Hip hop has been driven by the streets since inception. Most Rappers were from notorious cities and neighborhoods such as Compton and Brooklyn and Street Credibility was a major part of a hip hop artist brand. Granite, the doors were never closed to artists that didn’t rap about “The Block” and there was always room for artists with a different type of message (ie. Tribe Called Quest), however those type of rappers were the clear minority. From N.W.A. to Jay-Z every almost rapper who was mentioned in the conversation for the coveted title of being the hottest rapper in the game was considered a “Street Rapper”. If we go down the list it goes 2 Pac, Biggie, Nas, Jay, Wayne. Not to say that list is 100% dead on but looking back at hip hop from a casual fan perspective I would have to say to torch has been passed in an order very close to that. The 90’s was a very Gangsta era in hip hop, it was a time when beef led to gunplay. When most of the people talking it were living it. Many rappers were former drug dealers who had used hip hop as a way out of the game. The Rap Game was more raw back then. Before his death, Biggie was almost killed in California by gangsters due to a comment in a magazine saying that he wasn’t feeling E-40. (E-40 Did provide security for Biggie after the incident and saw to it he made it home safely). This street element didn’t only lend itself to the music and culture but also to the business as well. The Rap Game functioned like a legal dope game. Buy your product, load up the trunk, hit the road, flip it and re-up. There was a simple formula that worked. If you had the money to finance a project and press it up and you had the grind to get out there and sell it, you could make a lot of money. The Game was driven by The Hustlers mentality, People like Master P took this system and milked it for every penny. Young black men became millionaires almost overnight. Long before Cash Money signed it’s 30 million dollar deal with Universal they were putting out independent albums selling 40-100 k a piece. Back then an indy label would put out an album every month, you do the math. This catered to street guys, because they had that grind already and they had seed money. They also had a lot of connects with people in their cities and surrounding towns which made distribution of their music easier. So in essence the streets became the key holders. And since the streets had the keys the streets unlocked the doors for street artists. No Limit had C-Murder and Fiend, Cash Money had The Hot Boys etc.
Fast forward 10 years and The Rap Game is a new landscape. Today, it more resembles software development where everyone wants to develop some new technology and give it away for free (ie. Twitter, MySpace, YouTube) Whereas bootlegging used to result in a beat down from a rap crew. Today, Artists make music and solicit to blog sites to help them give their music away for free. Blog sites are run by bloggers who post what they like on their blog when they feel like it. Fans expect mixtapes, Ep’s etc. to be free. And the power has shifted from the Hustlers to the Hackers. From street guys to kids in their dorms. And just as The Street guys looked out for their own, this new era is doing the same. Not to say Gangsta Rap isn’t still appreciated, it is still loved my the masses. It’s the process of gaining entry into the rap game today that is the biggest threat to street rappers. Where as the Rap Game was once a process of making music hitting the streets, wrapping a van and selling it. Now the game has become make some music, promote it on twitter, email blogs sites and give it away for free with the hopes that I’ll get hot enough for people to pay for shows. So many steps have been added to the process of getting paid that it isn’t the great investment that it used to be to a hustler. Most of my success as an artist has come from networking online and getting promoted by blog sites. But that because I’ve always been an internet head since childhood. However, when I try to explain the blog concept to the street guys I know, I minus well be speaking French. They don’t know or care about most of them, there’s only one website that I is unanimous with them and that’s World Star hip hop and that’s more for the visual then the music. So, we find ourselves at a cross roads. Not to say that there aren’t tech savvy dudes walking the streets because I know they exist, but they are a rare breed. Since the blogs took 2005/2006 off there has been a very sharp decline in Gangsta Rap. Most of the current Street Rappers (Jezzy, Gucci etc.) were already in the game before the blogs blew up so they’ve been Grandfathered in. But in this new era what successful street artist have gained entry to the game without at Co-Sign. I count Maino, and recently Jay Rock and Freddie Gibbs. I’m a fan of Gangsta Rap, I love it just like I love all other forms of hip hop. I think rap is at it’s best when it’s balanced. There is room for everyone, but the question I pose is Can Street Rappers survive in todays internet age of hip hop?
Rob Jay http://www.twitter.com/robjay09