ad team or film musical director that a record is cool than it is to convince a nation of fickle fifteen year olds to buy it. To those interlopers concrete blog hits are more tangible than street hits (the barber shop can’t translate to a powerpoint presentation the way click thrus can) and a presentable, playful Charles Hamilton type who raps about girls and video games is more resonant with the 20 something college graduates that inhabits these firms. The Knux album was a commercial flop, but that probably doesn’t matter because their entire promotional budget amounted to little more than the metrocard for the intern who writes emails to eskay. Their label is working under the assumption that their unique brand of crappy Chemical Brothers inspired electronica rap gets licensed for the soundtrack to Charlie’s Angels 4 or a Pert Plus commercial or that their oh so hip look lands them a performance spot at a frat party in a Dane Cook direct to DVD production .It’s likely The Cool Kids made more money off their Rhapsody ad campaign than, say, Pete & CL made from an entire catalog of classics.

At the same time the majors have their bets hedged on street/gangsta/ignorant rap thanks to indie distribution subsidiaries like Asylum. There, if an OJ The Juiceman or Z-Ro overcomes the odds and produces a significant hit without major label marketing they can be up-streamed to parent label Warner, who makes some free money after all. Or consider Atlantic, who will surely be reaping the benefits of Gucci’s post prison buzz even after they dropped the ball with Back To The Trap House last year, probably because some higher up feared the very loose canon pool cue social devience that sparked that buzz.

[1] The impoverished still have no voice in a post-racial utopia. That’s why it’s called post race, not post class.
[2] Except maybe his cousin, MC Lyte. Remember when we talked about nepotism last time?
[3] All us crackers have one. Sorry.
[4] This is an entirely image driven distinction and has very little to do with music. Gorilla Zoe is teetering on the edge of post-rap but still wears baggy clothes and doesn’t know how to use a computer so he’s not a priority at his label. The new model doesn’t need good music.
[5] One commenter at an unfortunately unlinkable overseas record collector site I frequent even went so far as to suggest that acts like Lupe and Kanye were planted preemptively, possibly by lizard people, in a global conspiracy to better prep young voters for a liberal black and skinny Chicagoan presidential candidate.
[6] “Maybe you remember me from the cover of XXL? No? Well would you like curly fries with that?”

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53 Responses to “A Labyrinth, A Maze (4): Cipher Complete”

  1. brandonsoderberg Says:

    Your being weary of Obama for really dumb reasons and a tone that does the opposite of your racist uncle but is just as wrong aside, these posts are on-point as usual. What’s especially fun about all this is how this reach towards “positivity” or “relate-ability” or whatever has bypassed even so-called “conscious” rappers or even loosely political rappers because of course, it isn’t about that, but what’s safe and sellable and say, Phonte from Little Brother is still kind of a dick and will talk some shit when he shouldn’t even though in Durham, he’s something of “loved by white people of all ages” entity that could easily translate into big sales if the concern is against “gangsta rap” (which hasn’t existed since like 1995 really).

    I’ve recently been involved in an endeavor connected to my home city and have meet one or two rappers signed to a major label (recently too, not languishing…yet) who basically treat the signage as an aside and still push mixtapes and don’t even worry about blog hype and are uh, fairly paid as a result. They don’t even expect or give a shit about MTV (or Nahright or XXL).

    Also, send Jewboy Roth to the Middle East, he obviously can solve all world problems sent his way.

  2. noz Says:

    “Your being weary of Obama for really dumb reasons and a tone that does the opposite of your racist uncle but is just as wrong aside”


    I’m not necessarily weary of him as a leader, just as a hip hop trendsetter. A certain non music online publication recently asked me to write an article about how Obama was affecting fashion amongst hip hop heads in DC. My short answer reply: “he isn’t”.

    “gangsta rap” (which hasn’t existed since like 1995 really). ”

    I mean I’m obviously using it as a shorthand the same way you are conscious, but yeah, for the purpose of this conversation Jeezy/Gucci/TI all make gangsta rap.

