Friday, December 08, 2006

Does Grammy Snub Signal Death of Rap Music?

This morning's Los Angeles Times suggests that the weak showing for rap music in this year's Grammy Awards nominations may signal the last gasp for the rap music phenomenon:

In the three decades since rap music grabbed the microphone and swaggered toward pop culture's center stage, it's been hotly debated whether it's the essential sound of youth and urban culture or just ugly noise masquerading as music. But nobody could argue that it was yesterday's news.

That changes today.Nominations were announced Thursday for the 49th annual Grammy Awards and, for the first time in six years, no rap stars made it into any of the marquee categories such as album of the year or best new artist. Instead, the glory went to soulful singer Mary J. Blige (who led with eight nominations), the scarred rock survivors of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, British newcomer James Blunt and the Dixie Chicks, the latter nominated for album, record and song of the year.

The Grammy snub caps a fairly miserable year for the rap scene....

Recording studio guru Rick Rubin, one of the most acclaimed names in contemporary music and a nominee Thursday for producer of the year, has helped shape rap since its early days.

He said cycles of decline and rejuvenation are nothing new. A case in point: the arrival in the '80s of the incendiary L.A. rap group N.W.A.

"Hip-hop was dead for me for a while and then N.W.A came along and knocked down the doors and completely changed what it could be and how far it could go," he said. Rubin said the salvation of rap is someone whose name isn't even known yet. "They're coming."

Some rap insiders are tired of waiting. "Hip Hop Is Dead" is the title of one of the year's most anticipated rap releases, the new CD from Nas, one of hip-hop's respected elder statesmen. He said Thursday's lack of rap respect confirmed his dour view."

Look at the Grammy nominations, and then look at the title of my album," Nas said. "Pretty appropriate, don't you think? A Grammy is a great honor, but we're just not making those records right now.

"That vacuum has also been cited by superstar rapper and executive Jay-Z.

He came out of his self-proclaimed retirement two weeks ago with the release of "Kingdom Come," his first CD since 2003. One reason he returned, he told the Sunday Mail of London, was to raise rap's game: "The problem with hip-hop is it gets to a certain point, and it has to go down."

Some complain that hard-core rap's favored themes — the thug life, cash and alpha-male posturing — are passe, and album sales may reflect that.
Rap's not my thing, and I particularly can't stand the dumb, bling-bling gansta rap version, with its powerfully negative influence on contemporary black (and American) culture. I doubt the genre's going away anytime soon, though. As the article notes, Jay Z's making a big comeback, and hybrid rap styles -- like Fergie's new "Fergilicious" single -- keep a fresh coolness to the music. And you gotta love Weird Al Yankovic's rap parody in "I'm Too White and Nerdy."

Also check out this Times entertainment article, which suggests a generational battle taking place in the music industry. Industry baby-boomers went for moderate, comfortable, easy-listening choices -- a collection that "impresses at a cocktail party."

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