[Featured image by David Yu]
Imagine that you’ve spent years working on a technique. Everyone tells you it’s the best technique they’ve ever seen, so you open your business. Then one day, you find out that some guy stole the technique that took you ten years to perfect and that he is making a lot of money off it. How would you feel? I don’t understand how we got into an era where it’s so acceptable to steal an artist’s flow that many rappers sound the same. The high number of lazy rappers doesn’t shock me anymore when it comes to the US and France. Unfortunately, laziness is spreading like a zombie virus.
More and more Korean rappers are content with the bare minimum, and even worse, some are signed under big labels. I can already hear some people telling me, “If you don’t like it, then don’t listen to it!” and I totally agree. However, we can’t forget that rap is a part of hip hop culture and that rap without a certain diversity and cultural richness is just garbage. That’s why I’m worried about the hip hop legacy.
I won’t give any name; I’m not writing this article to criticize anyone. Instead, I want to address the topic more broadly and talk about how laziness in rap became normalized.
Creativity vs. Laziness
In 가라사대 (GOTTASADAE), BewhY attacks two categories of rappers: those who shamelessly copy the style of other artists, and those who follow the trends instead of letting their creativity run wild. As for the second category, it doesn’t mean that these rappers are lame, a bit lazy maybe, but it means above all that they don’t take any risks. Venturing off the beaten path is the only way to stand out and become leaders of new trends. The two phenomena mentioned by BewhY reduce artistic diversity and slow down the renewal of rap. He raises an interesting point in 찬란 (CHALLAN):
너가 쓰는 내 flow, 음, 딱 일이 년 전꺼
구라친 네 가슴의 열정은 실리콘
My flow you use, hum, was used just a year ago
Your heart’s passion is silicone
For him, the reason why rappers copy others is that they are not passionate about rap. There’s a huge difference between rappers who enjoy rap and those passionate about it because passion drives them to study their predecessors and put forward their best effort. This is true for rap and all other fields. For example, we may like Korea, its culture, music, movies, food, etc., but only the most motivated tend to learn Korean. When rappers study the greatest, they get better at their own music. In 니가 싫어하는 노래 (Most Hated), Dok2 says:
거진 rapper라는 놈들 rhyme은 억지
돈만 벌기 위해 rhyme을 적지
All other rappers’ rhymes sound forced
They write rhymes just to make money
Here again, there’s a criticism of the lack of passion. Many rappers are attracted by the lure of money, and since wealth is their sole motivation, they don’t care much about improving their writing. Wanting to get rich as a rapper is not a bad thing. Don’t we all have bills to pay? However, when that desire overrides their passion for rap, artists tend to become dull.
Sometimes the reason is not even money. Some rappers used to be good, but they just lost it. Keeping the flame burning after 10 or 15 years of marriage is not that easy, and I guess it’s the same thing with rap because, for many of us, hip hop is a love story above all things.
Easy Topics: Money, Body, and B×tches
A lot of MC’s like to talk ’bout they self
A first grade topic, I think you need help
How many times on one album can you say you’re def?
“I’m baaaad” – Yo punk, save your breath
Ice-T in The Syndicate, 1988
Ice T’s diss track against LL Cool J goes back more than 30 years but is still relevant today. Since the rise of social media, we live in an era where narcissism is king, which is reflected in rap. The same contents are repeated all over again: their money, their body, their bitches. At this point, there’s no difference between Instagram, Tik Tok, and their Eps. I get it, rappers need to be confident to earn some respect, but I feel like a lot of them took the ego trip part and left the rest behind. Saying that they’re the badest and kings (or queens) of rap is not enough. They have to show us their crown through their skills.
However, rap stopped being a meritocracy long ago to become an elective monarchy, and the monarchs are not the most gifted but the most-streamed artists. That’s why many rappers follow the trends.
I’m not against songs about sex and money (when the lyrics are good). Actually, a “boss b×tch” playlist helps me to stay motivated while working out. I just think rappers should take off their gangsta armor and their bad b×tch costume once in a while. Rappers are real when they are fully committed to their music and put themselves into their songs, not only their public persona.
Some people think there’s no authenticity in rap anymore, but that’s not true. Yes, there was a time when only thugs could talk about guns and act gangsta. But rap music has become mainstream; it doesn’t belong to the street anymore, just like all those rappers who have climbed the social ladder and now enjoy a higher status. Many rappers create a persona like most mainstream singers do (yes, even k-pop idols). I don’t mind rappers’ personae as long as they’re not caricatures. Authenticity lies in the artist’s ability to remove his costume and show the real person behind it. For example, Lee Young Ji opens up to us in 암실 (Dark Room):
아직 잃을 준비가 안 된 것 같아서 좀 많이 두려워
돈 명예 시계 전부 얻어도 날 다 채울 수 가 없으니
더 날 불러줘 막연한 회의감 가득한 방 안에서도 듣게끔
I’m scared because I’m not ready to lose
Money, fame, watch even if I get them all they can’t fill me
Call me, so I can hear you from my room which is full of feelings of doubt
Translated by lyricstranslate.com. It was too hard for me :).
Vulnerability is what makes us human. Sometimes female rappers don’t have to be the “badest b×tches” or Wonder Woman; they just need to be authentic. I love the way Lee Young Ji reveals herself to us, especially because it takes a lot of effort and bravery.
Ranking criteria have changed
Every rapper can improve their flow and lyrics when they learn from the greatest, so we might believe that all they have to do is stop being lazy, but it’s not that simple. Imagine that you’re starving and that there are only two restaurants around. You just have to cross the street to go to restaurant n°1, while restaurant n°2 is located at the top of the mountain. Where would you eat? Let’s be honest; there are only two reasons for you to chose the second restaurant:
- reason n°1 → you want to lose weight;
- reason n°2 → you know the owners, and you don’t want them to go bankrupt like so many businesses since the beginning of the pandemic.
Otherwise, it’s restaurant n°1. This may apply to hip-hop, as well. Learning how to rap and write is very demanding, but you know what? Rappers no longer need to be talented to get a seat at the table. “Good Prod + Catchy Hook” is the winning formula, even when they add poor-quality lyrics to the equation. A lot of rappers choose the easy way out, and most of them are unaware of their botched job. Seriously, how can they realize that they need to work harder when the audience is praising them and streaming their songs? Rappers have become complacent because the audience is easily pleased. So yes, we’re the ones to blame for the proliferation of lazy rappers.
Rappers will stay on top as long as they keep the public entertained. In this new scale of value, a catchy song is more relevant than skills, flow, and poetry. A rap battle scene from the American series Empire illustrates this phenomenon. Freda was the most virulent rapper, but Hakeem won because he seduced his audience. You would almost forget that he just talked about his skills and criticized his father instead of tearing down his rival. Here is the scene:
Why do rappers choose to study rap and perfect their writing when they know that they could still get on the Billboard charts with less effort? Whether it’s passion or perfectionism, we should respect them for their hard work. Thank you for keeping the hip-hop legacy alive 🙏.
I can’t wait for Show Me The Money 10 😈!