The following is an excerpt from the book You Made It a Hot Line; The most influential lines in hip hop. The names are real. The lyrics are real. Enjoy!
Artist: P Diddy
Song Title / Album: Bad Boys for Life/ The Saga Continues
Label/Year: Bad Boy Records / Arista Records July 2001
Really Puff? Really P, Poppa Diddy, Dirty Money Pop? When Sean “P. Diddy” Combs publicly declared what many hip hop fans had known for years, it still came as a shock to the collective system. Ghost writing, a term that refers to having another writer pen your lyrics, is common practice in pop music and R&B but was always seen as the ultimate taboo in early hip hop music (and still is…sorta.) Unlike R&B and pop, where the artist is judged solely on delivery and their ability to carry a tune, one of hip hop’s unwritten rules regarding delivery is that whomsoever delivereth the message over the microphone shall also be the original author of said message.
Emcees are judged on the flow and delivery of their OWN words. The Meek may inherit the earth but they will certainly rise up and try to eat Drake’s cakes if they suspect him of plagiarism. Having another wordsmith pen your rhymes in hip hop is considered a prosecutable offense in a court of hip hop law. The esteemed judiciary committees that gathered ‘round corner stores, bodegas and park benches daily to litigate on behalf of their favorite emcee would have had all ghost written rhymes deemed inadmissible. As Justice “Supreme” Fuquan Johnson passionately argued in the trial of Rappers Delight, Gandmaster Cas v. Big Bank Hank et al; “Nah son, he ain’t even write that shit!” Ghost writing is truly an atrocity of Milii Vanilli-esque proportions. But not for Diddy.
What would have been considered a slap in the face to hip hop at one point in time was given a pass partly because of the individual who said it and partly due to hip hop’s industrialized status at that point in time. The genre had been firmly ingested by the mega corporations by 2001 and the focus was more on record sales and revenue and less on artistic merit. P. Diddy, whose career began as an A&R, was notably revered more so for his ability to R&D talent, sell water to whales and tuxedos to penguins than he was for “kicking wicked rhymes like a fortune teller.” Diddy was never considered an emcee in the truest sense of the word. Most viewed his lyrical efforts as more of an attempt to sell music than to artistically express his deepest thoughts a la Jack Handey.
What made Diddy’s brazen admission even more passable was the fact the Puffy does indeed have a love for hip hop culture and an overall understanding and recognition for talent and development. As Poppa Diddy Pop never professed to be more than he was when it came to lyrical supremacy, no harm, no foul. He has also had the wherewithal to cut a check for those most prolific at providing funky lyrical content… their OWN funky lyrical content.
It is fitting then (and oddly ironic) that the emcee most noted for calling out the transgression of ghostwriting in hip hop is not an emcee at all and was, in fact, calling himself out. Oh well. If you can’t beat ‘em… “Can’t stop. Won’t stop. Bad Boy. Come on!”
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Calexico & Iron & Wine
Calexico and Iron & Wine haven’t made a record together since the In the Reins EP in 2005. This month, Sam Beam, Joey Burns, and John Convertino have released their long overdue follow up, Years to Burn – eight beautiful tracks pleasantly far-removed from what passes for folk/country these days. I caught them at Celebrate Brooklyn a few weeks ago and dug them despite being surrounded by chatty Brooklynites.
What are other folks saying?
Social Media Forces the Youth to Push Bubble Gum Music
Like the setting of the sun, older generations have routinely criticized music of the now. However, something feels different in 2019 with this, “conversion to criticism,” happening at a more rapid pace than ever before. In theory, as a 27-year-old, I really shouldn’t be writing this article, right? I should be totally ingrained into the nucleus of the music being popularized today by America’s youth, and to be honest, until recently, I have been. In the ether of facebook comments, during the last year or so, I’ve defended new school artists, the likes of Lil Pump. But I’m sorry, I’m waving my own metaphoric white flag. I can’t take it anymore.
The breaking point for me has catalyzed from the viral smash hit songs that have speeded into popular culture like comets within the last few years. The song “Mo Bamba,” for example, where did that even come from? I’ve literally never in my life heard of the artist behind the song, Sheck Wes, but damn, that song somehow took over my entire existence in the summer of 2017… And I have no idea how!
OK, before this becomes another guy rambling on about how bad the youth’s taste in music is, I want to tap on the brakes. I’m not actually blaming the kids… Na, not at all. It’s not their fault. It’s the fault of social media. I’m pointing the finger at the likes of Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok, Facebook, etc. The universe these platforms create force these kids to gravitate towards bubble gum music.
Let me clarify what I mean by bubble gum music. You probably are picturing some pop star with bleached blonde hair and dark blue eye-shadow, but this term transcends genre and the likes of Britney Spears. To me, bubble gum music is music that reflects the exact experience of chomping down on a big wad of Dubble Bubble; extremely tasty, almost too tasty, like instant cavity tasty, but after maybe 35 seconds you’re ready to spit it out. This Dubble Bubble experience mirrors the exact formula that launches a song into the viral stratosphere; uber-catchiness, mindless easy to remember and repeat chorus’ that you’ll grow sick of in a matter of days.
