We've all seen the TV commercial: An average-looking, mid-forties husband/dad-looking guy complains about not having enough energy to hang out with friends, or enough passion for the one he loves. The announcer suggests the symptoms might be associated with a treatable condition known as Low T (as in testosterone).
Rumor has it that there's a similar condition known as Low H — as in “Hip Hop.”
And sadly, I — a lifelong Hip Hop fanatic — think I might have it.
I started showing signs of this disorder over a year ago when I noticed that very little of the new music I was listening to consisted of Hip Hop. With the exception of a few free mixtape downloads, the overwhelming majority of new music I acquired consisted of Neo Soul, Soulful Jazz, Deep House and Afro-Beat. Strangely, searching for and purchasing newer Hip Hop simply never occurred to me.
I’ve also missed more than a few live shows. Notwithstanding Public Enemy or The Roots, there aren’t many Hip Hop groups I’d rearrange my schedule to see these days.
And, just recently, I ran into a fellow Hip Hop fan over lunch who asked me who I’d been listening to lately. I was absolutely stumped and could not produce a single name within the realm of Hip Hop.
The symptoms don't end there. Consider these five simple questions: Do you have the unrealistic expectation that rappers who release commercially available recordings should at least be able to, well, rap? Have you begun noticing that some songs contain samples of songs that originally contained samples of other songs? Are you puzzled by the blogosphere’s infatuation over the Los Angeles-based Hip Hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (alternatively known as simply Odd Future), comprised of very young, substance-abusing, skateboarding rappers whose videos feature lots of puking and self-mutilation? (These guys make Kool Keith seem relatively normal.) When attending family gatherings and the subject of Rap music comes up, are you unfamiliar with at least half of the new artists your younger relatives mention? Are you completely unaware of where your local Hip Hop and R&B station resides on the FM dial?
If you answered yes to at least three of these five questions, you might be suffering from Low H.
The good news is that Low H might be a treatable condition.
One reason for the prevalence of Low H within the 35-and-over demographic is that the Rap industry has evolved (using the word “evolved” loosely here) in ways that few of us old-schoolers could have imagined.
Today, partly as a result of accessible and affordable production equipment, MP3 technology, social-media channels and YouTube, literally anyone can produce a song, video or mixtape and gain immediate worldwide exposure.
As a result, the lost art of developing talent and building careers has been crowd-sourced to the internet — not necessarily a bad thing as long as good music is the outcome. Not surprisingly, for every promising MC with positive, thought-provoking lyrics to offer, there are hundreds of kids trying to build an empire based on whatever the next national dance craze might be.
You might call this the Soulja Boy Effect.
Now, newer artists who wish to gain a similar degree of exposure and acceptance mimic what has worked for the previous artists. This unfortunate cycle leaves most up-and-coming rappers completely afraid (or unable) to innovate and take their music to new heights. (This scenario probably explains the success of Waka Flocka Flame.)
Additionally, I predicted years ago that Rap would eventually be absorbed by the expansive, diluted genre known simply as Pop music. The downward spiral began with a few awkward collaborations intended to broaden the appeal for one or both artists (Nelly and Tim McGraw?). Now, all forms of popular music have so much crossover appeal that the term crossover has little significance.
Case in point: I recently purchased Lupe Fiasco’s latest album, LASERS. I was immediately put off by how Pop-friendly the album sounded, as if Lupe’s label purchased throwaway tracks from Nickelodeon’s teen-band Big Time Rush and had him rhyme over the tracks a few days before the release date. The album was such a disappointment — particularly when compared to his previous two releases — that I now look at other artists’ upcoming releases with a healthy dose of skepticism.
And, finally, there’s this thing called Autotune…
Now, I also understand just enough about marketing and economics to know that a married father in his forties is far from Hip Hop’s central purchasing demographic. I don’t hold out much hope that labels will produce a Public Enemy for the Twitter generation.
I don’t know if Hip Hop will ever see another Golden Age, nor am I holding my breath for a Renaissance movement within the industry. The usual suspects leading today’s “real Hip Hop” movement have an uphill battle. Turn on your local commercial urban radio station and you’ll hear what I mean.
Suffering from Low H isn’t all bad. I’m discovering music I’ve long failed to pay much attention to (I’ve been on a serious Raphael Saadiq and Jimi Hendrix kick lately). As far as Hip Hop is concerned, I’ll always have a box of old mix cassettes, a vintage boombox and my memories.
Sure, I’ll keep an ear to the street for a new release from the next great emcee (Jay Electronica, where ya at?), but if it doesn’t happen, I sure won’t lose any sleep.