(ANTIMEDIA) Kanye West has become a household name, not necessarily for his music, but for his absurd remarks, belligerent publicity stunts, and self-worshipping persona. He is the personification of the perpetual narcissistic image that mainstream hip-hop culture has come to represent. He embodies the “I’m the greatest” complex that modern rappers use as a crutch to get around the fact they lack any real substance to add to their lyrics. So it’s no surprise his name was dropped by Chuck D, frontman of Public Enemy and known critic of hip-hop culture, during a discussion on the subject.
Chuck D said in an interview with Billboard he believes the “DNA” has been taken out of modern hip-hop as a result of the deterioration of groups and collectives and the rise of the solo artist.
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“[Y]ou can be an individual and change the future by doing some dub, crazy bullshit,” he said.
“But making positive change is like going up a mountain that’s made out of grease wheel with a pair of roller skates; it requires like-minded collectives. This is why bands work. This is why when a band is in sync ─ the bass, the guitar, the drums ─ there’s nothing that can match that. One of the tragedies of hip-hop […] is how the journals and blogs and everyone threw hip-hop down the stairs by praising the individual and knocking aside the importance of the group. […] the minute you started taking the DNA of the thing that worked, it’s the guy and the mic ─ the guy is Kanye and just Kanye and nothing else ─ it started shooting down hip-hop as being a legitimate genre and being more of a spectacle.”
A quick look at the quality and cult-like followings of the artists from hip-hop’s prime era easily supports Chuck D’s theory on the effectiveness of groups and collectives. Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, OutKast, N.W.A., and Cypress Hill represent only a handful of artists who were able to create incredible followings by introducing a group of individuals who sought similar goals. They articulated themselves both artistically and uniquely, sending a clear message about what their collectives represented.
The success of hip-hop groups can be seen in modern hip-hop, as well, with groups like TDE and Odd Future giving rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Tyler the Creator, and Earl Sweatshirt platforms on which to launch their careers. As D observes, these artists inevitably leave these groups and enter the spotlight by themselves.
Chuck D is certainly no stranger to this kind of attention. Public Enemy were pioneers of supplying a loud and aggressive narrative on racism, inequality, and corporate America. He has criticized modern hip-hop culture and its glamorization of violence, drugs, and the degradation of women, as well as its perpetuation of negative stereotypes of urban communities. However, this harsh scrutiny hasn’t come because D harbors a hatred for hip-hop. D is speaking out because he recognizes the power of music, especially hip-hop, and feels he is watching it be disgraced and taken advantage of by egomaniacal industry puppets seeking to sell a destructive and consumerist image to their audiences.
“So in hip-hop ─ I love the genre, I’ll support the genre ─ I’m dismayed by the individual efforts. I just don’t think anybody is that great enough to hold anybody’s attention past half an hour just talking about their damn self. I don’t,” D said.
Chuck D is currently performing with Prophets of Rage, a supergroup featuring Chuck, B-Real of Cypress Hill, DJ Lord, and members of Rage Against the Machine.
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