EDITORIAL:One Step Forward. Two Steps Back.

One Step Forward. Two Steps Back.

Rap music in general advocates a certain lifestyle, in fact it sells it. From music videos to live appearances, rap stars walk with the swagger of the privileged; the sheen of bling hanging round their necks and money spilling out of their pockets. Right now, rap has cemented its place in the mainstream, with rap and hip hop stars churning out hit after hit. It is the flavor of the moment; in fact it has been for a while.

It is strange to think that this art form that evolved out of reggae and drew influences from a variety of genres, wasn’t even considered music a couple of decades ago. The mainstream outlets shunned rap music as corrupt and negative, in the same way that rock and roll was the labeled the devil’s music I suppose. At its roots, rap music grew out of the black community and for a long time it was seen purely as “black music”, music that couldn’t be marketed to the masses. Mainly this was because early hip hop and rap music tended to reflect the issues facing the black community. It was urban poetry that grew out of the streets and struck a chord with young black people who saw it in a way as the voice of their generation. From Public Enemy to the likes of Too Short, hip hop had a particular flavor that was socially conscious and politically provocative. It wasn’t afraid of speaking its mind and saying what needed to be said.

In the late eighties and early nineties, the genre experienced its first brushes with success, as the mainstream audience began to understand and turn their ears to rap music. Banking on this initial success, record labels began marketing the music to the audience at large and there was an increased pressure to produce music that had mass appeal. To a large extent, the world of hip hop complied and the genre has since taken its place as a staple on just about any popular radio station.

Looking closer at this seeming success, we see that it has come at the expense of the music. Hip hop today isn’t the hip hop of old, it isn’t the music that blended and meshed beats from a thousand different sources, it isn’t socially conscious and empowering. In general one can find few differences between the hip hop tunes playing on the radio and pure bubblegum pop music. It seems to operate on the same formula: catchy hooks and forgettable lyrics, anthems of the moment that make a quick buck and just as quickly disappear into oblivion.

We see that marketing the music to a boarder audience hasn’t been a successful venture for the world of hip hop. At least from an artistic point of view, since it burst onto the scene there hasn’t been any real development in the music. If anything it’s been devalued. Sure, hip hop has had its day in the sun….but it has sold its soul and a lot more to get there.

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EDITORIAL:Bright Sparks.

Bright Sparks.

In the past couple of years hip hop seen some of its biggest commercial success from topping charts across the globe, to racking up sales in digital downloads and albums alike. Hip hop has created a new sub culture of sorts, where the music influences many other different aspects of life, from fashion to cars and more. The industry has spread its wings, with artists no longer just focused on music ventures but rather on building a diverse career out of their musical success. Hit records often lead to ventures into the world of fashion, product endorsements and a multitude of other income generating avenues. Amidst all this there has been a constant cloud of criticism overhanging the industry, from accusations of setting a negative example for younger fans to criticism that the music propagates drugs and violence, hip hop hasn’t been loved and welcomed by all.

However, even in the midst of all this negativity, there still are artists who stick to their roots, to the original purposes and inspirations of hip hop; the community. Their songs might not be the ones pushed on the radio or spinning while you’re breaking it down on the dance floor but there still are artists out there who believe in fundamentals like a killer beat and intelligent yet provocative lyrical content. Some of the more well known amongst these are artists like Common, Lupe Fiasco and Wyclef Jean. They seek, in a sense to create positive hip hop. Music that isn’t just made to make a quick buck but quality music that has listeners doing more than dropping it like its hot. In a way, these artists and many others like them make music that pays tribute to the original hip hop which was more than just music; it was poetry, social satire, critique, rage and a whole lot more.

Beyond the actual tunes, there are also those within the industry who have used their fame and fortune to give back to the society by throwing their weight behind a charity or promoting a cause that is close to their heart. Mogul Russell Simmons who heads the empire that is known as RUN Athletics, actively supports entrepreneurship among young people. He was recently made a UN Goodwill Ambassador, in recognition for his efforts in uplifting the community. Soul singer Mary J. Blige is another star who supports many charities including throwing an annual charity fashion show. Will. I. Am, one quarter of the Black Eyed Peas was an active campaigner during the last election.

