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Welcome to Hip-Hop High SchoolPosted by Mike Dreams (Michael A. Hannah) on 01/14/10 | Filed under Top Stories, Features, A Dreamer's Perspective
Now we all know that hip hop already alludes to the "school" idea, with things like "Top Freshman of (enter year here)". But there's something I noticed about the mindset of certain artists that I want to further discuss in connection with high school sentiments, for example the cosign.
So think back to high school. Maybe you were the giver or recipient of a cosign, based on your social status in the school. The new kid comes to the school and meets a new friend, who happens to have a lot of other friends in his circle and he introduces you to them, allowing them to initially vicariously befriend you through the mutual friend. I can remember this happening distinctly to me. I moved from the south side of Minneapolis after the first semester of my freshman year of high school to the first suburb north of Minneapolis, a city called Brooklyn Center (which is where I now reside). I met a friend who was pretty popular and had a circle of friends who I also became friends with, thanks to his introduction.
So now, let's look back at hip hop. When have you seen this same scenario played out before on a larger, music industry scale? Well, here's one: Jay-Z cosigns Kanye West. Now Kanye West was an interesting case. He entered the game and made his name as a producer - but being a rap artist was almost a completely different story. Jay-Z signed Kanye as a rap artist and cosigned him as a RAP artist, giving the biggest push to Kanye's career. Kanye was able to gain Jay-Z's fan base solely because of the cosign. Now I'll be coming back to Ye a little later.
Let's look at some other examples, most recently...Drake, with the Lil Wayne cosign. Now I personally was a Drake fan since 2007 when I came across his joint "Replacement Girl" and then obtained his mixtape "Comeback Season". Drake has a similar story to Kanye's, except that instead of making his claim to fame as a producer, Drake had made himself known through acting playing the disabled character Jimmy Brooks in the hit Canadian teen drama "Degrassi: The Next Generation", which happens to be my FAVORITE show of all time, OF ALL TIME. (Kanye Voice). Though he began obtaining his own fan base, his burst to popularity was when he showed up on a record with superstar recording artist "Lil Wayne" called "Ransom", which brought his nameto the forefront of Lil Wayne and Young Money fans everywhere. Other examples include Dr. Dre to Eminem, Eminem to 50 Cent, 50 Cent to The Game (interesting chain there eh?) and many others. The cosigns were the turning point in an artist's popularity within the "student body" of rappers.
Okay, so we've went over the cosign. Now let's talk about "coming of age" and the idea of becoming comfortable in your own skin. Think back a little bit if you can. Do you remember how you acted when you first entered high school?? Or maybe if you didn't change drastically, do you remember someone else who acted different when they started their high school career compared to when they graduated or who they are now? Well, I remember two types of these situations. There were people who came in and sort of had to blend in with the attitudes and mindsets of those around them. I am guilty of being ones of those people for a little while. It was really about figuring out your identity as a person. As I began to get older, I started becoming more confident in my own character and opinion and by senior year, I was just about completely exercising my own way of thinking and really received a kick out of breaking stereotypes and not being the one to perpetuate clichés. I became comfortable within my own skin.
Then, there's another form of behavioral change, and that's when a person comes into school as themselves and over the years, they ultimately cave in and can't endure the sometimes difficult task that being yourself is, so they become something they're not and sooner or later, this eventually becomes their true identity. So let's return to hip-hop. I said I would come back to Kanye West, and he's a good example to use in this situation as well. I became a Kanye fan somewhere between "The College Dropout" and "Late Registration". I ended up going back and listening to almost everything that he did, including old mixtape joints, spanning back even as far as 2001. Now Kanye was a guy who entered the rap game with one of the hottest labels around at the time, "Roc-a-Fella", who predominantly held a street feel to the content of their music. I recall some of Kanye's first records leaning towards some of the "hood" vernacular. He used to rap a little more grittier and even allude to some violent content, like "Black strap, white handle, I got jungle fever." Over the years, as Kanye came into his own identity, gaining his own fan base and niche and didn't find himself having to win over already established artists or people in the industry, he moved away from the more street flow and sort of single-handedly shifted the content and subject matter that became popular in hip hop and rap. 50 Cent bitterly described it as "non-confrontational" music, which it was, but more so "regular people" music. Not everyone in the world were gangstas or had been shot 9 times or wake up every day pondering if they'll die. Kanye was able to connect with more people because there were more "regular" people in the world than there were otherwise.
Now there is another side of this idea. I don't want to fully say that Drake is the reverse effect of this, but you can tell based on the music he made in 2006 compared to SOME of the records he creates now, that he came into the game fully knowing who he was and over the years and from influences and cosigns, he altered his style a little bit to fit in with the people around him, and now a lot of that has become the identity of him as an artist that most of his fan base knows him as. Now Drake is a special case, because I believe he is an artist who really knows how he wants to portray himself and his debut album will reflect that. But it's pretty sad that a lot of rappers come into the game one way and let the "machine" change them completely.
Last but not least, I wanted to talk about sincerity while comparing high school to the hip hop industry. I was able to do a lot of thinking and analyzing of behavior that myself and others exhibited during my high school years, from feuds to the ways we approached situations, etc. I was looking back at a situation where a good friend and I didn't talk to each other for the better half of senior year over something that turned out to be something we really could have squashed through one discussion, that would have cleared up everything. I remember childish situations that could have been avoided and a lot of animosity and turmoil that could have been eliminated throughout my high school career that I observed or was directly involved in that could have been dispelled by thinking like logical adults and being able to understand why people do the things that they do. But who was thinking that hard in high school? I mean, let's just keep it real. Most of us didn't think deeply about a lot of situations or learn how to really be sincere until we became grown-ups and those new found ideas of reasoning and perception matured.
I see this in hip hop by looking at the timeline of artists and their behavior over the course of their career. One of the main people I observed this from was T.I. If you've been a T.I. fan, you can notice how his vibe changed from "I'm Serious" to "Paper Trial", and it was almost fun to watch the transformation and transition. Though he still carries sentiments from his early styles, and he contained sentiments from his predominant mindset now, you can see the shift in the priority of his thinking process. T.I. came in beefing with multiple artists and really brought that street feel to the music almost the point where it was quite a tangible reality. Now this did contribute to the fascination with him, as did many cases like that, where what the artist rapped about was almost identical to the actual things they were presently involved with. You can attribute some of T.I.'s change just basically to the life events that happens with him and how his outlook on life and the quality of life was altered. But that's the same with many people post-high school. Different things happen to you as you get older and allow you to look back on similar situations that occurred when you were younger, where you wished you could apply what you know about the situation now to situations back then. I've seen many artists go through this, and at times, they almost turn out better after the fact, because they've finally grown into an "adult". Once it's no longer about proving yourself and fitting in with the norm, you finally embrace who you really are and you begin to become more sincere about your true character and that goes both ways, for real life and life as a music artist.
We all enter the institution, ready to embrace the new experiences and the end result is hopefully graduating to greatness.