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Is Kanye UNconscious? (title change)


Ron Hightower
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Is Kanye Conscious?  

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Conscious hip hop or socially conscious hip-hop is a form of hip hop that focuses on social issues. It is not necessarily overtly political, but it discusses social issues and conflicts. Themes of conscious hip hop include religion, aversion to violence, African American culture and advancement, the economy, or simple depictions of life in the projects/ghetto that reveal the struggle of ordinary people. Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" was an early and hugely influential political and conscious hip hop track, decrying the poverty, violence, and dead-end lives of the black youth of the time.

 

The audience for conscious rap is largely underground. Most conscious hip hop artists have not attained the same level of commercial success as mainstream hip-hop, though there are some notable exceptions to this.

 

Like many cases within music, the umbrella term was originally coined by music audiences and critics rather than the actual artists themselves and has produced considerable backlash in regards to the labeling. Some of the most prominent artists affiliated with the term have openly criticized and deregarded it. Rap artist Mos Def once stated:

"They keep trying to slip the 'conscious rapper' thing on me...I come from Roosevelt Projects, man. The ghetto. I drank the same sugar water, ate hard candy. And they try to get me because I'm supposed to be more articulate, I'm supposed to be not like the other Negroes, to get me to say something against my brothers. I'm not going out like that, man."

 

Similarly, Talib Kweli confirmed in a recent interview with VIBE magazine that the title of his next album will be Prisoner of Consciousness, a reference to his constant labeling as a "conscious rapper".

 

This definitely isn't the definition of Kanye West, but is he trying to get there?

 

kanye_west1_300_400.jpg

 

No doubt, Kanye's greatest contributions to hip-hop have been his beats (which have been almost 100% commercial). At the other end of that spectrum is his tact, but is his 'message' up there with greats like Nas, Mos Def, Common and others considered 'conscious'? As I've listened to more and more of his music, I'm beginning to become a believer. Now, is he in the league of the afore mentioned artists lyrically? No way, but he does have a way with words and most of the time, even in songs not geared towards a message, gives one anyway. It's because of this that I've grown a respect for Kanye, even though I still don't like him as a person (I feel that his 'publicity stunts' are often rude and childish). I can also respect the fact that he tries to do different things regarding with his beats, style, fashion and other. I'm asking this question, because I'm curious to see if others agree or not.

Edited by Da Cap'n 2099
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His last album was probably his weakest effort yet and he still goes on about how he's the greatest musician in history and nonsense like that. He's even bragged that his last album took only 3 weeks to record and he basically "phoned it in." It's not like he's incapable of being "conscious", but he hasn't been that recently.

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eh...yes and no. its a good question.

 

on one hand, the louis vitton don (ugh) is pretty mainstream, which a lotta the conscious scene (backpackers, largely) arent keen on, but you cant do a sub-genre based on commercial success; Nas does pretty well for himself and he's not just talking about spinning rims and shit these days, so to me that's a dumb way to differentiate...you dont have to struggle sales-wise like Talib or Budden or something to qualify. Kanye does that introspective shit where he talks about his insecurities & such, and it may not really be all that deep, but its hard for me to take a guy who does basically a backpacker label (GOOD music) and say he's not conscious.

 

its tricky when you try to define where the line is, cause take someone like Andre 3000 - ive had people argue he's conscious, but i think the thing is 3's just so sharp and prolific, its almost hard for him not to get deep once in a while...but you woudlnt sit there and say Outkast is conscious. They can try it on & do it well but its not their thing.

 

Kanye's thing is that he drives most of us nuts being such a fucking prima donna, its hard getting past how into his own brand/legacy the dude is, especially when he's constantly whining like a bitch at award shows. but then you go and listen to shit like what he did on Common's last album and you remember his strengths are not at all his MC skills, its his production. arrogance is par for the course in hip-hop as long as you can back it, so i tend to give the dude a pass and not reflect too much on my opinion of him as an artist, but if you bother reading his interviews, he makes it hard.

 

i wish he would just make beats for conscious artists instead of playing one on TV. you know what? he's big on the RZA's nuts so dont be surprised if, since he's been singing/R&B/pop more if you see his next album or so be some experimental shit like com's electric circus or a space opera or something really crazy.

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When you peal away all the layers that are his dumbness, you actually get some substance. His message is one of togetherness and consciousness. He keeps reinventing himself, but continues to keep a constant, too. I've always loved his beats, but now I find myself listening to his lyrics.

 

As far as others in the 'conscious' game are concerned... they owe a lot of their financial success to Kanye (Nas, excluded).

 

In the case of Andre 3000 and Outkast... they are something else. They are the very definition of successful experimentation. Those two are on a different plane of hip-hop. One that they share with nobody.

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As far as others in the 'conscious' game are concerned... they owe a lot of their financial success to Kanye (Nas, excluded).

 

wait, how so? Nas could prolly use kanye doing his beats (my opinion, that's been his biggest weakness since he stopped working with primo - he doesnt seem to have as good an ear for production a lotta times, 9th wonder and a few others aside). or are you saying nas' albums saw a little bit of a surge with kanye bringing topical shit to the forefront (like jada did that once)?

 

ps your brother says ghostface threw 50 down a flight of stairs. i know he shattered ma$e's jaw, but is that true? ill go buy another copy of supreme clientele if it is.

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I was saying that Nas' success has been his own. Kanye helped folks like Common and Mos become more commercial, in turn making them more money. I'm not saying they've sold out, but one or two well placed Kanye beats on your album means radio play which means bigger bucks.

 

As far as the Ghostface rumor... it's true. He's known throughout the rap world as a 'true thug'. One that hasn't gotten soft by money. Shit, RZA says it all the time the Ghost is the one NOT to fuck with. He's not biased or plugging his boy. He's WARNING people!