These bright sparks in the industry show us that there is a whole lot more out there beyond just making music for the sake of money and the rock star lifestyle. They are proof that it is possible to sustain a career without sensationalism and hype but rather with integrity, creativity and a willingness to give back to the community.

In an industry that by many accounts has sold its soul for mainstream success and money, there are still a few voices that ring out as honest and true. Perhaps there is hope for hip hop yet.

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EDITORIAL:In The Era Of Business, Not Rap.

In The Era Of Business, Not Rap.

Somewhere in the course of the last decade, rap music became an industry in and of itself. It became this huge, record churning, hit producing machine that puts out not just mere rappers but business men. Heck, moguls even! Today’s successful rappers aren’t just successful artists, they are successful businessmen and the business of hip hop works on the same mechanisms as any other business.

For starters it’s all about the marketing. Success in this industry isn’t just about making good music, more often than not; it’s about really average music with a killer marketing plan. From album leaks to generating some pre launch buzz to special appearances at events to raise the profile and collaborations with other chart toppers; the businessmen and women of hip hop know how to get it done when it comes to plugging and pushing an album.

In this business, success is also inexplicably linked to fame and staying in the spotlight. So, when an album release is around the corner you’ll often hear stories about a breakup, shocking revelations to the tabloids or even a down and out run in with the law, which always grabs the headlines. Many people don’t realise that it’s simply all part and parcel of selling a product, in this case, their music.

The hip hop industry also operates like a business in that it has established a stronghold in a variety of different areas. No successful hip hop artist today just sells music; chances are they’ve got their fingers in a number of pies from fashion to perfumes and more. Hip hop videos sell a certain lifestyle to the fans, one of extravagance, designer clothes and the fanciest everything. The industry then takes it one step further by marketing the products featured in the videos to the audience, just like product placements on television shows.

Success thus, is less dependent on lyrics, a killer beat and street credibility. It’s more about creating a brand name, marketing yourself and making the most out of your name. It seems that in the world of hip hop, the business aspect often outweighs the creative. Successful rappers, the likes of Diddy, Fifty Cent and Lil’ Wayne all have diverse business structures sustained by their brand name, with clothing and jewellery lines, acting careers and more. The rappers that lend their focus solely to the music don’t tend to be as commercially successful, MF Doom and Lupe Fiasco come to mind here.

So in the battle of the smart rapper versus the smart business man, it seems that the businessman is winning by all accounts. Is he also creating better music or just music to supplement his income and empire? Well I suppose that is the real issue facing hip hop today.

There is nothing wrong with making it big on different fronts, there is nothing wrong with empire building and styling oneself as a mogul but, there is something wrong when all of this comes at the expense of the music. So can businessman and rapper co-exist? That my friends, that, is the question.

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EDITORIAL:In Search Of Real Hip Hop.

In Search Of Real Hip Hop.

Will the real hip hop please stand up? Stand up and be counted, because that stuff they keep playing on the radio, that ain’t hip hop.

The reality is that a lot of the hip hop music that is played on the radio today is generic and uninspiring. Take away the bling and the flashy cars, the decadent lifestyle depicted in most videos and the girls sexing it up on the dance floor and what you are left with isn’t very much. Without the visual content that sells the music, a lot of the tunes don’t stand up to the test. Many feature dated beats and mundane lyrics packaged into a hit song. The average listener probably couldn’t differentiate between many of the dime a dozen rappers currently hawking their tunes on the airwaves. A lot of this type of hip hop’s success can be brought down to excellent marketing plans and a desensitized audience who have been fooled into believing that this is the best that they can get.