  3. geo Says:

    Your description of The Kunx used too many words to not signify it’s too “original” to be easily categorized. Now I didn’t say originality was a quality criteria. But I do like their album, since it accomplishes what it tries to accomplish.

  4. brandonsoderberg Says:

    Also, dead-on: “[1] The impoverished still have no voice in a post-racial utopia. That’s why it’s called post race, not post class.”

    Dunno, maybe I woke up a sensitive liberal today? I feel like you sort of end up equating blackness/realness with a sort of typically “black” expectation. Whatevs, should’ve cut that out.

    Yeah, my gangsta rap comment was to Asher. Meaning this sense that he’s “finally killed” gangsta rap is ridiculous.

  5. noz Says:

    Yeah. I generally prefer rappers who aren’t soft babies. This has nothing to do with black expectations and everything to do with human expectations.

  6. Jay Says:

    Well put, Noz. Good article.

    “Yeah. I generally prefer rappers who aren’t soft babies. This has nothing to do with black expectations and everything to do with human expectations.”

  7. Abu Dabi Says:

    Hey you know what i’m starting an “organic grassroots populist movement”. If you want to save Hip Hop, BUY 3 copies of Rick Ross Deeper than Rap next tuesday.

    The Organic grassroots populist movement has been brought to you courtesy of the good folks at Def Jam/ Universal/ a bunch of TI’s who’s names you will never know.

  8. chronwell Says:

    Hmmm…. All that new wave blogcentric, streetwear, vintage kicks sh*t is nauseating, thats what I know.
    “approachable black men”

  9. RichardBeck Says:

    Second BrandonSoderberg on the first footnote. It’s not just that race is something that’s easier to talk about than class. It gets used as an excuse to not talk about class. StuffWhitePeopleLike doesn’t identify a race––if it were honest it would include CoolWhip and NASCAR––it identifies a multi-racial class. My college-attending Asian friends all like expensive sandwiches too.

  10. padraig Says:

    third on the footnote about class. too f**king right. I reckon class has always been more central to most hip hop than race – of course in this country we generally obsess over the latter endlessly & go to great lengths to try to pretend the former doesn’t exist.

    “StuffWhitePeopleLike doesn’t identify a race”

    actually I recently saw a response to Hua Hsu’s “End of White America?” piece in Atlantic – the guy writing the response was an Indian college student & he made the point that those kinds of mannerisms (I believe the example he used was Arrested Development DVDs) are a code that middle-class people of color have to pick up on to get ahead in white society. so while StuffWhitePeople probably identifies a class more than a race it also identifies a kind of baseline set of white cultural signifiers – as in there is no specific “white culture” b/c white culture is the norm kind of thing. uh, I just badly paraphrased his point tho & I’m afraid I may have bollocksed it all up. but, nonetheless.


  11. padraig Says:

    which I guess somehow also tangentially relates to Asher Roth. or something.

  12. walkmasterflex Says:

    this is some insightful-ass blogging. props, noz. thanks for making that delineation between race and class- it’s an important distinction to make, one that mainstream media i feel hasn’t caught up with. people still like to describe rap, art, music in general, and politics in terms of strictly racial means, which i think reinforces this perception of a racial divide and racial stereotypes that have been long proven untrue, but get constantly brought up as being implied as true by the media. when it comes to being newsworthy, its still easier to reference things in terms of something “easy” like race as opposed to something more complex to understand like class. for something like a blog like “stuff white people like”, there’s absolutely nothing untrue or controversial about what they say, except that they describe it in terms of race, not class. simply because of that, they get press and popularity. i feel like asher roth does the same thing: he’s making more buzz by being a white rapper (in the same way eminem felt “safe” for non-rap listeners to like) than for being from the suburbs. however, in defense of ashro, i feel like it’s the marketing buzz surrounding him that’s generating this more than the man himself.

    also, i withdraw my suggestion for z-ro’s presidential nickname, and instead think asher roth should pick it up:
    ROTHerford b. hayes

  13. flycliches Says:

    “‘gangsta rap’ (which hasn’t existed since like 1995 really)”

    this is one of the main things that bugs me out about roth–he seems like he’s taking his cues on rap music from fox news or al sharpton. why be a rapper if you don’t like rap music?

