Is Soulja Boy marching hip-hop off a cliff?

A few months ago I was DJing at a local music establishment when I found myself having to constantly answer two different questions. The questions that were presented: why wasn’t I playing stuff that was more “urban” and why wasn’t I playing any Soulja Boy.

The latter was easy enough; I just didn’t have any. Quite frankly, that one song of his isn’t even any good and I’ve never understood the appeal. But the former confused me greatly, mostly because I believed that I was playing a nice mix of stuff. But this, combined with society’s reluctance to accept anything that isn’t easily accessible, leads me to wonder if the death knell for hip-hop has been sounded.

When you think about it carefully, this argument shouldn’t even exist. Take into consideration the overall state of hip-hop as a community and as a musical entity. A closer look at this country and the rest of the world does nothing but combat the cries that hip-hop is approaching its last call.

On the east coast there are healthy, burgeoning scenes in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Miami. The middle of the nation has Chicago, Memphis, St. Louis and Minneapolis among others. There’s the whole southern movement from Atlanta to Houston and across the rest of the southwest. And, of course, who could forget the west coast, from Los Angeles up to Seattle. In addition to all of this, there are growing influences in Canada and an exploding U.K. and world community as well. Each and every one of these locales is ripe with both talent and the drive to make something of that talent.

So why then, with all of these signs of vitality and indicators of growth across the hip-hop spectrum, do I sit here and put ink to paper saying that rap is clearly on the decline? In reality, rap is not on the decline, but rather the way that it is packaged and presented to the masses is creating this illusion.

It’s part of the same type of cycle that has been evident in rock music over the last 10 to 12 years. The amount of quality rock music being crafted now is no different than the amount being created 10 or 20 years ago. However, major label posturing and the connections between them and big business radio have severely limited the types of stuff being played on commercial radio.

Due to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, limits on the number of radio stations that can be commonly owned were eliminated. This allowed corporations like Clear Channel to purchase as many stations as it likes, causing all similar type stations to sound the same as each other and provide strict controls over what and how much of what gets played.

The result of all this is the amount of rock music that the public has been exposed to on radio has greatly decreased, a phenomenon that has been increasing within the hip-hop community. The kind of rap that has received major airplay over the last few years seems to have become more and more limited.

Taking a look at the most recent top 40 singles chart, the only rap present other than Kanye West is cliché and lacks substance, but still represents a wide variety of styles and locations. How long this variety is able to hold up will determine how long hip-hop can delay its death cycle. I wish I could be optimistic about all this, but we’ve seen it many times before and it isn’t a pretty picture.