So what’s changed exactly? I mean, things weren’t always this way. Before hip hop was dominating the charts, before it even broke into the mainstream, it was a much more potent force. Hip hop music grew out of poor, often disenfranchised communities; the music was both socially conscious and politically aware. Hip hop music was provocative and controversial without actively trying to be either. A lot of the music dealt with social issues, with problems that afflicted the community and in their music, artists didn’t pull punches. They told it like it was. Hip hop music painted the grim reality facing many of these communities. It was charged with emotion, with rage and frustration and with the sentiment of a generation of young people who finally had an outlet that showed people what life was like for them. The music was often considered polarizing because many thought it did not speak to people who did not live in those conditions; it had no connection to the average middle class consumer who formed the bulk of the music purchasing market. So, largely to break into the mainstream, hip hop toned itself down and began to diversify, to cater to a larger audience. Sadly I don’t think this venture has been entirely successful. Sure hip hop artists are extremely popular with the mainstream audience today. However, while there is a lot more hip hop music being produced today, there isn’t a lot of diversity within the genre. Hip hop’s mainstream success has come at the cost of the quality of the music.

Turn off the radio, do your own research and you are likely to find artists who have stayed true to the meaning of real hip hop. Unfortunately, this isn’t the music that is being pushed by record companies because it is harder to market to mainstream audiences. As such, a lot of it remains underground, cherished by true hip hop fans. Perhaps the only good news in all this is that increasingly, we are seeing a group of rappers who are bridging the gap between the underground and the mainstream by creating radio friendly music but intelligent and provocative music at the same time. Wyclef, Common and even Kanye come to mind when we think of quality hip hop that has managed to break into the mainstream. They may still be in the minority, but, hopefully this is a sign of better things to come.

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EDITORIAL:Can Music Still Stand For Something?

Can Music Still Stand For Something?

We often hear stories about how music has been a vehicle for social change and political expression,
of how it rallied generations of young people and inspired causes and movements that revolutionized
society. From politically controversial folk songs of the fifties and early sixties to the free living music of
the Hippies and the loud, angry sounds of rock and roll that captivated young people across the world.
Listening to music today, you wonder whether music has the same power that it used to have.

There is so much more music being put out today because alternative distribution channels and digital
technology have enabled both established and struggling musicians to get their songs out there, to
people all over the world. With so much more quantity, then comes the issue of quality. Are musicians
still making music that will last for generations? Will today’s music resonate with future generations in
the same way that the sounds of the Beatles, Tupac and Elvis continue to win over young fans? This is
definitely something that any musician or even a fan of music has thought about at one time or another.

Looking at popular music today, the kind of music that captures people’s attention and gets them
talking, it seems that it is less of a form of expression and more of a platform for promoting causes.
For instance, fewer commercially successful artists are using their music to explore social and political
issues. Rather, they tend to use their fame and celebrity status to support certain causes, Diddy for
example lent his weight to the Rock the Vote campaign which encouraged young people to vote in the
election. Pop starlet Jessica Simpson advocates support for Operation Smile while Mary J. Blige has lent
her name to certain charity fashion events. The music itself is less of a driving force for change in the
current climate where fame rules supreme.

This of course does not mean that music with a message is not being made; there are passionate artists
out there who continue to carry the torch of politically awareness and social change. From rock legends
Metallica to hip hop innovators like Lupe Fiasco; there are artists out there that still strive to use music
as a means of expression. They may not make the kind of music that tops charts or gets frequent airplay
on the radio but, they are out there.

In a way the tables have turned, singers with a message used to seek out there audience, today with
so much music is readily available, it is much harder for a singer with a message to find a mainstream
following. The onus is now on us as an audience to be more discerning when it comes to what we listen
to. It is our right and responsibility to seek out music with a message and to support those artists who
strive to keep this spirit alive. It isn’t enough to sit back and listen to what the record companies are
pushing on the airwaves and on TV. Today’s audience needs to realize that good music is out there,
waiting to be uncovered and thanks to the internet; it is just a click away.

