Saturday, 7 July 2007

The Eternal Argument Continues...

After reading Rasul's thought-provoking article on When They Reminisce (check it out here), I felt compelled to continue the debate that must affect every single MC out there...

Go mainstream or stay underground?

Think about it. You're an aspiring young rapper, just breaking through, making small ripples in the hip hop ocean. You are young and idealistic, and believe hip hop is all about great lyrics, and bangin' beats. You've released a couple of independent EP's (you don't fuck with mixtapes, they belong to the average shitty rapper), and are ready to make your big break by releasing your debut full-length LP. At this moment in time, your EP's have gained critical acclaim by internet heads, and you are being touted as the next (insert your favourite rapper's name here). You've completed 90% of your album, and are now looking for a record label to sign with. Now, check it, you have two options...

Option 1: You sign with an indie. You go on to complete your album the way you envisioned it, and the album goes to press. When it's released, the reviews run out of superlatives to describe it, and it goes on to sell a couple thousand copies. Still not enough to allow you to quit your day job just yet. Spurred on by the relative success of your debut, you go on tour around the country with other underground artists of the day. You've made some money on tour, after a few more solo gigs, you manage to become a full-time MC. A few guest appearances are made on other underground albums, and you begin to start writing for your second album. Your label makes more of an effort to push this album after the success of the first. However, reviews for this sophomore release are not quite as good as for previous, and critics say that the album, although a solid release, does not quite have the creativity provided by the first album. Internet heads nod their head in agreement. The album goes on to sell slightly better than the first. Not down-hearted, you change your style up for a third release, determined to prove that you're not a one-trick pony. The album is supported by the indie label, and it is publicised as your rebirth. This time, critics take a lash at your effort, saying that the new style is, for a better word, wack, and argue that you will never quite make anything that will match your first release. The internet heads agree once again. The label dumps you, and feeling depressed with the world, you end up killing yourself. At the tender age of 28, life has passed you by.

Option 2: You sign with a major. The first thing you do is let your Mickey D's manager know that you're quitting your job, by letting him know that he suck some part of your anatomy. You go on to show the major your work so far on the LP, but they insist that some changes be made. A few of the political songs are cut, and some shake-ya-baaty tunes are included, for the women of course. You reluctantly agree, and the album goes to press. The major pushes the album strongly, describing it as 'the return of real hip hop'. The reviews come out, with critics saying that the album seems to be an above average release, with glimpses of skill shown on (incidentally) some of the original tracks recorded. The major decides to release the radio-friendly tunes, and soon your videos (with groupies, guns, and bling as standard) hit MTV, BET, and fill out the clubs. Internet heads wonder what the hell has happened to you, and you are instantly labelled as a sell-out. The album goes on to sell a couple million. The major is impresses, but thinks you could have done better. After reading some of the feedback from the beloved internet heads, you approach the major with the idea of making a more conscience second album, with more politics / less booty-shakin'. The major is enthuthiastic about the idea, and you go on to start the writing for the album. However, when you finish up the final details and play the album to the major, they seem uncertain about the tone of the music. The album is delayed, and eventually never gets to see the light of day. You leave the major, and hope to release the album on an indie. But with your credibility gone after your 'club rapper' image, they decline. Feeling depressed with the world, you end up killing yourself. At the tender age of 28, life has passed you by.

Of course, both of these situations are hypothetical (and have an exaggerated ending), but interesting none-the-less. It is indeed a fine line between credibility and selling out.

On to today's album post.

Masta Ace - A Long Hot Summer

With reference to my rant above, I think that Masta Ace holds the title, most mainstream underground. His career, in my opinion, is the perfect way to balance mainstream success with appreciation from the underground. In essence, he is Mr. Keepin' It Real.
And he knows it. On my favourite cut from the album, 'Beautiful', Ace spits...
"I rise up above
See, people still showin' me love
Get the respect without droppin' a check
This hip hop thing might stop in a sec
So this brand new hit, you can pop in the deck
It's beautiful"
It is indeed beautiful. I overlooked this album for the story post, but have no doubt, this is one of the best story-telling albums out. The album follows Ace's adventure with friend Fats Belvedere, and eventually ending up in a prison cell.
Some people may question whether Masta Ace can be considered to be underground, but whatever. In my opinion, an MC is underground if you don't hear their releases played on MTV or the radio 24/7. Anyway, anyone who wants to start listening to different kinds of hip hop, I would strongly recommend starting with this album right here. The reason why so many people like Masta Ace is that he is easy to listen to compared to some other underground artists, and he also sounds great. This is by no means disrespectful to the Ace, but a compliment in that he does not need to over-complicate things.
Besides 'Beautiful', other nice cuts on this album include 'Soda And Soap' featuring Jean Grae (where have all the female MCs gone?), where Ace drops various drink names in the first verse, and washing products in the second. So he's still using his creative sides, and further evidence is heard in 'Brooklyn Masala', a story where Ace describes falling for a Asian chick.
So, aspiring MCs take note: use Ace's career as a guide to help you make good music, and gain commercial success at the same time.

1 comment:

SniperInTheMist said...

I'm VERY pleased you've chosen Masta Ace to display the perfect way to have a career in rap. The reason for this is simply because Masta Ace is my favourite emcee. Has been for years.

I don't actually think he's made a poor album: Take A Look Around, Slaughtahouse, Sittin On Chrome, Disposable Arts, A Long Hot Summer - All great albums, at least 3 of them classics.

Another great post mate, keep up the good work, I enjoy reading it as I'm sure many others do too.