Hip Hop Fans are often viewed as being fickle, quick to lose faith, sometimes too loyal, having short attention spans, good ole fashioned selfishness, non-tolerant of change or evolution, and certainly over-sensitive. Truth be told, there's a lot of truth in all of that. I see the examples all the time.
I like to tell myself that most often it's rooted in misguided passion, but it's probably just as much a result of ego. Of course, some of this definitely isn't unique to Hip Hop. Pop music and just about any other genre faces some of these same issues, particularly the fickleness and non-tolerance. It's funny to hear people be such a huge fan of an artist and then a year or less later they are "Not really into them anymore". What changed? Usually, it's not just the music. One thing I never understood was people losing interest in an artist because they "got too popular". Every time I hear that I know the person speaking is too immature for me to debate on the subject. I have never felt that way. When I'm a fan of an artist I want them to grow and sell more records, particularly of the albums I love. If an artist does well on these albums it acts as encouragement to stay their path. However, when an artist bares their soul on an album, pushes their creative limits in the writing and production, and gives it their all, only to sell minimal copies that acts as a discouraging factor, which often leads to thoughts of "What do I need to change to reach people". There's a fine line between art and survival. I tend to believe that most trust artists are passionate about their music, so passionate in fact that they have dedicated their life to it. They have made life effecting choices because of it and ultimately that results in limiting their options to financial security. At some point, altering their music to increase sales doesn't seem like such a bad idea.
I feel that as a Hip Hop Fan, we should place similar expectations on ourselves that we have on the artists. If you love an artist, you should want to see them succeed. You should automatically be a part of their marketing campaign. You should be telling everyone you know about this talented individual and convincing people to support their cause. You should be buying the music and/or merch, going to the shows, participating in the online outlets that they are promoted on (IE Facebook, Twitter, etc...) by joining discussions and giving feedback, etc... All of those things help that artist stay their course.
Also, don't have unreal expectations of artists. They are all just flawed individuals like you and everyone else. I'm speaking specifically about the music they make, not their worldly actions. Artists need the space to evolve and experiment. Plus it's virtual impossible, or it should be, for an artist to make a record and then tour their region, the Country or the World and that not somehow change and/or broaden their life perspectives. That theory holds true to anyone, artists or not. In short, be realistic in your expectations as a fan.
As I said above, I feel most times these feelings come from us just loving Hip Hop so much that it becomes absurd and clouds judgement...ha. Trust me, been there, done that. Those knee-jerk reactions are understandable and hopefully we eventually calm down and let sensible thought settle in. Other times, it's false loyalty that gives a unique twist on idol worship. As big as a fan I am of Hip Hop, I still realize the "stars" are just people with a specific talent that I appreciate, generally nothing more. I understand that I respect their skills more than them, because I don't know them, only their music. That's why I never understand when people feel they have to choose sides in music "beefs". It happens so much and I feel like it's one of those things that is at least in someways unique to Hip Hop. In what other genre does an artist have to worry about fans needing to choose a side that could result in a huge shift in their fanbase? That's strange to me, it's just entertainment, if they are both making good music why not continue to support both artists. Do we really need to prove our loyalty to an artist? I think that's giving them too much power and/or purpose. They are just trying to make good music and sell it, they don't need an army of loyal subjects, at least not in that respect.
It's not a new thing. I first witnessed it on a large scale with the KRS One VS MC Shan situation. It got the point that people felt if they were riding with BDP that they couldn't check for MC Shan, that always bothered me. In the end did KRS One prove to get the best of the situation, absolutely. However, did MC Shan continue to make great music, arguably better than ever before, absolutely! Yet, a lot of people lost faith in MC Shan and his greatest piece of work, "Born To Be Wild", went largely under-appreciated (I speak on that more HERE). I think that was heavily reflected thru the media. When they decided MC Shan was "washed up" and didn't give him that same level of press and support, many fans accepted viewed it as his career was over. It's so ridiculous. It's a huge problem in Hip Hop. Even those who call themselves serious fans depend on other sources to get their information rather than go the source. People still allow radio, video, TV and the Press to influence their tastes. I feel Hip Hop Fans have a responsibility to seek out good music and artists. Don't sit around and let it come to you. Don't let these outlets with their own agendas, most of which aren't rooted in any pure intentions for Hip Hop Culture, dictate what is good or not.
