Blurring The Line of Hip Hop and Pop
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
I don’t think anybody would argue with me if I said that will.i.am. isn’t exactly a master lyricist. All it takes is a brief listen to his solo attempt “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever),” which I refuse to pronounce as anything other than “the,” to hear what the Pea considers witty. “This beat is the s—t / Feces,” he raps, comparing a thumping Euro-trance drum machine to a literal pile of waste—why you gotta hate on your own song like that, Mr. i.am? Then there’s the truly unforgettable line during which the Grammy-award winner (yes, I was surprised and appalled too) declares “I wake up in the morning / Hard like morning wood in the morning,” a line which he must have written after his kindergarten class discussed the different times of day.
In case you want to overdose on stupidity, I’d also recommend watching the music video for the aforementioned song. It literally looks as if its star was too busy to shoot the flick, so they caught him walking around at awkward moments. At one point he’s seen at the cockpit of a spaceship, his face twisted in a laughable grimace that easily could have been filmed while he was on the toilet taking a “s—t / Feces.”
I use will.i.am as an example of how hip-hop (arguable here, but justifiable, because really, what other genre does he fit in?) often fails to imitate pop. It’s a trend that shows no signs of stopping. There’s no use harping on Nicki Minaj’s album for its hip-pop tendencies—Spin magazine has already beaten that horse to death and back again—but a startling number of rappers have recently straddled the line between their genre of choice and radio-ready hits.
Most notably, and perhaps most disappointingly, is Jay-Z’s Roc Nation labelmate Santigold, who five years ago released one of the most influential records of the past decade. Try and remember back to 2007, a time in which Lady Gaga wasn’t on the tip of anyone’s tongues, the Dixie Chicks had Grammy awards up the wazoo, and Hilary Duff was popping out records instead of babies. Santigold (then Santogold, a name-change that occurred as a result of legal concerns) basically came out of left field with her self-titled debut that spawned several successful singles (“LES Artistes” and “Lights Out” among them).
Santogold showed the world that hip-hop was truly a fluid medium that didn’t need to fit conventions anymore. It was an album that returned the genre to its glory days, reminiscent of the work of Grandmaster Flash and even Biz Markie from the 1980s, arguably hip-hop’s most exciting era. It was part singing, part rapping, and all fuzzy electronic pleasure. Cohesively, it worked better than any other rap album in years, seamlessly blending hazy rap tracks (“Starstruck,” a personal favorite that has been in my iTunes top-10 most played tracks since its release) and numbers that showed Top-40s influence without ever conforming to the genre’s copy and paste format.
Last year, however, one of the album’s producers did something disappointing that showed, more than anything else, a severe lack of creativity. Switch, one half of the popular Major Lazer, re-appropriated the group’s track “Pon De Floor” for Beyonce, crafting her middling comeback single “Girls (Run The World).” It showed that the fusion of hip-hop and poppy dance numbers was no longer one process—now, at least in Beyonce and Switch’s case, it had turned into a copy-and-paste maneuver that mocked the creativity it had once ushered in so excitingly.
On her new album, Master of My Make-Believe, Santi seems unable to break past this new style of hip-pop conventionality. It’s disappointing to see one of the most talented and innovative artists of her generation flounder on a long-awaited album that doesn’t come close to touching its predecessor. She’s playing the Governor’s Ball in New York City in June, a concert I’m looking forward to. Let’s hope she goes back to the basics.