We often talk about how rap music is ghetto and how the streets have taken over hip-hop and I think that is because we miss that suburban element of hip-hop. We need to be honest with ourselves; we will listen to the streets because there is an authenticity that kids who got out of the drug game and turn to hip-hop bring that you are hard pressed to find with music today but a lot of us who are not from the ghetto would prefer to listen to the suburbs. It was not that long ago that Kanye West filled a vacuum not just for those who attended college but those who were looking for commentary about middle class values. However as time moved on Kanye West himself changed, and there does not seem to be anyone willing to extol middle class, suburban African-American values for the rest of us.
I often wonder if suburban hipster kids are behind a lot of the dance songs that are out today, and perhaps it is not that suburbia is missing in hip-hop but that we would not recognize it when it was directly in front of us. If you really think about it, why wouldn’t a kid from the suburbs or exurbs put out a song that can make you dance as they do not have any of the same experiences from the streets to talk about that anyone would take seriously. You cannot live vicariously through them, so they have to talk about regular stuff, and dancing is something that everyone can relate to.
In fact for a while back in the beginning of the last decade I tried to get away from hip-hop because I did not feel that it was speaking to my own experiences. But what I found was that I could never get into other genre of music as much as I wanted to and hip-hop was a natural choice because it reinforced ideas about my identity as a Black person. So I had to go outside of the box and find artists that I could relate to.
The bottom line is if you are stuck in a suburban area chances are you are not looking to make a lot of money in hip-hop. Rap artists are not getting paid as much as they used to, people are not selling as many records and if anything you make money selling ring tones and being on tour. Rap sold a lot at the beginning of this decade but you are lucky if you can go gold in this environment. So you do the right thing and go to school and get a job as a doctor or a lawyer, or a computer programmer.
At the end of the day there may not have been a lot of suburban kids or much of that suburban middle class influence in hip-hop at any one point during its entire existence. It would seem as though there is only room for one artist or group from the suburbs, a token act at that, and that if you have other options in life you should pursue them if possible. This does not mean that there aren’t kids from the suburbs having fun and releasing mix tapes for free on the Internet. But it does suggest that rap music, hip-hop, and the culture that is associated with it is by the streets, for the streets, and if you can appreciate it that is fine but if you cannot then it really was not for you to understand …