  14. Straight Gangsterism Says:


    I will be back for more detailed comments later because I’m exhausted. I will say, that you have excellently articulated a lot of the thoughts that I have had over the past few months.

    I’ve used Asher Roth’s “I Love College” video in a couple of my classes recently and the other heard an academic paper on “nerd rap.” These events plus other stuff I’ve seen in hip hop have made me realize that the era of the scary black man is over. The rebelliousness, rage, nihilism, anger, despair, and attitude that got me into hip hop is gone. I’m constantly under attack because of my hip hop tastes and the artists and ideas I “promote” or “glorify.” People can’t understand how I am a PhD student and my favorite rapper is Z-Ro as if I am too educated to listen to him and the like.

    I dunno man. Obama is great, but America is still America. It’s still a hegemonic order. You have the dominant and the subordinate. Hip hop was once on vehicle through which the subordinate could voice their dissent. But I guess since people feel that America has is in some absolute egalitarian mode, hip hop doesn’t need to be used in that way anymore. So now, Kanye West is the voice of resistance. Now, the Cook Kids is what hip hop “should” be. I guess gangsta rappers have went the way of Stepin Fetchit, Stagolee, Leadbelly, Dolemite, Tommy Gibbs and other types that Black America (America) feels are unnecessary, counterproductive, and worthy of burial. I dunno man, I dunno.

    Anyways, its 3am and I’m rambling. I just want to thank you for this post. Just another reason why you’re my favorite blogger.



  15. nibu Says:

    me and a homeboy just had a convo on how asher roths “as i em” track doesnt give him a pass…he still sounds like a biter. anyways i can take a list of “gangsta rappers” other than the Game that have come out with stuff that people still pay attention to…im glad your one of the few sites that doesnt copy-and-paste the same shit i read on ten other blogs.

    i dont really care about charles hamiltons stealing a beat, the latest mash up/electro/hiphop mixtape, or wiz khalifa on any track, let alone a mixtape.

  16. MAYNHOLUP! Says:

    dis sum real shit mayn u alreddy kno dat mayn! likin de Z-Ro mentons here too mayn! Did de boi really git MTV Jam uv de week? wut if he blows mayn!

  17. barns Says:

    “Did de boi really git MTV Jam uv de week?”

    wait wait wait what?!

  18. Tray Says:

    I’m going to defend Asher Roth here. Yeah, his comments are stupid. But gangsta rap, if you broadly define it as rap about criminal activity, had been getting pretty old for years. By, I don’t know, 2006, 80% of it fell under the very specific subgenre of crack rap. 90% of crack rap was totally uninspired junk, lyrically, musically, whatever. No attention to process or narrative or the sociology of that way of life, it was all just “I sell tons of crack.” Jeezy, The Clipse, Gucci Mane all have or had their moments but they’re far from what their biggest fans think they are. Then there were some people, like 50 or T.I. or Game (who Asher is on-point in calling out, paradigm example of what happened to “gangsta rap”), who were more in the boilerplate “I do lots of vaguely illegal stuff” category. And then there were still a few people like Project Pat or Beans or Styles who rapped interestingly about robbing people or whatever, or a Cam who, for a while, brought crazy stylistic brio to whatever he was talking about. Scarface continued to make some nice records. Z-Ro is Z-Ro. But for the most part, an incredibly stale genre, and especially when you look at the people on the front lines who sold any amount of records or got played on the radio. Yeah, I know I haven’t done my homework and that you can name a hundred obscure rappers who were still breathing life into the old formulas, but it is a problem when virtually nobody that more than 0.01% of the world has heard of is doing the thing right. Now, look – if someone comes around and does something new and interesting with gangsta rap, I’d certainly be behind them, but they’re few and far between right now, so I have no problem admitting that, pending some kind of miracle recovery, the genre’s dying out. (Not to suggest whatsoever that I’m hyped about the alternatives.) These things happen, you know – at some point the Western, which back in the 40s and 50s was probably the most interesting and uniquely American film genre we had, became totally played-out and formulaic, and eventually more or less died off altogether.

