Imagine that it is the early 2000’s. You are a big fan of R&B and hip-hop. You are leaving the era of the 90s. Artists like Tupac Shakur, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott and DMX are still fresh in your mind. You have up and coming artists like Kanye West, Alicia Keys and Brandy who are known but are still fairly new. Erykah Badu is dropping her latest album. Now all these artists I have named have been sampled many times. There are many things that these artists have in common. One thing that these artists have in common is originality. Their music is all different yet impactful. When people listen to their lyrics, it means something.
These people have the innate ability to make you feel exactly what they feel even if you never experience anything that they have gone through. I think that their lyrics are so impactful because they all have this in common: poetry. Not just any poetry but def jam poetry in particular. According to languagehumanities “Def poetry is a form of poetry typically based on urban culture and themes, often with an expressed focus on the African-American experience”.
A good poet will allow their words to create a thirst for their art that only they can fill. Their words will not only allow you to experience their situation but highlight yours. A good poet will talk about the same topics that we are so used to hearing about such as heartbreak, love and forgiveness while presenting it to you in a new way. They will trigger you into remembering memories that you had tucked inside. They have the ability to talk about something political or controversial without making the consumer tune the message out.
However, the popularity that poetry once had started to fizzle out over time. Poetry is no longer mainstream as it was in the 90s and early 2000s. I think that it is safe to say that we are starting to see the effects of that in our music. We live in a time of overly sampled music and trending beats. Beats have become more important than lyrics.
I am also guilty of this because I can tell if I do not like a song by its beat. One thing I’ve noticed about poetry is that a good poem has an element of surprise. There is this powerful moment that brings the poem together. We no longer have that surprise because we save it for the beat. The beat drop is the element of surprise.
Now I am not saying that we do not have any hip-hop or R&B artist bringing innovative lyrics and subject matter to the forefront. The fact is most of those artists are not getting the recognition or push to the public, artists such as JP Cooper, Kait, Samm Henshaw, Sampha, Ain’t Afraid, Savannah Cristina, Chika, Lexxy and Doechii to name a few. The artists that we do have who possess these qualities are held so tightly that there is no room in the spotlight for any other artist. People think that they are bringing something that is considered different to the music.
In reality, they are just bringing lyricism back. A good artist will have lyricism, and we are so used to accepting the bare minimum that any other artist that has these same qualities to their music is looked at like they are copying another artist. We also live in such a microwave society that we expect music to be delivered overnight. Our artist also does not have enough time to put their heart in their lyrics. We forget that raps and songs are all derived from poems whether the artist intends to write a poem or not.
I am not putting down our artists, but I would love to look back at the music of my generation and be able to say that the music that has yet to come out will never compare. In order to be able to say this, there needs to be more originality, less samples and the return of poetry. The state of poetry makes me wonder, if we do not revive poetry, will we ever have another classic album again or just samples of the ones before us?