From Billboard’s Top 100 to the the latest Kidz Bop album – hip hop music made it’s way into the center of mainstream culture. It’s a far cry from the past iterations of hip-hop, where the genre was relegated to a dedicated few, somewhat ostracized and even feared by the populace at large.
The music that was once described by rapper Chuck D as “the CNN for black people” is now a multimillion dollar industry. And just like anything that has become popularized and homogenized it begs the question: what does this do for the music’s authenticity?
Well for Hip-hop journalist and “Media Assassin” Harry Allen, the answer is a complicated one.
“In American culture there is always a tradeoff,” Allen says. “As the music has become bigger and more widely accessible, it’s become more generic in a certain sense.” Allen spent his formative years working alongside the influential rap group Public Enemy, a group who cemented their popularity in what would later be known as the golden age of hip-hop. Public Enemy’s moniker held true as the group faced a plethora of controversy.
Now though times have changed and so have audiences. Take for instance the latest super-bowl half time performance, where Missy Elliot became the throw-back surprise hit to thousands of fans, or the battle between two white artists – Iggy Azalea and Eminem for the Best Rap Album Grammy. Do these things dilute hip-hop’s credibility?
“It may,” Allen says. “I mean when you really think about it, ever since the culture was founded…it’s had to do a series of conversions.”
Allen argues that the changes being seen are part of the art forms natural evolution. Over the years rap artists have had to adapt to get broader messages to the broader audience. He claims that with that broadening, there will eventually be a certain level of dilution. “It’s just going to become wallpaper at some point,” Allen says. “Thankfully we do have tremendous art that’s recorded – a lot of which people haven’t really grappled with yet.”