  19. Emynd Says:

    Also, the old model of signing rappers with underground hits isn’t lucrative enough for the record industry. These rappers have more leverage when negotiating a deal on some “look Universal, I’ve got 500,000 youtube hits and make $15,000 a show as is… What exactly can you offer me?” From the major label perspective, it’s probably a better investment to attempt to manufacture a couple hits from artists with “potential” than it is to attempt to make some dough off rappers that already have a significant buzz and probably don’t even need label help. Let’s not forget that the music industry is in fact an “industry” so I fully expect to be bombarded with attempts at manufactured hits and artists over the next couple years while independent labels and artists run this rap shit.


  20. homey Says:

    yo, at everybody: really good discussion goin’ on. straight g’ism, tray – nice posts! thank you.

  21. no Says:

    I hope some ‘Gangsta rappers’ f*ck Asher Roth up!

    Ha! Nah, I don’t wish him physical harm but dude needs to get embarrassed, he’s a newborn getting all arrogant trying to tell people what time it is, that certain genres of hip hop are dead when he just discovered rap with Jay-Z’s ‘Hard Knock Life’. Sorry broseph, you have no credibility.

  22. padraig Says:


    the Western is a terrible example of what you’re trying to say – I don’t really want to get too deeply into it but yes while the trad Western in the John Wayne/John Ford style (tho even they made The Searchers) died off it was almost immediately replaced other/re-interpretations of the Western both foreign (Leone) & American w/that whole revisionist thing & onward to Unforgiven, Jarmusch’s Dead Man, etc etc.

    the reason I bring that up is cos nothing similar has happened for gangsta rap for a variety of reasons, some of which might be; lack of distance from the subject matter which allows filmmakers to screw around a lot of more with subject matter/themes/etc in Westerns. the general hand-to-mouthedness of most struggling rappers – they’re constricted by the need to make music that their fanbase will accept. also – & this is purely speculation but I think it rings true – I think the overwhelming mainstream popularity of gangsta rap for a relatively brief period may have been a one-time kind of aberration precisely b/c it was unlike anything that had come before. once the initial shock wore off it was never going to recapture that kind of momentum (& not to be too depressing but this could also perhaps be applied to rap in general).

  23. ekb Says:

    Easily the most articulate and well discussed post I have read in years …a lot of good points …I don’t agree with em all but its nice to hear the discussion …I am probably the only dude on earth who has never heard a song by charles hamilton , wale, or The knux . I only know they exist because of the net . For some reason I don’t think I’m missing anything . I would like to know however who the fuck told roth he could decide any genres fate. God bless his dumb ass

  24. gillesenteuse Says:

    First off, I know “easy” is in quotes but:

    “when it comes to being newsworthy, its still easier to reference things in terms of something “easy” like race as opposed to something more complex to understand like class.”

    Class is not more complex than race, though race was created by capitalism. It’s not entirely defined by it, especially after 3 centuries of its existence as a concept, but connecting the two is the best starting point. There are a lot of books about this, and I know they’re “conscious” rappers and that’s a bad word round these parts but rappers like Dead Prez etc. explicitly make this connection. I don’t think that this is just being academic about the situation…

    I think separating class from race has been a big problem in this discussion .And no conversation involving “stuffwhitepeoplelike,” no matter how well intentioned, almost always leaves everyone stupider.

    And having read noz’s writing, I know he’s deeper than this, but you have to understand that when most people say

    “I generally prefer rappers who aren’t soft babies. This has nothing to do with black expectations and everything to do with human expectations.”

    it has everything to do with “black expectations” and it’s counterproductive to assume otherwise because this is every racist’s excuse.

    And we need to realize that the 360 and blog rapper signing is BOTH very important AND also just the latest innovation in the industry’s attempt to create or mold the music to make it more profitable for them. It’s been a long time since the industry felt powerless in the face of hip-hop as a music or movement.