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EDITORIAL:Where My Ladies Of Hip Hop At?

Where My Ladies At?

The early nineties were a good time for women in rap, with lots of female artists breaking into the scene from the likes of Salt n Peppa and Foxy Brown, to Queen Latifa and Lil’ Kim. However since then, there
has been a noticeable decline in the number of female artists on the hip hop scene. The few female
artists that have managed to build a following aren’t racking up hits the way the boys are. While hip
hop music still rules the airwaves and dominates the charts, a female presence hasn’t been felt in a long
time. The last song by a female rapper to make it to the top was Missy Elliot’s “Work It” from almost
a decade ago. In fact the dearth of female artists has been so noticeable that in 2005 the Grammy’s
dropped the Best Female Rap Category from their line up of awards. So just what has happened to the
ladies of hip hop?

Looking back at the initial boom of female artists that took the industry by storm, we see that many like
Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim went on to build successful careers that were based heavily on their very sexy
images. Lil’ Kim in particular has made a career out of wearing highly provocative clothes. Many suggest
that this created a situation in which female rappers felt pressured to conform to the trend and felt like
they had to market a sexy image to sell records, in the same way that pop stars like Britney Spears did.
This overtly sexy image, while it worked for Brown and Lil’ Kim, was generally not favored by most
female MC’s and rappers who preferred their track suits and powerful lyrics as their representation. Artists who had overtly
sexy images were seen as more marketable and consequently were more likely to get signed.

Some people from within the industry say that female rappers simply haven’t stepped it up the way
their male counterparts have. For instance among male artists in hip hop and its sub-genres, there is a
great deal of diversity from gangster rap to dance hall anthems and the fresh sounds of new artists like
Drake. Insiders say that there simply isn’t this rich diversity among female artists.

Others are more open is admitting that it isn’t so much an issue of a lack of diversity as it is the fact
that female rappers are harder to market. Record companies pretty much steer clear of female rappers
nowadays because finding a niche audience can be more difficult. Without a sexy image, successfully
marketing an artist like Missy Elliot, can be tricky. I’m sure you’d agree that there aren’t many females in
hip hop like Missy Elliot.

In recent times, the major exception to the decline of female voices in hip hop has been the breakout
star, Nicki Minaj who has topped the charts and fared well in record sales. Minaj herself has spoken out
against the way women are given fewer chances by the industry. With the current state of the music
industry and the way hip hop is ferociously marketed to make as much of a buck as possible, it seems
unlikely that we are going to see a resurgence of women in hip hop anytime soon.

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EDITORIAL:Are Illegal Downloads Forcing The Industry To Change?

Are Illegal Downloads Forcing The Industry To Change?

Today when people want to get their hands on some new music, they don’t go out and buy a CD. More often than not, most people head online for music. This is especially true for younger, technologically savvy listeners who tend to favor downloads over the physical product. When it comes to downloads, while iTunes offers individual songs for sale at relatively cheap prices, there are also numerous sites where listeners can get their music for absolutely no charge.

Illegal downloads are available off file sharing sites often immediately after the album is released. Thanks to the ease at which music is accessed online, CD sales have slumped. And, thanks to illegal downloading, the profit the music makes is further eaten into. Interestingly, research figures suggest that the more popular the music, the more likely it is to be plagued by illegal downloads as more people want to get their hands on the music. Hip hop for instance rules the airwaves and charts but fails to sell, because so many people are just getting it illegally off the internet.

So what exactly does all this illegal activity mean for the average listener or musician out there? And, what does it mean for the industry at large? For the industry first and foremost it means that their profits are taking a beating. CD sales were the primary source of income for the industry and it has failed to adapt to the changes that digital music have brought. This in turn impacts the artists as record companies are less willing to take a chance on new music and new performers. Instead the trend is to put out what’s popular and what sells. Consequently the music that reaches mainstream audiences is increasingly generic and startlingly similar. In the long run what this means is that it will become harder and harder for new musicians to break into the market. The listener in turn can expect to hear less diversity on mainstream sources and is more likely to find music independently through the internet.

