Under the sweltering San Bernardino sun this past Saturday, more than 40 artists came together to pay homage to hip-hop at the Paid Dues Festival.
Odd Future grilled raw meat on stage, intermittently lighting the bloody slab with a cucumber–sized blunt. Tyler the Creator sputtered out dribbles of water in between his lines — casually yet methodically, right as the camera appeared — making one wonder if there really is a synchronized reasoning behind the madness. Moments later, he leaped off the stage and sailed deep in to the moshing crowd, which accepted the Goblin with elation.
On the other side of the festival — which felt like a completely different galaxy — Brother Ali captured the roots of spoken word hip-hop, performing a refreshingly simple set on an empty stage with just his DJ spinning behind him. Contrasting this profoundly tranquil execution was the whirlwind energy of Three 6 Mafia, which jumped from one side of the stage to the other, arms swaggering, voice booming, and collars popping.
Hip-hop has gone through many cycles since its origins as a social and political outlet for underrepresented minorities, and the sheer diversity of the performers at Paid Dues Festival showed just how broad the genre has become.
During a Guardian interview, Los Rakas member Raka Dun explained that he views the creation of subgenres within hip-hop as a “progressive evolution,” comparing Drake’s “R&B hip-hop” to Odd Future’s “punk rap” as merely a stylistic difference. Raka Rich, the second member of the Panamanian duo, added “that hip-hop has always been about expressing yourself, so you can’t tell someone that their music is or isn’t hip-hop.”
DJ Paul of Three 6 Mafia agreed that the growth of hip-hop is a positive development, yet admitted that the genre has lost some of its vigor. He holds politics responsible, stating that “hip-hop used to be harder back in the day, but the government wanted the world to be in peace, so they made the music be more in peace.”
Thes One of People Under the Stairs says corporations are at fault for taking critical substance out of mainstream hip-hop, as “music is a lot more marketable when you don’t have to cosign a message.” Double K (also of People Under the Stairs) feels that young people do not have the same insightful experience listening to music anymore. “In school, we were taught the same lesson on Martin Luther King Jr. year after year, but it was from hip-hop that we learned about people like Marcus Garvey and H. Rap Brown,” he added.
The role of women — specifically the rise of female MCs — is significantly influential in how the current road of hip-hop is being paved. Nicki Minaj, although nowhere in the Nos Event Center’s vicinity, was a looming presence throughout the night. The general consensus over the self-proclaimed Black Barbie was that she has undeniable talent, but there were contrasting opinions on how extensively her sex appeal influenced her success.
The members of Hieroglyphics said they feel the issue of sex in music should not be marginalized to a gender issue, as “the industry as a whole is exploiting sex to promote music.” The crew contemplated over whether you have to be as visually appealing as Minaj for people to appreciate your talents — finding it ironic that a lot of artists are actually unwilling to give her credit for her lyricism because of her overt sexuality.
There was a collective nostalgia over non-pink-wigged women rappers the artists grew up listening to — such as Queen Latifah and Ice Cream Tee — who rapped wearing just a hoodie and baggy jeans. As essential as it is to have prominent women that the female audience can identify with, artists questioned if current women MCs were truly communicating a positive message to young girls.
Luckyiam of Living Legends gave a final word of advice for all burgeoning artists bedroom producers, regardless of gender:
“When I lived in East Oakland, I thought there was a glass ceiling there. Now, with the Web, there’s no reason you can’t get your content out there. But don’t just be Tumblr famous. Go out to the streets or in the clubs, and pay your dues. And stop rapping over your vocals and wear some looser fitting jeans.”