  25. Ammbush Says:

    I don’t believe in the label “Gangsta Rap” period! To me that was a slick label to attached to artists speaking from a place record industry heads didn’t understand. Hip Hop can change the landscape of society, but that starts from the bottom up. You can’t change the area’s that need it the most from a Asher/Hamilton/Wale/Cool Kids point of view. Groups like P.E. would be considered gangsta rap if they came out today. Right now main stream Hip Hop is missing any aggression, which is needed ALWAYS. It’s nothing wrong with teddy bears/purple sweaters/smiling really hard etc.. but we need to keep some grit. Hip Hop started in the gutter and represented the people from the gutter, we still need to represent that too.

  26. brian beck from wisconsin Says:

    if god does exist can he please spare us from suffering any more of Tray’s embarrassing westerns/gang$ta rap analogies?

  27. air max Says:

    one thing ive learned over the past decade is that the internet, as much as it wants to be, will never be the REAL springing point for “gangsta rap” arists. Sure it has done a lot in terms of artists who have some local or street buzz, it can popularize them quickly and widely, which is great. but one of the best things about good “gangsta rap” is that real, non-internet-addicted people have to spread it around first before us computer jockeys latch on to it. for example, 8 years ago i found the rawkus records message board after hearing black star on tv. from there i started finding as much as i could about mos, talib, etc almost exclusively via the internet because i was a computer savvy nerd. at the same time kids at school were passing around bootlegs of pastor troy, dirty, camouflage, shit like that. those artists were never mentioned on the bigger rap message boards until much much later. But look where they are (besides camo, rip) now compared to those one time internet and hipster magazine-beloved artists like talib. talib is now considered kind of a sad example of a talent well running dry, and abandonment by the fickle mistress of media love. whereas ptroy (or zro) for example is still making solid music and is respected (personally and artistically) by fans all over the south.
    i guess my real point is that, as internet dudes and fans who use the net to tap into new shit, we should keep in mind that this is far from the only or even the best medium of finding out about “gangsta rap”, and we shouldnt be too upset at the fact that labels are now trying to pimp out their “soft” artists in blog format. artists who establish themselves with real-world hype and credibility will last longer even though they may not be in your inbox every day.
    also props to everyone in this thread so far, everyone has been surprisingly articulate

  28. DocZeus Says:

    The mental gymnastics going on in this post and comment thread to try and explain the decline in popularity of an artistically bankrupt genre is quite inspirational. The self delusion is palpable. I respect that.

    When gangsta rap can come up with some new ideas perhaps the music labels will take notice again but until every New York street rapper stops sounding like fifth rate Big L clones and every Southern rapper stops sounding like devolutionary Young Jeezy retreads (or unapologetic Scarface/UGK/Tupac biters. I mean isn’t that what Z-Ro is Tupac by way of Bun B), the music labels are going to continue to look at hipster rappers.

    Gangsta rap just needs to step it’s game up and stop giving us The Game.

  29. noz Says:

    Gucci Mane is more creative than Big L ever was, The Game is barely a gangsta rapper and you haven’t listened to enough Z-Ro.

  30. ANU Says:

    “The mental gymnastics going on in this post and comment thread to try and explain the decline in popularity of an artistically bankrupt genre is quite inspirational. The self delusion is palpable. I respect that.”

    top selling rappers in 2008 :

    lil wayne
    young jeezy
    rick ross
    the game

    I think “gangsta rap” is still doing prety well

  31. kidbristol Says:

    The most interesting stuff in Noz’s post is about the way that second and third parties find, promote, and profit from rap music and the influence that has on hip-hop culture. But Noz knows WAY more about that than I do, so I’ll superficially ask that we leave Wale off any lists that include the “I Love College” guy. I’ve heard that Wale isn’t as well connected to his region as, say, X.O., but when you put him in the same category as people who can’t rap, you’re contributing to a troubling generalization that anyone who uses the internet to build a reputation has nothing important to say and no skill with which to say it – unless that’s what you think of Wale, and I don’t think it is.

  32. D.O. Says:

    Exactly, Anu, exactly.