Social media has altered the very nature of how kids interact. We can all see this happening. There is already scholarly research delving into how social media affects young people. We observe how it shapes their social lives, their mental state, but I haven’t noticed anyone talking about is how it’s affecting their music.
Think about it, you’re 17, you and all your friends spend all day sending each other funny videos and pictures on Snapchat. You chat all day on Instagram, tagging each other in videos and memes you think will make everyone in your friend group laugh. Oh, and there’s this catchy song soaring around the internet too, so of course you tag all your friends in it. Then you send them all a video of you dancing and singing along to it. They all send response snaps with the catchy, viral song bumping in the background. Pure Dubble Bubble. The angsty teen sitting in their room, alone, listening to CDs, cassettes, records, hell, even an iTunes library circa 2007 isn’t really a thing anymore. That angsty teen used to be a cliche, but soon we’ll be taking our kids to the Guggenheim to see a live action “Untitled” exhibit of a teenage girl, alone in a room, placing CDs into a boombox.
Let’s just go ahead and open the Pandora’s box that is the viral dance challenge. The internet dance challenge phenomenon is the definition of a bubble gum music factory. For those who aren’t familiar with a dance challenge, an easy to do dance becomes associated with a certain song. People film themselves doing said dance with said catchy song playing in the background. Then millions of people do the exact same thing, post it on their respective social media, and boom you’ve got yourself a viral dance challenge. Two examples of recent big time dance challenges were, The Mannequin Challenge and The Harlem Shake. Now do not get me wrong, I love a good dance challenge. I really don’t know of anyone who enjoys doing goofy dances to catchy music more than me, but not for a song every other week! We used to get some space between dance crazes. Even in the 2000s, we had a four year gap between the two biggest hip-hop dance videos “Crank That” by Soulja Boy, released in 2007, and “Teach Me How to Dougie” by Cali Swag District (2011).
The other big issue with viral dance challenges is they often take songs that are actually good, and scar them on your auditory cortex. Take Drake’s 2018 summer smash, “In My Feelings.” It’s a quality song that features a succulent piano intro on the music video version of the song, fire interlude vocals by the Miami female rap duo City Girls, and thoughtful samples from New Orleans rappers Magnolia Shorty and Lil Wayne. The song bumps, there is no denying it. But the song became a viral dance challenge and we all began to shut it off immediately whenever it came on the radio or our Spotify playlist. “In My Feelings” should have been a song with legs. A song we jammed to for a long time to come, a potential hip-hop banger classic. But social media killed it.
Migos’ 2016 song “Bad and Boujee” is another example of social media hurting a good thing. The song became an internet sensation after viral memes and videos accompanied it’s release. We began to hear the song everywhere, over and over again. Because people were so over-saturated by “Bad and Boujee” the masses didn’t take time to really listen to and appreciate the album that hosted the song “Culture” which was actually a fine piece of work. That’s sad. Social media is pushing repetitiveness to unhealthy levels.
The scary thing is that musicians and music executives have caught onto the massive impact social media is having on music. Music lives and dies on streaming in 2019, and social media often drives those streams. Making an album, which is usually a fuller and more nuanced piece of art, is becoming obsolete because one song can now make you more money than an entire album. Consider, for example, Sheck Wes’ debut album Mudboy which had on it his smash hit discussed above, “Mo Bamba.” The entire album minus “Mo Bamba” (13 songs combined) currently have 365,404,069 less plays than “Mo Bamba” (one song). “Mo Bamba” has 441,869,712 plays while all 13 other songs combined only have 76,465,643. CNBC estimates that Spotify pays out about $.006 per stream. That means Sheck Wes/his record company made about $450,000 from the 13 other songs on the album and about $2.6 million for just one song, “Mo Bamba.” This single ruling music culture wasn’t even the norm 10 years ago when record companies wanted you to buy full albums on iTunes because the .99 cent singles didn’t match the profit from people purchasing full albums. And obviously, during the vinyl and CD era, albums were king. Record companies are beginning to structure their entire business model off of viral songs. So by the looks of it, we can only expect these trends to intensify and the music to become subjugated even more by the bubble gum model.
Let me make clear that I’m as conflicted as anyone. I’m not saying I don’t like these viral songs or artists. The songs are catchy. Is there talent in creating a catchy song, of course. I think a lot of these artists are really talented. I’m just saying, overall, the releases aren’t great pieces of music. And that’s fine. There is a space for that type of entertainment and I consume it and enjoy it. The problem arises when, everywhere you look, every piece of music is an attempt to mimic the viral song structure. The songs are being forced and modeled by a the social media market, and the songs that are sticking, more often than not, are the songs that mean nothing.
Now… please excuse me as I go listen to “Old Town Road” and make a dance video to it on my Instagram.
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