I know some of you saw the title and thought, “Oh nooo, what am I going to do without my Plies or my Lil Wayne?” I also just got some of your draws in bunches because you were thinking, “What? Wayne spits that fire man, he ain’t no commercial rapper.”
I tell both of you people to fear not! Commercial rap is not actually dead, and Lil Wayne is still the same rapper he has always been. So now your next question is then, “What exactly are you talking about?”
Well my friend, I am talking about the evolution of commercial rap to the point where the phrase “Commercial Rap” is either dead or misconstrued in most hip-hop circles.
People seem to forget that it was not very long ago, when Jay Z, thought by many now to be the best rapper alive, was considered too commercial by many people to really be in that category. He even addressed it on the “Blueprint 2” album with the line “For those that think Hov thing is bling bling’n either haven’t heard the album or they don’t know English. They only know what the single is, and singled that out to be the meaning of what he’s about.” Now for me personally wordplay like that made me not care if he was talking about diamonds, money, and girls.
The guy could just rap and what he rapped about made him Hova. Just like rapping about west coast gangsta life made NWA who they were, and talking about the trap in ATL and social issues made Outkast who they were. Good rappers were just good rappers, subject matter be damned.
However, there were those who did not share my opinion. Some thought Nas was better than Jay Z because Nas was talking about something, while Jay Z was not. You know the attitude that now would say Rick Ross sucks but Lupe is great. Your subject matter used to determine your commercial status in a way. People who rapped only about money, cars, girls, and how many records they sold usually were seen as being commercial artists. Artists who rapped about social issues or really anything except for the flash were considered non-commercial.
However, a shift in hip-hop that also mirrored a shift in society changed all this. For instance, artists in all genres used to not like having their songs in commercials or promoting products with their music because it was seen as cheapening their art and it was considered selling out. Times changed and artists wanted to have their names out there as much as possible so they began to do commercials and the like and this was seen as achieving more success instead of selling out.
The same thing happened with rap music. Artists used to not want to be seen as being commercial. Being commercial meant u were a sellout essentially and not keeping it real. This is where the phrase “Keepin it Real” as far as rap goes originated. Not keeping it real referred to commercial artists with club songs on the radio who were successful but weren’t keeping it “street”. Then it was as if they realized commercial meant you had more money and females and most rappers had a change in ideology.
People started making club songs and rap songs with R&B hooks more and more until this became the norm. Now you hardly turn on your radio and hear a rap song that is not a club song. Keeping it real is rapping about the diamonds, cars, girls, and clothes most people have never had any experience with and never will. People used to call out rappers for lying about what they had; now it seems to be commonplace in the business. So in actuality Commercial Rap is not dead, it is alive, well and doing better than ever.