    If blogs represented real record sales, Animal Collective would be number one on the billboard charts.

    But who knows, maybe they will be someday. If that happens maybe I’ll finally join the ranks of music fans asking what happened to the good old days. At this point it just seems a bit premature to me.

  33. D.O. Says:

    Also, I generally try not to hate, but it’s nice to hear someone say something bad about Big L for once.

  34. kidbristol Says:

    Okay, a couple of questions, though:

    “The labels have abandoned the traditional model of finding the underground hits and breaking them, the model that has produced almost every significant rap act of the past twenty years. They are suddenly so arrogant to think they can create hip hop stars in a petri dish. But why this moment?”

    1. You know something I don’t here. Are A&R people really not scouting regional scenes looking for underground hype anymore? How do you find that kind of thing out?

    2. If it is happening, the obvious (and so probably wrong) reason why why has to be that that anyone who has built a business on profiting from musicians’ record sales has to be panicking right now. I get the sense that they’re grasping for straws – looking for any way to make money from rap.

    If it’s true that the mainstream is shifting, then I’m wondering why. Is it that people who have access to computers make up a different socio-economic demographic? Is there a distinction between people who were willing to pay $11 in ’95 for a CD and people who are willing to pay over a grand for the apparatus to download limitless free music? I don’t think so…I always heard that most rap buyers were middle-class white folks. I don’t get it.

  35. Abe Beame Says:

    I think this doomsday prophecy series is a really bad look. Q-Tip once said things go in cycles, and he said it 15 years ago at the head of a movement injecting a middle class presence into Hip Hop in a way it had never been before. I’m shocked to hear this theory that the direction Hip Hop is moving is a product of label manipulation and it’s no less repugnant than circa 2003 when the South ran shit and the grilled asparagus set was bemoaning the death of Hip Hop due to BET, labels payola pushing Young Jeezy and these darn kids refusal to acknowledge the greatness of KRS-1 and Little Brother. I think you have a very comfortable idea of what Hip Hop is, and whenever that’s challenged in uncomfortable ways such as Kanye’s use of Autotune, Cee-Lo covering the Violent Femmes or Asher Roth speaking to what you could argue constitutes as a majority of Hip Hop’s fan base you freak out and call blame it on corporate manipulation. I’m sorry but it’s lazy. You claim to rep progressiveness and experimentation but only when it’s this “organic” and I would argue nearly unconscious thing like teenagers in LA gyrating in slightly different ways or Gucci Mane going bonkers on a track. I’m not saying the instances of intentional boundary pushing and experimenting I listed above=good and jherkin=bad in any respect but a really boring aesthetic is emerging here where shallow signifiers determine whether or not you’ll rail against a song or artist and it reeks of another kind of cranky sad bastard I’d imagine you abhor.

  36. noz Says:

    Abe I don’t think Cee-Lo covering violent femmes or Kanye going autotune is at all at all indicative of what I’m discussing here. It’s not about musical choices, BOB and Wale and The Knux don’t have all that much in common musically, nor are any of them doing anything remotely progresisve from what I can hear. I’m talking subject matter and image.

    Pretty much all I look for in music is something that’s a) original(ish) and/or b) inspired/inspiring. If those are shallow signifiers than i’ll be floating on the surface of the rap lake with Gucci Mane, G-Side, Jay Electronica and Lil B.

    And this isn’t a doomsday series. It’s an inquisition.

  37. Abe Beame Says:

    I think whenever people attribute the state of music to the labels it’s an easy way to say “I don’t like where Hip Hop’s going but I don’t want to acknowledge it’s passed me by”. It’s easier to imagine some type of removed conspiracy being perpetrated by a cabal of suits imposing their will on music to make money than it is to acknowledge perhaps there’s a reason these kids are getting on. It’s capitalism pimpin. As for the Kanye/Cee-Lo remark I’m speaking more to the thematic link in the machine you rage against vs. things that are deemed acceptable experimentation and progress. I guess call it high brow/low brow? I dunno, not trying to get confrontational it just feels too easy and I think you should occasionally question some pat assumptions if we’re operating by the logic that it’s more than arbitrary thumbs up thumbs down.

