Soon there are several voices harmonizing and several sets of feet tapping. Then another set of feet comes in, looking for an empty stall. A voice chants, "Don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge...". The newcomer sees it’s a full house and leaves, still rapping "The Message," the seminal hip hop song by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. There’s a moment of silence. And then "Under the Boardwalk" resumes.
I've often thought back to this skit. Yes, some music is classic, and will always be sung despite changes in fashion. But were the producers also suggesting that this rap thing was just gonna be a passing phase? That's how I took it, and I was pretty pissed off, since I thought "The Message" was not only a cool song, but possibly important.
Some of the best hip hop has had a message: Public Enemy and KRS-One, for example, had something important to say, but they managed to do it without sounding preachy. With the rise of gangsta rap, though, people began to wonder where the more socially-conscious rappers had gone.
Fortunately, that’s when De La Soul came along. Their music had a message too: hip hop can be fun, and both smart and smart-alecky. This was an important message in 1989, when it seemed that rap was all about drugs and violence.
Once you start telling musicians – or any kind of artist – that you’re expecting both art AND a “message,” you’ve really decreased the chances of getting either. I don't want rappers to feel they need to come up with a message. Just write the damn song. If you have something important to say, it’ll come out when it’s ready.
Do you want to hear hip hop with a message?
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