“The sub-categorization of the lyricist“ Is being lyrical Important in Hip Hop anymore?

The “Hip” is to be wise and informed and the “Hop” is the movement, back in the fruition of “Hip Hop” it was always understood that content came from perspective and consciousness as the great MC Shan once coined on The Bridge “Hip Hop was set out in the dark, They used to do it out in the Park”. It was a collection of like-minded African-American individuals, who came together post the 1970’s disco and party era, with a common goal to create something truly unique with the intention to show their situations and the way that they lived everyday life and how they dealt with subjects such as Inner City living, Racial Profiling and Police Brutality. Prior to this they had party acts such as Sugar Hill Gang who made infections disco influenced records where they would rap to a funky beat. Even future Hip Hop legends such as Grand-master Caz  Sugar Hill now are respected as being a huge pioneer in the early days of Hip Hop but back then guys like Grand-master Flash, Melle Mel, MC Shan did not feel this was a representation of real life living. With the monumental “The Message” from Grand-master Flash and the furious five, they made this standpoint abundantly clear with the following lyrics.

“Broken glass everywhere
People pissin’ on the stairs, you know they just don’t care
I can’t take the smell, can’t take the noise
Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice
Rats in the front room, roaches in the back
Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat
I tried to get away but I couldn’t get far
Cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car

Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge”


Image source

When this song dropped it was a monumental change from the happy-go-lucky party anthems of the 1970’s Conscious Hip Hop was here. While artists like Melle Mel and MC Shan and paved the way for introspective street rap with a message behind it, for the most part the lyrical content and rhyme schemes were very easy to digest. To take nothing away from these pioneers. The patterns were similar in performance it wasn’t until the emergence of Rakim where Hip Hop fans were treated to some of the most complex rhyme schemes ever heard at the time, Rakim was known for making compound syllables sound alike and for his ability to tell a story. An example of a Rakim rhyme scheme goes as follows. Taken from the title track to his debut album “Paid in full”


“Thinkin of a master plan
’cause ain’t nuthin but sweat inside my hand
So I dig into my pocket, all my money is spent
So I dig deeper but still comin up with lint
So I start my mission- leave my residence
Thinkin how could I get some dead presidents
I need money, I used to be a stick-up kid
So I think of all the devious things I did
I used to roll up, this is a hold up, ain’t nuthin funny
Stop smiling, be still, don’t nuthin move but the mone”

Read more: Rakim – Paid In Full Lyrics | MetroLyrics


Image source

A lot more complex and thought out rhyme structures than previously heard in that time era. Rakim was considered way ahead of his time and thus rapped under the mantra “God MC”.

The 90’s considered by many to be the golden era of Hip Hop was, where for Hip Hop purists we see the true evolution of creating your own style in Hip Hop and creating your own legacy. Groups such as the Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest

and even the Pharcyde while all being part of the one movement collectively that is Hip Hop culture, they couldn’t be more unique from each other. Wu Tang had that grimey underground, lyrical style with hard-hitting metaphors over dark “Boom Bap” beats.

“I bomb atomically, Socrates’ philosophies
and hypothesis can’t define how I be droppin these
mockeries, lyrically perform armed robbery
Flee with the lottery, possibly they spotted me
Battle-scarred shogun, explosion when my pen hits
tremendous, ultra-violet shine blind forensics
I inspect you, through the future see millenium”

Taken from Wu-Tang Clans song “Triumph”


On the other hand you could say ATCQ to compare, were trying to take it back to fun elements of Hip Hop whilst also being super lyrical, Pharcyde were like a meeting of both they had their fun tracks, but also had more serious storytelling songs about street life from the perspective of the outside looking in. What all these groups had however was originality. When a song comes on from either group you can tell who it is almost instantly. I feel this is the key element that is missing in Hip Hop today.


“Wu tangs enter the 36 chambers and a Tribe Called Quest Midnight Mauraders album covers”

In the early 2000’s we had the first inkling of a commercialized industry. Acts like Ja Rule would have had multiple collaborations with pop acts such as Jennifer Lopez and Hip Hop reached a younger, wider more fickle audience. To combat this dip into the mainstream there still was acts for the purists like Dipset, DMX, The Game, 50 Cent and of course the highest selling rap artist still to this day in Eminem. Acts who still valued “Bars, Punchlines, Metaphors and delivery”. Which brings us to the modern-day and what Hip Hop has become. Now before I am labelled as an old man “hating on the kids” hear me out for one second. We are entering an age in Hip Hop which is very akin to when Glam rock took over from the more organic classic rock of the 70’s back then acts like White-Snake and Van Halen were slated by the fans for selling out to record labels and dressing provocative, we see this now with the more melodic style of rap you get nowadays from a Young Thug or a Lil Yacthy and choice of outfits and style. The level of lyrical content has also dropped significantly.

taken from lil yachty’s song “Shoot out the roof”

“Yeah I see everything that happens
You know what I’m saying?
I see all y’all little niggas, jocking and biting style Niggas ain’t me bruh, niggas can’t be me
Nigga want to be, you feel me?
I know you niggas want to be part of the game, but you niggas can’t be me
The fuck nigga?
I only got one little brother in this motherfucker you feel me?
Only got one little brother in this motherfucker that’s rocking with me nigga
The rest of you little niggas, you little niggas is biting swag nigga
Gimme my shit back, like I don’t fuck with these niggas”

The verse fits the production but there isn’t any substance to what he is saying.


It seems to be in Hip Hop in 2017 it doesn’t matter what you say unless the production behind it is “Lit”. There are still acts such as the Migo’s who are introducing original aspects to Hip Hop with their fast paced style mad lib delivery while they are not the most lyrical they are still bringing a uniqueness to the genre. At the top of the pier in the Rap game it has got away from the message, it is now about who has the best dance or who’s production is the best, and while I myself enjoy a lot of new music out, I am a purist at heart for me there is nothing like listening for a metaphor or a hard punchline in a verse and re-winding when you get it, I miss the days of arguing who was the most lyrical MC with my friends or top 5 rapper lists. There is still lyrical rappers holding it down in the mainstream like Kendrick Lamar, however with each passing year it seems the “Hip” which is to be informed and the “Hop” which is the movement has become stagnant and stuck in the mud. And lyrical content is a niche product in a saturated market of mediocrity and conformity. We are in a day and age where the internet has almost made it impossible for people to be themselves or express an original identity, it is almost an us against them mentality if you disagree with a person online today. Stan culture (Super Fan) is a huge phenomenon in music with artists even coining terms for their collective group of fans. For example Beyonce’s collective are name the “Bee Hive” if you speak badly about Beyonce be prepared for your social media accounts to be swarmed, no pun intended by angry messages from her fans. In 2017 Hip Hop objectivity has died with creative intuition and critical thinking and I for one am in mourning.

– Phil


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