  38. noz Says:

    Abe I don’t know if you are on the receiving end of the press blitz like I am, but there is a dramatic difference between the amount of promotional attention being given to Asher Roth and Charles Hamilton than Gucci Mane or Gorilla Zoe. I have been getting 3 Asher emails a day for the past six months. I literally have a stock “please don’t send me anymore emails about Asher Roth” response. I can only imagine how hard they are pushing him to the bigger sites and publications.

    And not to get too far off topic but Ye and Lo are two very different cases. Cee-Lo was not making experimental music at all, he was making the safest music of his career. . I was very supportive of Kanye’s experimentation on paper, I just think it’s a failed experiment.

  39. DocZeus Says:


    Every single of the artists you mentioned were established artists with built in fan bases and every single one of them saw a decline in their album sales except Lil’ Wayne and he made a hipster rap album masquerading as “gangsta rap” (and a decidedly average one, too.) And is anybody claiming that any of those albums represent the pinnacle of either the artist or the genre itself? What new gangsta rap act broke nationally as a huge star in the last couple of years? I’m talking significant name recognition not just hardcore hip hop fans. My point completely stands.

    Gangster rap is simply in decline. It has no ideas to offer, either, musically or lyrically and thus, it’s watching itself slowly die into oblivion. To put it in perspective, it’s basically in the same place that conscious or indie rap was in around 2005. It’s got nothing to say so people are walking away from it. What’s completely ironic about this whole post is that these artists are getting promoted the same way as the hipster rappers, too but that’s not really being acknowledged in the post. I get just as many emails about “Deeper Than Rap” as I do for Asher Roth’s latest jaunt in my mailbox. Weezy and T.I. are just as much on Nah Right as Charles Hamilton is. The music industry blog model paradigm is simply a response perhaps a belated response to the internet age and the way music is being traded so freely on the internet. The old way of music promotion not only wasn’t very cost effective but wasn’t selling any records, either. Thus, the paradigm shift in the way albums are promoted. And if anything the shift to hipster rap being a focus at major labels is perhaps a response to Kanye West’s massive popularity. Wale, The Knux, Charles Hamilton, Kid CuDi and even Asher Roth are all artistic cousins to Kanye West. And we all know how much music labels love to copy the steez of a popular artist.

  40. ANU Says:

    “paper trail” is TI’s most successful album….
    same for rick ross….

    anyway the fact is that a lot of people do really care about TI & jeezy
    hamilton & roth ? not so much. (they’re just good at being an excuse for the decline of productivity at work)

  41. deej Says:

    doczeus and tray are two of my least favorite discussion ‘contributors’ in the history of the internets.

    Basically I agree with Noz, for the most part, although I think its important to separate the ‘quality’ of the music from the discussion a little more than he is — i kinda enjoy the knux on the level of “lol they’re making a 90s electronica-rap album”. I think its hurting the argument to push the idea that organically-popular equals good in all cases when it comes to rap music (that Plies record has some joints but is it really less-good than the knux?) or that ‘petri dish rap’ is, per se, bad — i think 90% of it is pretty rough (but then a couple days on muzikfene’s RSS is a pretty hit-miss thing too) but imo the lines between ‘blogger fodder’ and ‘organic gangster’ are not crystal-clear; wiz khalifa was an ‘organically popular’ rapper, so was Lupe Fiasco. Theres some reinvention going on obv, Lupe rides skateboards & Wiz is now wearing nerd glasses, but both dudes were putting out street mixtapes in their respective cities.

    but my main problem w/ dividing stuff so cleanly into ‘ignorable bad blog shit’ & ‘organic gangsta’ is at some pt you have to actually be engaging w/ the music as an individual & offering some insight into what makes the music ‘original’ or ‘inspiring’. Otherwise its just a fetishistic analysis of a particular, difficult-to-identify fanbase. & there’s a lot of unverified assumptions going on when u say “this dude is only listened to by x,y,z,” especially when the ‘digital divide’ is rapidly vanishing

    this is directed @ noz but is not intended to in any way defend the ignorant folks who think ‘gangsta rap is dead’ or ‘creatively bankrupt’ or the ppl who still seem to think labels are trying to poison communities by pushing drug dealer raps.

