Is The Art of Lyricism Lost In Hip Hop?



Posted By on January 13, 2015 @ 8:21 AM | OP-EDs

On April 19, 1994, Illmatic was first introduced to the world. Little did everyone know, it would become one of the most celebrated hip hop albums of all time. It’s been 20 years since Nas released his first studio album and till this day it is still considered a classic to many. But what makes this a classic record?

In the documentary Nas: Time Is Illmatic, which was released last year, it goes into depth of Nas’ upbringing all the way into the making of Illmatic. Nas explained the reasons why he made the record:

When I made Illmatic, I was trying to make the perfect album. It comes from them days of wild style. I was trying to make you experience my life. I wanted you to look at hip hop differently. I wanted you to feel that hip hop is changing and becoming something more real. I gave you what the streets felt like, what it sounded like, tasted like, smelt like, all in that album and I tried to capture it like no one else could.”

When you think about that statement, how many hip hop artists do you know have felt that way when they were trying to make an album? How many of them have that same mentality right now? From what I’m hearing on the radio, there’s not a lot. There is a new wave of hip hop artists that are steering the game in the wrong direction. I think more emphasis is being placed on the beat than the actual lyricism. The only emcees that I feel come close to the art of storytelling and exhibiting great lyricism is Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. They are the only one’s that have the same mindset when it comes to approaching an album. Lamar’s second album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City came out in 2012. Cole’s album 2014 Forest Hills Drive came out late last year. They both exuded great storytellilng within their albums from start to finish. You got to understand the artist for who they really were. You got hear the struggles that they went through to survive in the tough streets and even in their own homes. We got to step into their world, one song at a time. I don’t hear that in hip hop anymore. No one is creative with their lyrics. The art of lyricism is slowly disappearing.

What I appreciate about Nas was his honesty and rawness and his ability to be uninhibited. That’s one of the biggest reason why Illmatic is as timeless as it is now. The real question in my mind is whether Lamar and Cole’s album will reach the same level of success as Illmatic. I really believe they can. 20 years from now, I can imagine that those albums will still be talked about for years to come. Music in general has drastically changed and it will continue to change. Who knows; maybe another artist will come along and change the game for the better. Until then, I have yet to witness that.

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Just a cool, laid back individual who sees the beauty in this crazy world. I love sushi, electronics, sports and most importantly, music. There's not a day that goes by where I don't have my headphones. In a nutshell, if you really want to know me, just take a look at my iPod.

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  • Guest

    There’s a distinct difference between top-40 hip hop and hip hop as a genre in general. There are literally thousands of brilliant artists out there whp have done and are doing groundbreaking things with lyrics (Aesop Rock, MF Doom, Joey Bada$$ and the Pro Era Crew, Das Racist, Blackalicious, People Under the Stairs, Blu, to name just a few); the fact that they aren’t getting “traditional” radio play shouldn’t undermine the fact that they exist and are thriving.

    It really bothers me that articles like this make sweeping generalizations about an entire genre (hip hop is dead! lyricism in hip hop no longer exists!) without making it clear that the author is focusing on one specific area of that genre — the “hits.” The “hits” are rarely very representative of any genre; the crap on the radio certainly isn’t an accurate representation of rock or of electronic music as entire genres, for example. Yet I rarely see articles decrying the death of either of the two; why should it be any different with hip hop?

    Hip hop, and lyricism in hip hop, are alive and thriving, with more diversity in the genre now than ever before. But for fuck’s sake, dig beyond the surface.

  • Taylor

    There’s a distinct difference between top-40 hip hop and hip hop as a genre in general. There are literally thousands of brilliant artists out there who have done and are doing groundbreaking things with lyrics (Aesop Rock, MF Doom, Joey Bada$$ and the Pro Era Crew, Das Racist, Blackalicious, People Under the Stairs, Blu, to name just a few); the fact that they aren’t getting “traditional” radio play shouldn’t undermine the fact that they exist and are thriving.

    It really bothers me that articles like this make sweeping generalizations about an entire genre (hip hop is dead! lyricism in hip hop no longer exists!) without making it clear that the author is focusing on one specific area of that genre — the “hits.” The “hits” are rarely very representative of any genre; the crap on the radio certainly isn’t an accurate representation of rock or of electronic music as entire genres, for example. Yet I rarely see articles decrying the death of either of the two; why should it be any different with hip hop?

    Hip hop, and lyricism in hip hop, are alive and thriving, with more diversity in the genre now than ever before. But for fuck’s sake, dig beyond the surface.