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December 26, 2007

The Future of Hip Hop

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Since I was younger I always imagined what music would sound like 50 years from now. Particularly, what would hip hop sound like in the future? Because music tends to reflect the limitations of the equipment it is made on, I think the discussion should begin here.

We all know about the advent of the computer producer, who armed with Fruity Loops (Now FL Studio), Reason, Cubase, Cool Edit Pro (Now Adobe Audition), Pro Tools and whatever else, can create their own beats. With technology mainstreaming the hell out of the beat making process, millions of kids are trying their hand at beat making (notice the word beat making and not production). In fact, I would guess that there are more myspace beat makers than there are myspace rappers (somebody do a quick search).

Many of these kids will give up and a few of them will actually persevere becoming the next generations hit makers. We are already seeing evidence of this from artist such as Soulja Boy, who produced his hit record “Crank Dat” using Fruity. Not only that, but he built up his own fan base using myspace and the net prior to having any finances or a record deal to back him (beat that Jay-Z). Artists that take this approach will likely be the prototype artists of the future. But let’s get back to the beats.

Because the computer processors and microchips and whatever else they put in computers is getting faster and are being able to hold more data, this leaves the genre of hip hop music in a precarious place. This is because the beats will evolve faster and continue to evolve while the art of rapping has peaked.

Let me explain. Take the hip-pop song “My Love” by Justin Timberlake and T.I. The production Timbaland and Danja cook up here is some of the most futuristic I have ever heard (not unlike we are used to hearing from Timbo and Danja). When I was young and entertained such questions this is what I imagined the future of hip hop to sound like. The problem is no rapper alive could do justice on a beat like that, T.I. did his best but to me it sounded very 90s mainstream corn. Jay in his prime maybe, now, hell nah.

The reason is that rap music as a derivative of spoken word has a very folk song like, minimalistic overtone. Simply put, when it comes to hip hop production, less is more. Just look at every rap song that becomes a hit, they all contain one simple loop (Beethoven wouldn’t be impressed). There’s nothing more to it. This is simply because it is too easy for a rapper to be out shined by the beat if it gets too complex.

The pc based beat maker will likely over complicate the beat as it is far easier to program a computer to play a melody faster and in more mini-quarter tones than a human playing a keyboard could ever. This is what likely will turn hip hop as we know it into dance music (not that it isn’t dance music already but you know what I mean, that techno shit). Take Kanye West, he started of on College Dropout as true blue b-boy and now he might as well be wearing a dog costume romping around with Daft Punk.

In order for hip hop music to progress, the rappers are going to have to step it up as the beats even right now are out shining the rappers. Forget about 50 years from now, imagine 10 years from now? Hip pop will likely turn into Chicago house. But we’ll see…