  42. deej Says:

    i mean ‘that plies album has some joints but is it really better than the knux?’ — the knux’s 90s throwback shit is good, their corny rock music shit is bad, plies 4-the-ladiez songs are garbage, but he has some good street traxx / emotional shit — point is that where something is coming from isnt per se an indicator of quality u gotta look at it on a per-track basis

  43. deej Says:

    (i mean there are a lot of ‘organic gangsta rappers’ who i think are dope but probably dont have much in a way of a fanbase nationally either, they just hooked up w/ other gangsta rappers who do — no limit’s method of pushing mercedes’ record ‘organically’ isnt really any more organic, know what i mean?)

  44. deej Says:

    the truth of all this is that without sales as a meaningful barometer, labels just dont need this stuff any more. its going to be a lot more regional, a lot less national-media-profile-type music

  45. d. b. cooper Says:

    “The labels have abandoned the traditional model of finding the underground hits and breaking them, the model that has produced almost every significant rap act of the past twenty years. They are suddenly so arrogant to think they can create hip hop stars in a petri dish.”

    This really leapt out at me. Have the major labels ever really done that? I always got the feeling that they just generally fell ass backwards into successful hip hop acts by realizing that they didn’t know shit. It was when the execs started to think they actually understood the formula of a successful rap act (probably around 1997) that they turned on the road to ruin. It seems like they’ve been trying to create that petri dish rap star for at least a decade.

    So my questions are:

    Isn’t this an old phenomena? Or is my perception skewed by my cynicism?

  46. matt Says:

    Some good points, but i gotta call bullshit on the gucci/big l comparison. and gorilla zoe is not even close to good. i hate asher roth just as much as you do though. and charles hamilton. and i respect you for getting behind some critically overlooked “street”-type rappers, but no bigging up OJ Da Juiceman. Dude is very close to retarded. come on now.

  47. chronwell Says:

    Asher Roth speaking to what you could argue constitutes as a majority of Hip Hop’s fan base

    Dont know about that one. Dont forget its 45 y.o. black female suburban kindergarten teachers who jam Salt N Pepa AND Kanye in their Camry on the way home from work. Once U get out of comment sections, U will see that it’s way more ppl spendin $ on this rap sh*t than y’all! U think an OJ DJM show aint gonna be a sellout anywhere below VA?!
    This argument that “YTs are the ones keepin the lights on round here” is faulty!

  48. beas270 Says:

    “no bigging up OJ Da Juiceman. Dude is very close to retarded” .. you arrree

  49. beas270 Says:

    Oh, and what about Nipsey Hussle? Dude is g and i feel like he could really come up in a big way. He’s doper than Game for sure.

  50. DocZeus Says:

    Paper Trail outsold King?! Really? Were people really feeling that “Whatever You Like” and the Numa Numa song more than “What You Know?” I find that inexplicable. Considering both those songs are awful.

  51. Asher Roth Latepass « Kickin’ the Fly Cliches Says:

    […] in the rap world (all of which has been covered as extensively as I care to follow it here and here and a few other places too), or anything that is not on the album.  In other words, it will be […]

  52. flycliches Says:

    does anybody have a link to that davey d article from a few years ago where he deconstructs the 90/75/whatever % of rap music’s audience is white suburban teenagers myth. i don’t remember all the arguments, but until somebody can show me a study with hard numbers i’m not gonna buy that shit.
    i think it’s funny that after years of people losing their shit when street rap went commercial we’re now in a situation where street rap is starting to fall off commercially (supposedly, anyway) and people are… losing their shit. i suspect it will just go back underground and it will still be dope for those in the know, but it’s hard to say i guess.

  53. flycliches Says:

    nevermind, here it is:
    a little bit of sketchy rhetoric, but worth reading for sure.

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