by DeCarlos Garrison, CEO of Bandbasher
The past and the future are often mirrors of one another. From the way I see it, the future of hip hop needs to better reflect its past, while embracing its recent upswing in market power. I’m looking at this as a manager, as someone who worked closely with hip hop artists and hit-makers.
I see the future in artists finding a slower (but harder) way to build a career, one built on their voice and vision, not on trends and gimmicks.
First, let’s look at the past and what it teaches us. Back in the day, and into the music’s second decade or so, you had whole range of distinct voices, with their own messages and sound. Some were goofy (Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Kid and Play), some tough (Ice Cube, NWA, Snoop), some game changers (Erik B and Rakim, Jay-Z, Tupac), some political (Naz, Common), but there were all different from one another.
You could tell them apart from the first beat or the first syllable. These artists turned an obscure party genre into a worldwide phenomenon. They built a whole new musical world and revealed everything hip hop can do.
Now, the market for hip hop is bigger. The mainstream music business has taken notice, and there’s more money to be made–and made faster. Social media platforms work like gasoline on the fire, accelerating the potential rise from nobody to star. But these platforms want one thing and one thing only: Content, and more of it, and now.
This leads to one of the real issues in hip hop today. Churning out tracks and putting basically anything out there, artists aren’t taking the time to find their voices. They are copying the sound that’s hot that month (or that week or that hour).
That’s why you remember way more styles lately than you do artists: The artists all sound the same. They’re chasing celebrity, not excellence. They want that meteoric rise and aren’t really thinking about the future.
This is a generalization, of course, and there are unique artist voices out there right now like Kendrick Lamar and Joyner Lucas, who I expect will take the industry by storm. But the overall trend needs to change.
Artists and their teams need to shift focus to ensure a creative, innovative future for hip hop. We need voices with something to say, producers who create sounds regardless of how fashionable they are.
Of course, we also need listeners and fans who are willing to take risks, expand their ears, and invest in artists that make the kind of music they love. We need ways to connect artists and fans so that both can benefit.
We need to think long term, not viral. We need to love the music, not the artist’s brand or look on socials or the sound du jour. Artists and managers need to educate themselves so that they can have this long career trajectory, instead of a steep growth curve for a track everyone forgets the next day. That’s the future of hip hop, and we can build it.