A Hip Hop Commentary


It seems like whenever anyone starts to achieve commercial success or mainstream popularity they're accussed of selling out. What if an artist starts off with a certain style and he changes up because he finds that people don't like it.. Does that make him a sell out? If an artist does what he's always done, it's just a matter of time before he's accussed of being old school or out dated or played out? Some people say you sold out if you don't stay true to Hip Hop's original principals. What if you didn't get into the game with those original principals as your foundation? What if your foundation is different due to lack of exposure or geographical location, age etc. And who says you have these 4 principals as your main foundation?

Why is Puffy accussed of selling out in '99 when pioneers like Grand Master Flash down to the Cold Crush Brothers did the same thing back in '78 as Puff does in '98. These pioneers pranced around stage in fancy leather outfits. They rapped about drinking the finest wines, sporting the nicest gear and driving the finest cars. I can't recall how many times I went to a gig back in the days and saw all these popular pioneering rap stars show up in fancy OJs which were ghetto limousines. I can't recall how many times Hip Hop's pioneers would roll through sporting the most expensive and sportiest gear around. When they did their routines they danced on stage like Mase and Puffy do today. They had choreographed steps and rehearsed routines. How many of you out there recall all the harmonized, sing a long routines put forth by GMF or the Cold Crush? How was that not selling out then but it's selling out now when someone like Puff does the same thing? Shouldn't a guy like Puff or Hammer be credited with following the key principals laid down by these pioneers which was to move the crowd and be a good entertainer?

I know that when MC Hammer first started he and hip hop pioneer Mele-Mel were pretty close. In fact they still are. Mele-Mel was one who felt that it was extremely important that an emcee be able to entertain a crowd. He was all about showmanship. He noted that when he came up him and GMF would rehearse routines for hours on end. Their rhymes were pre-written, they choreographed dance moves and wore fancy outfits. Mele noted that it was of extreme importance to put on a good performance. No one booed and called them sell outs when they came prancing out on stage and danced around like the Jackson 5. No one screamed 'sell out' when they got some one like Rahiem to sing instead of rap. No one got mad when they flipped pre-rehearsed, pre-written rhymes. No one got mad when Mele flipped rhymes about his money,clothing and fame as oppossed to his message type rhymes he was best know for..So why when a guy like Hammer comes along and embraces that entertainment component of Hip Hop people yell 'sellout'? When Puffy came through with a top notch theatrical production, why was he called a Hip Hop sell out? Was it because of their rhyme skills or lack of rhyme skills?

If we follow the whole rhyme skill argument then you would explain Hip Hop pioneers like Busy Bee or DJ Holloywood who definitely could not rhyme. In fact all Busy did was build upon the call and response routines invented by the late Cowboy of Grandmaster Flash. I have 3 full length tapes of old Busy Bee parties and he would flip two or three rhymes and then do a call and response routine. He would hype the crowd. So why is he considered Hip Hop and some one else doing the same exact thing today considered a sell out?

Some people say that if you cross genres then you sold out. Was it a sell out move when Grandmaster Caz and the Cold Crush did Punk Rock Rap back in '82? Was it a sellout move when Run DMC mixed rap and rock back in the early 80s? Was it a sellout move when Bambaataa hooked up with James Brown long before he was sampled to death? Was it a sellout move when Mele-Mel cut verses with Chaka Khan? So why is an artist accussed of selling out when he hooks up and crosses genres today? Was Grandmaster Flash selling out when they did their classic song 'Scorpio'. That song first got airplay on Rock stations it was so far out at the time. Why is such a move considered selling out today? Back then it was called being innovative, experimental or making a smart move to capitalize off another wider audience.

Is Nas a sellout because he changed his style and went from hype underground rhymes to being Nas Escobar the wannabe Italian gangsta? Is it because he switched styles? Or was he being an artist and trying new styles and techniques? Are the Beastie Boys sell outs because they went alternative on us..? Or are they still seen as innovative? Or were they in fact selling out when they came from the punk side of town and entered into Hip Hop? Was there some punk rock kid yelling 'sellout' when he heard the Beasties do a track like 'Hold It Now' or Paul Revere'. Were they sellouts the moment they stopped doing cuts like Cookie Puss? Were the Beasties sellouts when they started getting into politics and rejected the mysognstic ways when they used to have naked girls in cages dancing for them? Are they sellouts or just matured? Now that the Beasties have this 'alternative sound' have they in fact gone back to their roots?

Why is Ice Cube a sellout for becoming the Don Mega while Kool G Rap still considered one of Hip Hop's best even though he's done a ton of mafia/godfather songs? Was kool G Rap selling out as an artist when he dropped songs like 'Erase Rascism' or when he flipped a verse in the anti-domestic violence song 'Love Hurts'. Was he limited to doing only gangsta songs? So why was Ice Cube called a sellout when he evolved into the West Coast Don? Why wasn't Kool G Rap a sellout when he went from Mr Gangsta to Mr Positivity back to Mr Gangsta? Since were dealing with lyrical content how is Master P rapping about selling drugs or making crack more of a sellout than all the early rap guys who rapped about cocaine and cheeba.. Didn't Hip Hop's first emcee Coke la Rock take his name after the then popular drug of choice? Wasn't Kurtis Blow indicating cocaine with his name? Wasn't pioneering rapper Spoonie G also showing love for illegal substance? What about Eddie Cheeba and The Cheeba Crew? Were these guys talking about drugs in both name and raps..? Ya damn right they were! If our pioneers can advocate drug use and not be sellouts, why can't Master P do the same thing?

Finally some people say you sell out when you do songs for the sole purpose of making money. Should an artist not get paid? Everyday we warn artist that this is the music business and once you sign to a label you best act accordingly and get paid or get ripped off. So by definition any artist signed to a label is a sellout or is he? What is a sellout? Is it a word we banter about when we don't like something? Is it a legitimate term that can apply to a culture like Hip Hop which is supposed to be inclusive? Hit me back and let me know what you think? mailto:kingdave@sirius.com

written by
Davey D
c 1999

Send comments, questions and concerns to mailto:kingdave@sirius.com
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