I think for the most part I have been able to avoid most of these things. My biggest problem has been the knee-jerk reactions. One of the things that I find most interesting when looking back was my "overly-emotional" feelings on certain records. The one that immediately comes to mind is Boogie Down Productions "Criminal Minded". Don't get me wrong, when I first here BDP I was impressed and immediately became a fan, but I did have some issues...
I seem to recall that "South Bronx" is how I first became aware of Boogie Down Productions. It had a unique production style, the MC had a lot of charisma and was rhyming slightly different than I had heard before, it spoke on Hip Hop History and it was rooted in one the Cultures oldest traditions, Battling.
Now, when I heard MC Shan's "The Bridge" I never once in any shape, form or fashion took it as him saying or suggesting that Hip Hop started in Queens. I think his point was very clear. However, was I bothered by KRS One twisting his words, distorting the facts, and basically out-right being unjustified and inaccurate? Nope! I welcomed it. The art of battling was intriguing. I tried to imagine how MC Shan would respond and eagerly awaited it. I felt it was good for Hip Hop, whether it was true or not. I suppose that makes what I finally did get bothered by all the more ridiculous and petty.
When I first "Criminal Minded" it was quite simply easily one of the best Hip Hop albums I had ever heard. Still at the same time there were a few things he said that really annoyed me or just didn't sit right with me. I honestly think it was the first time I had that feeling that "I love the music, but I really don't think I like this guy personally"...ha.
"Poetry" had two particularly lines referencing battling, "The poetry I'm rattling really isn't for battling" and "I don't contemplate a battle because it really ain't worth it/I'd rather put a pistol at your head and try to burst it". On "Elementary" he says "Getting in to battles really isn't my thing" or there's his "If I really wanna battle I will pull out a 9" on the title track. Wait A Minute! I thought, "Has KRS One forgotten how most of us had first heard him? Taking unjustified jabs at MC Shan!" Actually, the poetry he was rattling was definitely for battling. I found it off-putting, not to mention inaccurate, on "Elementary" when he says, "I don't battle with rhymes, I battle with guns..." Uh...false. Then he immediately follows with , "Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Every One". I think for months I missed that amazing acronym. I was far too pre-occupied by the fact that he kicked it directly after he just made a rather "ignant" line about choosing guns over rhymes...ha.
Perhaps the song that most had me torn between mesmerized and aggravated was the title track, "Criminal Minded". There's more than a handful of comments that irked me, but at the same time I loved his apathetic approach to it all. He was teeming with so much confidence that it was distracting, but also forever memorable, hugely inspirational and endlessly entertaining. He comes out with the arrogance blazing from the opening, where I'm guessing he's taking a shot at The Beatles with his "Take a wack song and make it better" comment as he croons in the melody of "Hey Jude". However, it's the second verse that hit a few nerves for me, "I'm not a musical maniac, or a b-boy fanatic/I simply made use of what was upstairs in the attic/I listen to these MCs back when I was a kid/But I bust more shots than they ever did/I mean this is not the best of KRS, It's just a section/But how many times must I push you in the right direction..." I suppose at a glance none of that seems like a big deal, but like I said, I was being overly critical and far too sensitive. First, I took offense to the fact that he wasn't a "b-boy fanatic". My thought was, "Why are you making this music if you are not one?". It wasn't just KRS One that made me feel that way either. Ice T on "Out Most Requested Record", a B-side for his debut "Rhyme Pays" album, says, "I'm a player, I ain't no B-Boy/I love ladies and money's my real joy". I thought, "Why can't you be both?" and I was bothered by the implication that he enjoyed money and ladies more than Hip Hop. Maybe that isn't how he meant it, but it's how I took it...every time I played, which was very often because it was so dope! Back to KRS One, I wondered if his comment about the MCs before him is what sparked off the issue with him and Mele Mel, who probably would take offense to this. The Mid 80s is a touchy time as the Pioneer MCs were getting pushed to the side and forgotten about by the Industry, media and ultimately, the fans**. Then to close it off he suggests he's not even doing his best, "it's just a section". He makes a similar statement on "A Dope Beat" when he says, "This style I'm just teasing". I was on some old, "What??!! I'm paying for this, you better be giving me your best damnit!"...ha.
