#38: Is Hip-Hop Dead?

Another requested topic: hip-hop vs rap.

This is always an interesting discussion, often facilitated by Nas' 2006 album Hip-Hop Is Dead.

We ask is hip-hop dead?

No, it lives on in the underground, people say.

It's led me to ask how you define "the underground."

Nas admitted that although there were deeper implications in his album title, he also named it Hip-Hop Is Dead just to get people talking.

The conversation hasn't stopped.

If you look at the history of hip-hop as a subculture, you could argue that its origins are largely gone...

But that the spirit and power of the movement live on.

We find that most people think of hip-hop as a musical genre.

The "purist" way of thinking is that it's a specific subculture exclusive to its origins in the Bronx and Queens boroughs of New York.

From there, it spread via radio and performance and grassroots word-of-mouth.

That subculture was unique to that era in the ‘70s  

It's often referred to as a lifestyle that incorporates at least four elements of hip-hop: DJ’ing, rapping, graffiti, and breakdancing.

Rap is simply one of the elements...

You could make the argument that as hip-hop grew more in popularity, rap evolved into its own separate category...as a musical genre.

Is rap a lifestyle or subculture? 

A community of people, a spirit, a movement?

Or is it a musical genre?

If you go back to its origins, hip-hop is inherently underground.

That is how it started.

If you're staying true with the original spirit of the subculture:

Music made from turntables...bootleg mixtapes passed around...illegal distribution and profit of copyrighted music...

The idea that a hip-hop artist should not care about money (the way a modern day rapper is perceived to care) neglects the fact that a lot of illegal profit was made during the early days of hip-hop.

In "#39 The Evolution of the Mixtape," I wrote that early crews were making as much as $2000 a month selling bootleg mixtapes in the '70s.

That's pretty good money for no radio play, small niche audiences, and underground mixes.

I've heard arguments that say if you hear rapping on the radio, it can't be hip-hop.

Hip-hop in its original form is by definition underground (if you believe that).

But there’s one problem...

I haven’t really found a good definition of what underground is.  

Has the internet changed the definition of underground?

Is there no more underground anymore? 

An article by Festival Peak argues this about the history of the underground:

"Underground" literally meant you couldn’t see or hear from that artist.

They didn’t have an outlet.

It’s the first time that a light went off in my head by hearing the word "underground."

When something’s underground, you can’t see it.

You don’t know it’s there.

In the older days, being underground meant people couldn’t see or talk to you - literally.

But the internet has made it possible to book all your shows, distribute your own music and have direct relationships with fans. 

Many people mix together "underground" and "independent."

It seems popular to say that independent artists are underground, especially if they're not on radio or considered mainstream.

I took to Twitter to ask you your thoughts on this.

Looks like you don't agree that underground and independent are the same thing!

However, more people agree that the internet has erased the inherent underground nature of music that can't be seen or heard.

If you can distribute your own music, are you underground?

If you have enough core base to make a full-time income from music, are you underground?

These are existential questions that may not have a definitive answer.

But I always come back to KRS One's famous quote:

“Rap is something you do. Hip-Hop is something you live.”

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

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