Every generation needs a revolution. –Thomas Jefferson
It took me two days to write this piece. This time, it wasn’t my incessant procrastination or lack of inspiration. It was the absence of a paragon to start with however, I’ve found it.
After dismissing the notion that this word might be too strong an adjective for “Fiasco Friday”, I decided that the protest turned celebration wasn’t only about an LP or a specific artist. Matthew, one of the organizers, conveyed it on the megaphone best, “We’re here to let
Matthew is correct, but it’s not just about Atlantic. An entire generation is frustrated with many record labels, radio stations, and promoters. It’s no new ideal that the conscious/underground is underappreciated. It’s no surprise that the “mainstream” has no message, substance, or abstraction. What is new, is the underground artists who’ve managed to climb their way out, fill their pockets, and create a buzz; all without a record deal. The circumvolution of free music, five dollar shows, and cipher style videos have renewed the hunger that young adults used to have for hip-hop.
An artist can only utilize what local resources he has for so long. Eventually, the artist will have to find a label to reside with and provide backing for his dream. This dream soon turns a nightmare. An external alteration begins here: Wardrobe changes, sound tweaking, lyric placement, and production based on demand are all put into place. Soon the emcee becomes a rapper, the rapper an entertainer, and an entertainer, a product.
This was never a problem before. Listeners weren’t hip to the assembly line because artists didn’t have a podium until a record label decided to give them one. Now that music blogs and artists sites are incredibly accessible, the listener is aware that the artist--they have grown to love--has changed. First the fan is annoyed with the artist—an artist who isn’t allowed to explain his predicament—but, soon he realizes that this “change” only took place after he was signed to a major label. It is within a notion like this one that the spark of the protest began. Although Lupe Fiasco hasn’t altered his style (drastically), his music wasn’t being released, which is equally intolerable.
No matter how slight the change, almost every artist has been pushed through some sort of assembly line after signing a huge deal. When listening to B.o.B., J. Cole, Wale, and many other artists, you’ll notice a new twist to their work. It’s as if someone told J. Cole to lose some of his edge when transitioning from “The Come Up” to “The Warm Up.” Perhaps someone told B.o.B. he’d be more accepted if most—if not all—of his songs were pop influenced. Maybe Wale was told that songs for women were his forte. One can never be sure about what goes on behind closed label doors, but we can be sure that it isn’t always in the best interest of the human behind the music.
If artists are stripped of their right to speak against the machine that binds them, within their contracts, who will speak for them? Listeners forget that the industry IS a democracy. Music is produced based on what we’re buying, who we’re listening to on the radio, and the concert tickets we purchase. Music is great for entertainment but it’s also a very powerful tool. Emcees with substance and a message can travel further than just the local ear. If the tree of burden on their backs falls and no one is around, who will witness their obliteration?
True fans took notice that an emcee with incredible lyrical skill hadn’t released an album he’d promised, that his buzz started to die down, and his label ceased to care. Those very same fans gathered in unison and started a petition, wrote ferociously about the injustice, and started a protest. When Atlantic Records realized that these fans were serious, they gave Lupe a release date to avoid chaos in front of their building. Although everyone was overjoyed about the release date, these listeners STILL made it their business to show Atlantic Records they meant business. With picket signs in hand, camouflage pants, “Food & Liquor” blasting, and an emcee with nothing but a smile on his face and a lyric on his tongue; this generation started a small revolution in front of a discreet gray building in Manhattan.
I’m not the only person who has realized the inevitable 360. Lupe Fiasco and other artists who came up a few years before and after his initial signing have paved the message, “It’s quite alright to be an individual.” Has anyone noticed BET’s “Music Matters” campaign? (Their sorry PR attempt at “believing in REAL music.”) Has anyone noticed the dramatic change in the flood of visitors to underground/conscious hip-hop sites? Have you noticed the jeans that are slowly beginning to be worn at the waistline and the sudden rush of new photographers, graffiti artists, poets, and producers? Things are slowly starting to change. Don’t be surprised if we’re slowly starting to enter a renaissance and don’t be deterred from one because some of the ignorance still exists.
What would the good be without the bad?
Who would the conscious have to shine over?
Music is comprised of many themes: Love, betrayal, fun, politics, loyalty, etc. All of these themes portray a message that any listener can relate to. Artists like Lupe Fiasco, Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Blu, Wale, J. Cole, Nas, Foreign Exchange, Janelle Monae, B.o.B., The Roots, Lauryn Hill, and so many more, are necessary for illumination. It’s their presence that keeps us grounded. It is their voices that penetrate the static of the mainstream.
After all, music without a message, is just…..noise.