Do not get me wrong, there is nothing with drawing influence from our favourite artists, and using what works to for them in our own style, BUT if we cut and paste, cookie cutter style copy… THEN something is wrong. Whether it is conscious or subconscious, rappers sound like the rappers they see as successful and look up to, with the hopes of maximising on the winning formula. However there is a serious down side to this method.
The down side of focusing on success is like grasping for fortune, fame and other visible branches of success but without looking at the roots. Let me put it this way, the style of rap, swag and lingo they use is not what made them stand out, but the fact that they were not only talented but original is what made people gravitate to them. Think about it, what made Lil Wayne popular? Let us ask the same question about other rappers in history:
- KRS 1
- Run DMC
- Big daddy cane
- Naughty by Nature
- 2 Pac
- The roots (Black Thought)
- Jay Z
And that is just to name a few. They ALL have two main things in common:
- They are considered successful as iconic influencers of rap that contributed something different to rap.
- Even thought they influenced each other, each one is explicitly distinguishable from the other.
Simply put, the biggest thing they have in common is their uniqueness.
This does not only make them successful, but significant as well. Significance leads to success if handled well (as discussed in my previous column in Noted). However, significance is not a buzzword in our culture as much as ‘success’.
When it comes to the general expressions of what people would like to achieve, a large number of times you will hear, “I would like to be successful.” That is all good and well, but isn’t the desire for success a given? I cannot think of anyone who would say, “I don’t mind being average in what I am doing.” Even if the people were unwillingness to put in the work, in their minds they would wish for more success or even talk about it. It is common practice for people to look at their fellow counterparts that have more followers, more gigs or shows, better reviews, more money and so on, and want that for themselves too. This is no exception in our hip-hop scene.
Our hip-hop industry, as well as the rest of the world, is filled with evidence of people chasing success and not significance. Looking at the evolution of rap music in Namibia, you will see in the name of chasing success, a lot of rappers fell victim to loosing their originality, or never getting to discover it. Why? Because many have said to themselves, “If 2 Pac/ Wayne/ Drake is the greatest, then the winning formula is rapping like them (even if there is no relation between the content and their lives).”
Who remembers Guerrilla Black? If you know him when did you last check for him? And if you don’t, he was a guy who got ‘successful’ in the late 90s but his main down fall was people looked at him and saw Biggie. He was a big black dude with a voice and flow like Biggie. Not saying he could not rap or that he was trying to be Biggie (which he also denied) but the fact that when we looked at him we saw Biggie made him one of the most forgettable short lived wonders in rap history.
The opposite of that is Vanilla Ice. Arguably, the dude could not rap for squat but he had his hit years before Guerrilla Black and we still know who he is and that is because at the time, there was no one like him, hence leaving him somewhat significant. He was also undeniably successful in terms of cash flow even though he had two albums and only one hit.
What is my point? There are so many of us that are really good at rapping and we don’t recognition for it because we are chasing success using another person’s formula. If we are to be like the first list of rappers mentioned above, we would learn from other rappers but break the mould and create our own. Then we will be significant and success will be a result and not a goal.
I could go on but to conclude I’ll ask you a question. Who do you think Black Vulcanite sound like? Who does Lioness sound like? The fact that they did not follow fads and stayed consistent is a major part of what has lead to the journey they are on. There are others and I am by no means over looking them, but I think they are good examples of what I am trying to get at.
This is my opinion. What are your thoughts?