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The underdog's on top

29 Jun 2005

“Hate it or love it the underdog’s on top. I’m gonna shine homie until my heart stops. Yeah envy me, I’m Rap’s MVP. I ain’t going nowhere so you should get to know me,” that’s what he said in my ear. And although I’d heard that chorus before I suddenly realized I never actually fully understood its ramifications.

He of course is The Game, and the song is Hate It or Love It.

I was in NYC a few week-ends ago and I did one of those very New-York things: I picked up a mixtape (a mix CD these days) in Harlem and I caught the A-train back to my hotel. It was raining on that Saturday evening so I closed the windows, pulled the curtains and actually listened to the CD, instead of the usual doing-a-million-and-one-things while it played in the background.

That’s when I had that realization. Beyond the subtle sexual references and cliché coming-of-age-in-the-ghetto stories, there was a stern statement of fact here: The underdog is winning; There is a reversal of roles occurring; The power structure in the Hip-Hop industry is being shaken. So let’s stop yearning for a return to some bygone glory days and accept the status quo: “I ain’t going nowhere so you should get to know me!”

In recent years, many columnists and purists of all stripes have derided the commercialization of Hip-Hop and bemoaned through many a turn of a phrase, the absence of substance and the over-sexualization of the videos. “Back in the eighties this never happened!”, “Public Enemy, KRS-One where are you when we need you?” they shout.

This lament is not new. Each generation blames the one that follows it for the ills of its time.

Public Enemy, KRS-One, Melle Mel and the others of that time were great artists. But for the most part they did not control the means of production. They still had to shop their creations to mostly non-African-American label owners and record company execs. Many of today’s big names own their labels or at the very least have more control over what happens beyond the booth.

So since the prophets of doom always fail to properly hail the accomplishments of today’s generation of Hip-Hop artists, let’s do it for them:

1. The moguls: Russell Simmons, P. Diddy, Damon Dash, Jay-Z, Master P, Nelly...

2. The mastery of marketing exemplified by the CD-clothing line-movie deal progression followed by Eve, Nelly, P. Diddy, Ludacris and many more.

3. The ownership credo preached by Dr. Dre among many others.

4. The control of one’s own creations and the refusal to surrender to a label, any label. Tara Chase and many other Canadian hip-hop artists live by this basic rule.

5. Knowledge and understanding of investments in stock markets, real-estate and other industries non-related to music. Just watch any episode of “Driven or The Story Of…” on MuchMore Music

Beyond urban music, we live in an age of over-commercialization. Every other statement uttered on TV, it seems, is a pitch for a product, an event, an upcoming something that in turn will generate its own merchandise. Almost anything can be turned into a commodity. The Hip-Hop industry is simply another victim of its age. Yes a victim! Because beyond the sermons of the high-priests of laisser-faire capitalism, “the markets” will not correct the harm done to the social fabric by the dominance of a certain strand of Hip-Hop. In that sense the purists have a point.

However, we can choose to view things differently. We can look at the popularity of this musical genre as an opportunity, which is what many have done. G-Unit now has its own wing in the children’s section at Macy’s in Manhattan. So does Sean John; in addition to the stores. Jay-Z is CEO of Def Jam Records. Close your eyes and think back to 1979, in the early days of Hip-Hop. Did anybody envision this?

The underdog’s on top and we should be helping him reach higher peaks.

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