PEN GAME: The Art of Writing
I’ve been told since very young, as many have, “The pen can be mightier than the sword, when in the right hands”. Growing up, I didn’t much care to understand the proverb for I felt, “there’s no way that writing can ever be more powerful than action itself”; until I was introduced to some amazing and powerful writing. Through these introductions, I started to realize the strength in placing thought down on paper and then properly turning those thoughts into flesh, by your actions. It was due to this thought process that I started to appreciate pen-ship of Poets, MC’s, Authors, and Teachers. And, it was because of that appreciation that I vowed that I would never put out anything with my name on it, that didn’t have the value of context and content. Furthermore, I would never, ever-ever, in the interest of infinity, put out something that was written by another and try to take credit for it. In other words, there would never be any phantoms writing my works. Unfortunately, we seem to be living in different times and it’s been going on for way too long. Let’s take an extensive look together, and try to find out what the hell happened to the integrity of writing.
Since the inception of HipHop, there has always been pride in putting pen to paper. Yeah, the primary goal was to get a party started and never letting it stop but once mics came into play, MC’s did everything needed to make the crowd hype. The “MC” themselves became the voice of the music. Thus becoming what we still know today as, “Motivator of Crowds”. It was invigorating to the ears of the MC to hear the, “Ohhhhssss, and ahhhhssss” and that continued through the generations of wordsmiths that followed. There was slick usage of similes, metaphors, personifications, and other versions of the language that kept audiences excited and listening intently. Ears were glued to the air, whether it was during a battle or a track making a statement. So when did lyricism become so sloppy and lazy?
There was a movement that seemed to become a stamp of consistent garbage. People started getting on mics and constantly talking about nothing but clothing, champagnes, and foreign superficial items that turned out to be more of a verbal billboard than actual skill level. It no longer became important to speak on substance. Tracks like, “Self-Destruction”, “911 Is A Joke”, “The Breaks”, “My Philosophy” and other uplifting music got replaced with shiny suits and trinkets. Top notch verses like those spit on, “The Symphony”, AZ’s verse on, “Life’s A Bitch”, Killa Priest’s verse on, “4th Chamber”, and Nasir’s verse on, “Verbal Intercourse”, all got swapped for verses spit through auto devices, mumbling, and murmuring. And maybe it’s simply because the symbolism that was represented by the likes of Rakim, M.O.P, N.W.A, Tupac, and Wu-Tang was allowed to be switched up to clowns wearing dresses, tight spandex jeans, and the exhibition of boxers (despite constantly feeling the need to say, “no homo”).
So let’s state the issues. What exactly am I ranting about? The first thing that needs to be put on the table is “Lack Of Substance”. Rappers are now getting on mics with nothing to say. This is now the age of the, “repetitive noises”. This means, after you’re done listening to a track or even reciting it with the artist (because you done heard it so many times on your radio), you try to break down their bars/verses and get nothing. This is usually the case with mainstream rappers who are in the limelight due to the continuous “shoving into the ears” by major companies with company. It’s usually confirmed during “barber talk” conversations when people are saying, “Yo, this dude is niceeeeeeee. You’re bugging out! He has had such and such number of songs on the top of the charts. And he’s had platinum status for his projects”. After they’re done with that gibberish, you subtly hit them with, “Yeah…that’s cool. Now do me a favor and spit one of their best bars. Let me hear something they said that made you think”. Once you have put that out there in the air, I need you to do me a favor and brace yourself for the response. One of two things is about to happen…prepare yourself now. You’re either going to get a blank stare with the words, “I can’t think of nothing right now” OR, you’re simply going to hear, “Yo, but so what…Nobody wants to hear about lyrics. Who’s listening to lyrics these days?” Ohhhhh, how the latter kills me. So after you were sitting there debating how “nice” someone is, all of a sudden, “lyrics don’t matter”. For about twenty minutes (this is about minimum time spent on such a conversation) you sat there and debated these one or two artists who were “crazy” based on the, “The Great Oz of All Rap” but now, “lyrics don’t matter”. This is as frustrating as having a conversation with teenager who asks you, “Why do I have to do my school work and learn?” while they are actually in school. And, it’s equivalently as dumb as hearing, “who plays first base?” while you’re at a New York Giants’ game. Now, once you hear this argument, it is now up to you to decide how this is dealt with. You can sit there and argue with a fool (might as well have a shouting match with a brick wall) or, you can exit the conversation and not waste your brain cells.
