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A Dreamer’s Perspective: The Superstar Formula - Infiltrating The Mainstream While Staying True

Posted by Mike Dreams (Michael A. Hannah) on 12/07/09 | Filed under Features, A Dreamer's Perspective
Lupe Fiasco Superstar
Like any musical genre, fan bases change. What was cool at the beginning has become dated, innovation and originality are the only things that keep the genre thriving. Hip-hop is no different. When rap music was brought to the forefront, it was clever and new; guys spewing out rhythmic stanzas over break beats was exciting. Today, there has to be more than that to draw fans in. Now, some think this idea has been detrimental to the genre. Many refer to this type of musical evolution as "pop rap", using it to negatively describe the style of music. I've alluded to the idea of hip-hop purists before and talked about how they shun innovation and progression. While they believe they are preserving the genre, they are really slowly killing it off. But what does it take for longevity in the world of modern hip-hop? As much as I don't like the purist mentality, I can't blame them for being concerned about the sanctity of the culture and the integrity of the music. In the past couple years, I've observed artists emerge from underground recognition to mainstream fame and trade in their lyrical substance based music for the cliché "Money, Cars, Clothes and Hos." So is their a middle ground? How do you withstand the test of time without changing who you are? It's all about "The Superstar Formula."

We all know hip-hop has changed a great deal since its creation. In some of my past pieces, I've talked about the historical background of rap and hip-hop. We are getting ready to enter the second decade of the new millennium and it's time to talk about what it's going to take to be a successful in the music industry. Now obviously, this is my opinion, based on observation and not experience (since I'm obvious just an unsigned, aspiring hip-hop artist myself). But from my newfound identification of how the industry is rolling, I think I might have a recipe you may want to try. Rachel Ray ain't got nothing on this! This term "The Superstar Formula" was coined by yours truly and the idea was directly inspired by the release of Chicago-based MC Lupe Fiasco's most successful single to date, “Superstar” (featuring Matthew Santos). Granted there were most likely songs before this that embodied the same attribute I am going to explore, but “Superstar” is a great recent example.

I've been a fan of Lupe since I first heard him lyrically steal the show on his 2005 collaboration "Touch The Sky" with Kanye West. The mixtapes he dropped in 2006 were in heavy rotation, as well as his debut album "Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor", which I personally hail as one of the best hip-hop albums of the decade. While fans affirmed him as hip hop's vanguard for his sincere talent and classic lyricism, qualities that seemed to be absent in hip-hop, the album still failed to garner complete mainstream recognition. They say a universally successful song is one that you can teach to a six-year-old. While Lupe's complex lyricism and deep choruses were great for the music as a whole, he was failing in the crossover aspect. Nearly one year later Lupe debuts a record that would become his biggest hit single to date "Superstar". The verses were nothing less than genius Lupe lyricism, filled with metaphors, substance-laced content and an overall refreshing song. From where I was standing, none of that had disappeared from Lupe's arsenal. But this was the kicker; the chorus was a sultry, simple croon from St. Paul, Minnesota native, Matthew Santos, as he sang "If you are what you say you are, a superstar, then have no fear...". The easily infectious chorus allowed hip -op fans all across the board to know who Lupe Fiasco was, even if it was just for that one particular song, and this made him a household name. Gangsters, valley girls, nerds, bullies, preschoolers, scholars and hip-hoppers alike all knew the chorus and could chant it on command. I literally almost shed a tear when I watched Lupe perform at the MTV Spring Break and some girls who looked like "The Hills" extras knew the song and even knew some of the verse lyrics. Superstar peaked at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts and resulted in a Grammy Nomination for the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 2009 Grammys.

Now what's the significance to this song's success to my point? "Superstar" proved to be a crossover success while Lupe still kept his integrity intact, delivering intelligent and original rap lyrics to the masses. The genre-crossing chorus allowed the song to span across the board of fans with diverse tastes, as well as those who don't regularly listen to hip-hop music. It was a perfect example for how to efficiently change the "system". You don't go against infiltrate it. On my article about hip hop purism, one reader referred to me as another new "emcee" trying to be a pop artist. He said it's fine if I wanted to be a pop artist, but for me to not try and pass myself as a hip hop artist. "Pardon me I had to laugh at that." It's not about selling out or being a "pop artist." It's about being intelligent with your marketing. Why go against a musical formula that has been around for ages? You draw the masses in with the heart of the song, which is the chorus and the music. You don't know how many times someone could be saying some greatly significant stuff that people need to hear, but the listener gets turned off by the storybook beats and complex hooks. Let the new decade of 2010 usher in real artists who are able to gain longevity in the mainstream music industry. No more complaining about "the machine" and how everything is "shady" in the industry. Of course, there will always be those who are just in it for the money, make generic music and pimp the system for everything it's worth. Those artists are never the most memorable ones though. History has shown that the best artists were the ones who kept it real. Success is within reach. The new school of artists just have to embrace new ways to reach the world.

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