Realistically, there is little the industry or even legal mechanisms can do to curb the prevalence of sites which offer illegal downloads. New sites spring up quicker than you can shut the existing ones down and more importantly in most societies, there isn’t a real sense that illegal downloading is wrong. The only way to deal with the problem is to change the way we view music, how we value it and deal with it.

With the current technology and the widespread availability of digital downloads, the ball is squarely in the consumers court. Listeners are able to control not just what they listen to but where and how they get their music. As such the music industry and musicians can no longer treat music as a commodity or product to be sold to the public. Artists are increasingly taking notice of this and coming up with more innovative means of generating income. In a way, illegal downloads have helped to push the industry towards reform, they have created a situation in which there is no other option but to move forward and evolve in terms of how we deal with music.

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EDITORIAL:Illegal Downloads: Who’s Paying The Price?

Illegal Downloads: Who’s Paying The Price?

In the past couple of years the music industry has taken quite the beating. Across genres from pop to punk rock, classical to hip hop, album sales have been sliding. It seems that the era of the CD is well over and the time for digital music has dawned. The industry has suffered because in this new era, the consumer has greater say in how he or she gets music. There is a whole range of options, from being able to purchase individual songs instead of a whole album to even being able to download the music for free.

Despite its illegality and the numerous legal measures that the industry has taken against free download sites and file sharing sites like Napster and Pirates Bay, this black market continues to thrive. Nowadays, you can find an album for free days before or just hours after its official release.

Fundamentally, illegal downloading and file sharing is so rampant because people don’t think about the long term impact that their actions can have. For the most part, most people know that they can download the songs for free and thus they do not see the point in paying for it. While it is a form of copyright infringement, there isn’t a taboo surrounding illegal downloads and there really is no effective means of stopping or preventing people from downloading them, short of shutting down all the sites.

Sure, most countries have laws against unauthorized downloads but the fact remains that the act is so prevalent that it is almost impossible to take any action. And, the average internet user is well aware of this. Since there is no real consequence, it comes down to a simple matter of right and wrong. While the average person would not shoplift from a CD shop, because it would be considered theft, the same stigma of theft is not attached to illegal downloading.

The general public needs to be educated about the consequence of illegal downloading. It isn’t just the record companies that are reeling from a loss of profit. The reality is that illegal downloads are hurting music and young musicians everywhere.

Why? Well, thanks to the critical position that the industry is in, record companies are wearier about signing new artists because it is harder to push an album for a new artist than it is for an established act. It also means that it is going to get increasingly harder for new and innovative music to find its way to the radios and mainstream markets, just because the record companies don’t see it as a profitable investment.

The digital age has definitely given the consumer more power and more choice. However, if the public fails to value music and recognize that stealing music through illegal downloads actually hinders the development of music and in the long run it is the listeners who will be paying the price.

There will be less diversity, fewer new artists and the music industry will lose a lot of potential talent because artists can’t make a living doing what they love. Illegal downloading is hurting both musicians and listeners alike and its time we recognize that it really is no different than stealing a CD from a record store.

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EDITORIAL:To Censor Or Not To Censor, Your Music?

To Censor Or Not To Censor?

Looking at censorship in music today, we see that it takes different forms from the overt bleeping out of lyrics to more implicit types of censorship, like promoting certain types of music at the expense of others. In its essence, censorship is about controlling or restricting access to something because it is perceived as having a negative influence. From age restrictions on movies to restrictions on what can and cannot be said on television, to parental advisory labels on CD’s with objectionable content, censorship is something that affects every corner of the entertainment industry. As artists, the freedom of expression is one of the foremost tools of the trade so, it is important to stand up to unnecessary acts of censorship.