Second, we need to talk about, “The Message”. Way too many times we are hearing the same nonsense being spewed to our listeners, who most times are impressionable young minds. I mean, let’s be real, how many times can we hear a woman/female being referred to as a, “Bitch”? How long will it be before the symbolism of our women are not being painted as, “trap queens”, “sluts”, “thots”, or anything non-equivalent to men or strength. It’s to the point that even females themselves, self-categorize as a lesser being due to the fact that it’s all they hear. How long will we hear terms like, “YOLO” that seem to insinuate that our youth should be, “living fast because they will die young anyway?” How many times are we going to allow artists that are looked upon as role models, continue to tell our babies to try drugs and beverages that can easily become deadly addictions? Better yet, how many people have to die before we start dissecting the messages being channeled to our people? Even young artists like Alessia Cara are trying to let us know that, “enough is enough”. That is clearly the point as she spits in her second verse, “Honestly, I’d rather be/somewhere with my people/we can kick it and just listen/to some music with the message/like we usually do/and we’ll discuss our big dreams”. Meaning, those with any knowledge at all are tired of hearing the garbage.
Then there’s the massive elephant in the room known as, “Ghostwriting”. And yes, I know that it’s been the topic of discussion, especially over this past summer so let’s talk about it. Now, let me be as honest as I possibly can be. If you’re apart of this culture and not penning down your own lyrics, then you are not a lyricist. Straight, point blank! Let me be a little clearer on this. If you are not the author of those verses you’re spitting in booths, then you shouldn’t be considered an MC. You are pretty much a ventriloquist’s puppet, reciting the work of others. How dare we frown upon people who get plastic surgery, wear weaves and fake body parts but, we won’t call out people who are fronting a fraud. How the hell can we be so quick to expose people for telling lies about their lives in the hood and then turn around and spit bar for bar a track we know wasn’t written by the artist? When did we adapt fraudulence as a good thing and not so much as bat an eye to these plastic no-frill clowns? And it was addressed by K Dot himself in, “King Kunta” when he let it be known, “I could dig rapping/but a rapper with a ghostwriter/what the fu** happened?/I swore I wouldn’t tell/but most of ya sharing bars/like you got the bottom bunk/in a two man cell”. My personal opinion on the matter is this, if you’re not sharpening your sword and representing this culture correctly, there’s no need for you to be here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRK7PVJFbS8
You might be asking yourself, “Why write this article? HipHop has been like this for years. Why complain now?” And that’s just it…we’ve allowed this for way too long. We’ve allowed a culture that has done more to unite people than any other genre of music or movement become nothing more than a joke. Something that was created off of pride and honor has been tricked out to the point of not being able to tell the difference between male or female, real or fake, authentic or synthetic. Yes, we allowed this. For every album we’ve downloaded or allowed to be played on the radio without complaint. Us, the fans and consumers. We’ve allowed people to get rich off putting out half ass product and not care two damns to give us content. What happened to concepts? What happened to rhyme schemes that didn’t repeat the same words to rhyme with each other? What happened to artists taking their time between projects so that they can put something out that attempted to be good? Have our ears and brains been abused so badly that we’ve decided to support minimal effort? Would you let your chef give you a half cooked meal? Are you allowing your barbers to give you a busted cut and still paying them, with a tip attached? Is your cab driver allowed to take you half way to your journey yet, you’re paying in full? Someone say something!!! Have we become the generation of the half thinking, not caring, settle for anything idiots? I say, the next time you hear a track and don’t understand the words, call up your local radio stations and tell them, “Can we hear something with substance?” The next time an artist puts out a track that they didn’t write, write the record label and tell them you want more. Whenever you hear a track disrespecting our women, children, or ourselves, return to sender real quick. Let the big wigs that are pushing this product know that you can no longer stand and allow our people to be ridiculed and disrespected. Take a stance and make it known that ancestors have died and been tortured for way too long for us to now accept us as a people, being seen as jesters and entertainment. And for all friends, managers, and circles of the trusted that be in the studio with any artists that fit any of these categories, please don’t let them leave the studio with sanitation. Put them back in the booth and challenge them to try and carve history with a message. Let them know that real HipHop is tired of seeing Geppetto’s dolls do his work.