*Old article I wrote about a year ago that I felt like digging out of the archives. Sue me.
I guess you could call me a fan of hip-hop. My iPod isn’t full of strictly Black Star, MF Doom, Immortal Technique and others, but I do rock with some boom bap sounds. Although I’m guilty of riding out to Yo Gotti & Gucci Mane (who isn’t?), I do switch up my long rides on the interstate and zone out to “The Infamous”, “Food & Liquor” and “Rock Box” from time to time. In fact, I have been scouring the internets for classic hip-hop tracks that I have either forgotten about or haven’t heard at all and been deprived of. The last three finds to date are Onyx “Last Dayz,” Big Pun “You Ain’t A Killer” and Canibus “Second Round KO.” It puts my soul at ease when I decide to finally cave in and play “Swag Surfin.”
However, in one of my recent searches for new material, I stumbled across an artist named Big Sean.
(I don’t think I would like him as much if he were Lil Sean or Yung Sean, but maybe that’s just me). Big Sean is a rapper in what seems like a great situation music-wise until you realize his fatal fault: he’s black.
Before you bite my head off, let me make my point first. Big Sean is a rapper that’s signed to Kanye West’s label GOOD Music. He’s down with the guy who put out musical classics such as “College Dropout,” “BE,” and “Get Lifted.” He seems a surefire winner, with his witty punchlines and knack for using his cleverness and inventiveness to say things that you’ve never heard before and instantly make you rewind your iTunes to catch that musical magic once again*. He has a very smooth delivery that doesn’t really stand out, but he brings the heat lyrically so you can overstep this minor knock. He achieved marginal success with his song “Getcha Some” that was featured on Kanye’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” mixtape. This dude looks to be well on his way to developing into a great artist. Except he’s black.
Upon first listen to his material, you feel as if you’ve heard his flow before, and the answer is you probably have. There’s another witty rapper with a smooth delivery that has a couple of marginal hits under his belt. He has also featured on a prominent mixtape with a prominent mixtape DJ. He drops lines that are littered with double meanings but doesn’t really have any great songwriting skills.
He goes by the name of Asher Roth, and some of you might have actually checked out his debut album a while ago. He kinda sprung outta nowhere with that DJ Drama-assisted mixtape and his college classic called, appropriately “I Love College”. He has signed to Interscope, one of the largest record labels in history, plastering his face everywhere and he’s on every MTV station promoting himself and his brand. But you won’t see Big Sean anywhere on this channel. Because he’s black.
When you listen to both artists together, there are seemingly no differences between them other than subject matter. I won’t cover that in this blog because that’s more of a sociological thing, with Roth hailing from suburban Pennsylvania while Sean was raised in the city formerly known as Detroit. They have similar strengths, weaknesses, flows and song-writing shortcomings, so what separates them really comes down to one significant difference: marketability. In this day and age, the music industry is not about artistic integrity anymore**. It’s all about making a dollar, and Asher Roth excels exceptionally well in this area because of the accessibility he has to white avenues of promotion. He can get headline New York Times articles just for the fact that he’s a white rapper with actual skills, but raps about white people stuff. Big Sean’s act, while being great from an artistic standpoint, is like beating a dead horse in terms of the music industry. Big Sean is like a poor man’s, less violent version of Cassidy, with more personality than Lloyd Banks. Therefore, he’s not going to have any students at UPenn checking out for him anytime soon (shout outs to Elmo). Even Kanye realizes this, who has put all of his effort and backing into promoting Big Sean’s label mate Kid Cudi, who has that crossover appeal evidenced in his smash hit “Day n Nite.” Cudi isn’t a great lyricist or a great singer, but he does have an ability to make catchy tunes that can crossover to the MTV crowd. Sean doesn’t. Because his music is too black***.
If instead of rapping about getting money, looking fly and fucking bitches he rapped about studying for GMAT’s or doing case races, he’d be onto something. But if he wants to ever reach super stardom, he’s going to whiten, I mean, lighten his music up a bit. The sake of GOOD Music rests on his shoulders.
*On a YouTube freestyle, he drops the line “Call me Bobby Fisher ‘cause I felt on top of chess today and made a couple checks today.” That one line made me a fan, as it was a breath of fresh air to see somebody thinking outside of the box and bringing something new to the table. Here's a dope Big Sean freestyle.
**I’m sorry, but hip-hop in the form that we knew growing up is dead. And it’s not coming back. Never. There’s simply too much money to be made in this industry for execs to cave in.
***Wale is running into the same problem, which is why he’s just saying fuck mainstream and doing music that he wants to make for his fans. I’m sorry, but someone with aspirations of having a #1 commercial album doesn’t do mixtapes with 9th Wonder and Young Chris. Just saying.