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huh, dont know why i read "included" when you said "excluded", my bad. yeah, i was down about Common's "Finding Forever" cause i was afraid he was changing his shit too much for the mainstream, but happy to see him finally making money like he oughta. but this last one, Universal Mind Control, was seriously dope - ye's beats really worked there. If he could get Mos to rap again and stop singing, id love him.

 

i read Meth described Ghost in a barfight against 3 or 4 guys like watching God of War or something.

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Kanye West=Commercial Pop Music.

 

'Nuff said.

 

yeah, when you can hear heartless or whatever on 3 radio stations at once, its safe to say you're not wrong here, but to the man's credit, his finest work is done on beats & production. a fair amount of Jay-Z's better songs (especially his later shit, off the Black album) are likely from him.

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again, im not big on that kinda question cause its as if to say he loses cred for his music getting the mainstream attention it deserves. Some of his best songs on Stillmatic hit the radio, it didnt take from them.

 

but since im gonna base "commercial" as in radio rotation & such, ill say no. a few singles aside, Nas does not make music for the club, like most every radio artist right now does (its where the money's sadly been at for years, we both know it). Missy went commercial, I guess you could say Busta did but he was always doing stuff like that here & there, i wouldnt say Nas is outside of a few moments like "Oochie wallie" and bullshit like that.

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What about Nas? Isn't he commercial, too?

 

Nah, Nas wants to have the success of a commercial album, no doubt. But he also wishes to maintain his own self perpetuated image as some socially conscious "artist" while doing so. Unfortunately for Nas this has not worked out in his own favor and has resulted in him being relegated as a footnote in hip-hop--someone popular musicians in hip-hop can say they like so as to appear less than shallow in their own musical tastes. Or, in short...

 

Nas=irrelevant.

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/disagree.

 

he's not at the forefront, but he's not the jesse jackson of the genre. i mean, as much as i love my wu-tang, they can be relevant individually but collectively it just hasnt worked (not that the music's not been quality, but sales/circulation/influence in recent years).

Nas moves units, granted not nearly the level of kanye or 50 but he does good for having almost no radio rotation...this isnt like the early 90s when EPMD could always go gold with zero promotion, without clear channel support its hard for your album to not go wood. But Nas' still controversial, still gets talked about, still has big producers and guest stars and such. I think the quick beef with 50 a while back did 50 more good than him, personally. but then again im a big fan of him.

 

"...since '91 i am the truest; name a rapper that i ain't influenced."

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Nas=irrelevant.

 

/EPIC DISAGREE

 

Nas is a cornerstone of hip-hop! Name a rapper out since 91? Lyrically, he's in the top 5 for me. Lots of artists have come and gone and Nas continues to release music that's real to his style and message. Which comes to my question: is Nas commercial? No... and yes. Nas' main reason for being is not money. It's for the love of his craft. It's for the fans that have stuck by him through the good (Illmatic, Stillmatic, God's Son, It Was Written) and the bad (any Bravehearts projects, Nastradamus... settle down Nick, I liked that album, too. It just wasn't highly loved). He's a cornerstone and he knows it. But appealing to the fans also makes you do stuff you wouldn't normally do... like make Oochie Wallie.

 

As for Wu-Tang... they're another cornerstone. They are hip-hop first and only SUPERgroup!

 

Back to Nas. He's definitely the most commercial of the conscious.

Edited by Ron Hightower
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Ok, I'll count NWA, but the others? Q-Tip was the only artist to have a successful carrier outside of Tribe. I love Tribe, but they have a more cult following than an actual influence in hip-hop. GREAT group! Not a SUPERgroup.

 

Public Enemy can be said to be pioneers of hip-hop, but a SUPERgroup? Don't think so. Can anyone name (that's not Nick) a member of PE that's NOT Flava Flav? Seriously, I'm not knocking these acts... on the contrary... I love them and acknowledge they're contribution, but they're a footnote in the history of hip-hop. Since Wu's beginning, they have made an impact that can be felt at all ends of the hip-hop spectrum. If hip-hop was a lake and the Wu Tang Clan a stone, then the ripples made by that stone would be the RZA, the GZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Inspecktah Deck, U-God, Raekwon the Chef, Ghostface Killah and M.E.T.H.O.D MAN!

 

How's that for a Chinese metaphor? RZA would be proud.

Edited by Ron Hightower
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Ok, I'll count NWA, but the others? Q-Tip was the only artist to have a successful carrier outside of Tribe. I love Tribe, but they have a more cult following than an actual influence in hip-hop. GREAT group! Not a SUPERgroup.

 

i think they had influence, but panch is right about the cult following, and espeically about only Tip being successful solo. Phife's album was not good...Consequence sold shit, too, but his albums have actually been solid.

 

Public Enemy can be said to be pioneers of hip-hop, but a SUPERgroup? Don't think so. Can anyone name (that's not Nick) a member of PE that's NOT Flava Flav? Seriously, I'm not knocking these acts... on the contrary... I love them and acknowledge they're contribution, but they're a footnote in the history of hip-hop. Since Wu's beginning, they have made an impact that can be felt at all ends of the hip-hop spectrum.

 

most should know Chuck D, and he's crazy influential - we woudlnt have Rage and a number of bands without him. some even blame his crossover with anthrax as roots for nu-metal, which is entirely unfair, but yeah, dude's a pioneer in every sense of the word. but given that panch's definition of a supergroup is a group whose members have sucess on their own, im havin a hard time naming other ones. 2/3 of the Fugees? NWA counts in my book, though. Everybody this side of Ren and DJ Yella were huge.

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