It was less of an "issue", but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I felt a slight sting when he said, "I'm not an MC, so listen, call me poet or musician"...
Considering all those things, at the time, I felt he was being ingenuous with his comments. I have to admit that I honestly started to wonder if he was a guy just blessed with a gift for MCing, but he didn't really care about the Culture. I was conflicted by the thought of that. I never before thought that was possible. I thought you HAD to be fan of the Culture to excel in it. Of course, it's ironic because KRS One spent the better part of his career as one of the biggest and fore-most supporters, spokesmen, and preservers of the Culture. I was definitely being way too sensitive. I was blind to the fact that he was just flipping the concept of ego-tripping with this approach. By giving the impression of not really caring and being nonchalant to the roots of the culture it made his skill level all the more daunting. If that was his tactic, it definitely worked on me.
However, it also opened my eyes to a completely different issue between the Artist & The Fan. We as Fans tend to assume songs are auto-biographical and/or put too much literal definition to the lyrics. I've learned over time that often the words of wisdom and advice that artists are putting in their music is just as much a challenge to themselves as it is the listener. I remember hearing anti-crack songs by artists who had rumors and confirmations of crack use...that doesn't make their lyrics any less relevant or true. Honestly, unless they actually say in the song, "I Don't Smoke Crack", it doesn't even make them a hypocrite***. That Anti-Crack message contained in their lyrics might be first and fore-most a message to themselves and/or a cry for help. Yes, Entertainers sometimes use their own music as a form of self-therapy.
The main point of that story is that I was being ridiculous and far too touchy about it all. It's lyricism. It's entertainment. KRS One was saying things that hadn't been said before, in ways they hadn't been delivered before either. As a fan, I should have been focused on that. I do think we can and probably should analyze, critique, and scrutinize artists work. If they put it out publicly, then they are inviting that. However, we have to keep it all in perspective and not get all worked up and make something out of nothing. I mean I never let my wild thoughts prevent me from being a fan or a customer. I brought all the albums & singles. I went to the concerts. I just would make a funny face or omit those lyrics when singing along...oh, silly me.
I just worry that many people took it way further than I did. People tend to let so many things offend, distance or alienate them and in turn they continue to ignore great music from talented artists. In the end, that is not healthy for Hip Hop Culture or yourself for that matter. Go ahead, listen with a critical ear, ask questions and hold high standards, but don't lose site of the fact that they are just regular people, like you and me and their primary purpose is to provide entertainment, anything else is just a bonus...
*Looking back this was a weird practice, playing the whole album on the radio. The Did it for "Criminal Minded", "Tougher Than Leather", and the Super Love Cee & Casanova Rud debut album. I didnt' think about it at the time because a tape recording from the radio didn't satisfy me. For all those album I brought em twice; the tape and vinyl LP. However, I'm sure some people just go that dub and didn't buy the actually record. I suppose that's the earliest version I know of that hints to the free download of today. I don't think that was common on a worldly scale though. It was definitely the "mixtape" evolution or de-evolution of the mid 90s to a Dat Tape compilation that kicked it to that next level.
**It was this same year that repeated comments from LL Cool J offended Kool Moe Dee and prompted their legendary wax battle. Kool Moe Dee specifically quoted the LL line of "I'm only 18 making more than your Pops" bother him, because it alienated the listener and put the focus on money and not the artform. I imagine he was also not a fan of the "I'm treacherous, I want to stomp the rest" or "The real Grandmaster, the one you'll choose" line from "Get Down", also in '87.
***Just to clarify, since I'm speaking so heavily about KRS One here, I'm in no way suggesting KRS One smoked crack. Just in case any of you Rap conspiracy theorist try to cook something up because he has the "I will live a long life and I don't smoke crack" line in "A Dope Beat". That's what made me think of the comparison, but not in reference to him at all.