Mixtapes, Politics, and Self-Production
by Clifford Michel
In the summer of 2013, Kevin David Smith Jr. was frustrated with some of the music he was hearing over the air waves. His favorite genre was being swallowed up by tunes that lacked substance and were filled with elementary rhymes. “I was thinking ‘I’m a singer and I can rap better than that.’ I used to write poetry so I just transferred poetry to rap. It was that easy.” said Smith, a freshman at the College of Staten Island.
With websites like Datpiff, HipHopDX, and Live Mixtapes, millennials and Generation Y-ers are able to publish their work easier than ever before in hopes of gaining popularity or getting signed. Long gone are the days where an aspiring artist would have to go directly through major label companies to get noticed. Some established artists such as Chance The Rapper, J Cole, Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, and Meek Mill owe most of their success to the internet. While others are still budding (Action Bronson, Joey Bada$$, and Iggy Azalea) thanks to the new online democracy.
A basic microphone, a pop filter, and any audio program is enough to get started.
While the prospect of being the next hip-hop artist to be noticed is exciting, some wonder if the onslaught of newcomers will make it impossible for true talent to shine over the sheer amount of people publishing mixtapes.
“I think it’s like a doubled edged sword because before there was a lot of talent that couldn’t make it. Strictly because they didn’t have the means or the buzz to make it, on the flip side though you can blow up because you’re a bum,” said Smith.
Being rich and famous is always in the corner, but for some, rapping is just a fun hobby. Social media sites such as Facebook and SoundCloud give users a feeling of community where their art is appreciated and enjoyed by others. Spending hours in the studio with friends and working out kinks on your newest song has become synonymous with hanging out at the mall.
“We do hip-hop to create a story, to tell what we’ve been through and to express ourselves,” said Rakim Deberry, 20. “Not everyone’s trying to make it, that’s so unreasonable. We’re just trying to create a culture, sometimes we over exaggerate about what we’ve been through but still. Other people paint—we just make music.”
Painting a larger picture and making cultural connections are valued more in the digital age of Hip-Hop.
“Some rappers who really do have talent dumb themselves down sometimes or try and act a different way to make a hit. When I get in my zone, when I hear a beat, the idea automatically comes up and it’s hard for me to change it. Once I get that thought in my head about what fits with the beat, it’s mostly stuck, I can’t fake it,” said Smith.
Some aspiring artists feel that rapping forces them to learn more about their craft and be more in sync with ideas that matter to the community at large.
“Yeah I can write a basic ABAB rhyme scheme, but that sounds childish. I have to be clever and figure out what people really want to hear. I mean we can sit here and talk about love, but did people want to hear love in August? Nope, they wanted to hear about stop & frisk. So we have to educate ourselves and figure out how to relay it back to the community,” said Akin Haynes, 17.
“At the end of the day, whether we’re inexperienced or overqualified, we’re all adding our piece to the melting pot.”