Some of the forms of censorship that are directed at the music industry include having parental advisory stickers placed on CD covers, requiring materials to be wrapped up in plastic so as to prevent browsing and having age restrictions on the purchase of certain albums. Music broadcasting platforms like the radio and television are subject to their own share of censorship, for instance having to play music videos with racy or violent images only late at night. There are also age restrictions on the audiences of live performances.

Now, in the pre digital world of ten or so years ago, these were effective means of controlling access to objectionable content. However currently, the internet pretty much allows free and unrestricted access to music; from teeny –bopper music to the more hardcore, objectionable stuff. There are minor control mechanisms like having to verify your age before being allowed to access a site but these are very easily overcome. Therefore, the conservative world has worked itself into a fit in it protests.

In recent times, music and hip-hop artists in particular have been targeted by conservative censors for producing content that is unsuitable for the young. General complaints include the excessive use of profanity, promoting negative racial stereotypes, objectifying women and glorifying violence and the use of drugs. Now that is quite a rap sheet! Many believe that artists should take responsibility for their work and recognize the impact that it can have on an impressionable younger audience. Essentially they want child friendly raps. It is an almost ridiculous request, to expect that all music should cater to children.

First of all, there are means of controlling what a child views online and the tools to do this are at the parent’s disposal. Secondly, there is nothing to prove that exposure to such content is going to harm a child. Child development researchers say that one of the forms of entertainment with the most displays of violence per minute is in fact cartoons! No one seems to be saying that cartoons are ruining children but they do see it fit to blame angry rock and rap music for teenage violence.
In a time when rights are being sacrificed in the name of safety and security, we should not allow the right of free expression in music to be hindered in anyway.

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EDITORIAL:Making It In The Land Of First Impressions.

Making It In The Land Of First Impressions

The reality about the music world today is that there is so much music and so little time. Whether it is a radio station or television channel playing music, if you don’t like the opening few seconds of a song all you have to do is turn the channel for something new. This situation is even more intense when browsing for new music online; there are literally hundreds of thousands of artists with web pages, MySpace pages and music streaming online. On average, a listener searching for new music online will spend under thirty seconds scanning through a page before deciding on its relevancy, for music sites this might translate into roughly the time taken to listen to half a song. As such you only have a very limited amount of time to capture the interest of a listener.

For the artist who is just building an online presence or one who is looking to improve his or her site, the first step would be to streamline the information shown on your home page. By opting for relevant snippets, you are more likely capture interest than you would by bombarding someone with a lot of text. Information on your site should be updated regularly with new material and listings on upcoming gigs. This makes it easier for fans to keep track of what is going on with your band. Furthermore if your site is regularly updated with fresh material, you are more likely to get repeat visitors and gradually build a following.
Next up would be song selection. In this area the rule is to put your best and most accessible material forward. Your list of songs should include songs with great hooks and songs that make an impact early on. This is a great way of easing a listener into your material. Save the more obscure, experimental sounds for when you’ve won them over. Your goal should be to provide a sample of your music that is able to engage the listeners and leave them wanting more.

Finally, when it comes time to meet your audience face to face during live performances, one of the most important factors would be a well crafted set list. Each live performance should be treated with equal importance, whether you are playing to fifteen people or fifteen hundred. Like any performance art, live music must build up the tempo throughout the performance, have variety in song selection and finish with a bang. You are the best salesman for your music so; live performances are the best way to leave a great impression because the audience will be able to see you in your element.

Making a great impression of course also extends to your efforts at getting signed to a label. Here your main tool would be your demo. Thus you need to ensure that it contains a sampling of your best work, recorded with quality equipment. Songs should also be arranged in a manner that manages to keep the listener engaged because record companies too often find themselves with too many demo tapes and too little time. So go on go leave your new fans with a great first impression, doing so will increase word of mouth promotion as well.

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His music speaks for itself and to the masses.

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Jeff Donna, born Jeffrey Javier, channels the soul of underground

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Chick Da Flyest

Chick Da Flyest, a rapper/songwriter from the east side

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Hailing from small town Enfield, NC,

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