Underground vs. Mainstream Music

Pat Boody, Contributing Writer

When many hear the term hip-hop, plenty of well-known names come to mind. A multitude of artists today are making it big with unmatched mixing and recording technology. However, are these individuals truly the most talented at creating original raps with thoughtful lyricism and a proper flow? Being a genre that first began in the Bronx, mainly by African-American’s, New York can definitely be considered an epicenter of hip-hop. Many of the greats such as Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Big L and KRS-One all originated from the poverty stricken areas of New York City. These artists faced struggles while growing up in the slums of New York City, and perhaps this adds to the quality of their music. Even just rapping about daily hardships of life is commonly the foundation of the tracks these artists make. That alone produces more interesting music, enhancing its quality. Artists of the past have been established as superiors of the genre, yet many contemporary artists fail to learn from these masters of the craft.

Mainstream artists of today’s rap music lack traits that would make them equivalent to those who once held the throne before them. Today hip-hop emphasizes drug use, having sex and how much money can be acquired. Although these topics were present in the earlier days of the hip-hop genre, it wasn’t as overdone as it is today. Just about every current song contains one of these references. The most impressive aspect of today’s performers is their bass-heavy, over-dramatized beats. These background sounds allure many and often distract people long enough to allow for an utter disregard of the mediocre lyrics being recited.  Dozens of rappers today lack the ability and talent to make songs that are innovative and showcase real skill. Superficiality is inevitable when browsing through common hip-hop performers of the present day. Rappers fail to give an insight beyond the apparent advantages to being a famous artist and seem to all have related themes and messages. Originality is certainly deficient; the main objective seems to be to appeal to the media and masses, not to express individuality. Many consider this obeying the higher-ups since so many artists are “slaves” to the record labels. Labels control what music contains and in what direction it is taken, thus taking away the artistic beauty behind it.

However, beneath the surface of the common man’s rap is underground rap. This division of the genre is essentially those who go against the generalized version of rap that many enjoy today. These artists avoid being signed to major labels that will ultimately take control of their music and instruct them to take a certain route with their creative expression. Underground hip-hop is strongly anti-commercial and artists throughout the “underground” take a more independent approach by working for labels that are not major corporations and aren’t in it solely for the paycheck, but rather for the love of music. These incredibly original and talented artists are connoisseurs of hip-hop. Many are devoted listeners to hip-hop as a whole and are some of the biggest fans of the great rappers from the past and in turn, this heightens the caliber of their music. Talent in this form of the music is tremendous. Flow, wordplay, lyricism, intelligence and different perceptions of certain aspects of the world are clearly evident in this sector of hip-hop. Artists that clearly exemplify this are Brother Ali, Atmosphere, Apathy, Immortal Technique and RA the Rugged Man.

Mainstream hip-hop does have some music that is simply entertaining to listen to, but is often missing substance. In underground hip-hop, talent is limitless; the dedication of true artists is seen through their brilliant lyrics and songs that speak the hidden truths of the world. Paying tribute to those who started the genre is a must when it comes to rap music. Therefore, those who do acknowledge this end up having the highest grade of hip-hop. These artists value the music of the past and continue to learn from it, which makes them that much better at what they do.



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