The term "keeping it real" can have many different meanings. It could mean that you're representing your neighbourhood or that you're making beats that come from the heart. The same can be said for any rappers that are writing lyrics. There has always been a debate about whether or not a rapper should write lyrics regarding his surroundings and upbringing, as well as beatmakers that make beats that fit their style, as opposed to whatever is "hot" at the moment. No matter whether you're a rapper, beatmaker, producer, or anything in between, the term "keeping it real" should first and foremost apply to what you create. The Music Industry Has A Huge Influence I completely understand when an artist is legally binded to a record label and that label wants the artist to create a certain style of music. After all, business is business. If a label executive wants someone to make beats that sound like so and so, then that's what they will end up doing. But is it right? On one hand it's the right thing to do because that's what the record label is asking of you. On the other hand, it's a form of selling out. It's like when someone says they love making beats but once they start doing it for a living (as opposed to a hobby), they start to like the creative process less and less because there ends up being less creativity and more standard template-driven beats. The same can be said for rappers that are writing lyrics for themselves or for others (as a ghostwriter). A ghostwriter is someone that is being paid to write lyrics for someone else. So basically they will write whatever is needed and whatever the rapper is looking for. But that too can become stale just as quickly as a beatmaker in the same dilemma because is it actually writing lyrics or just writing? For rappers that write their own lyrics, they too can be heavily influenced by record labels or some outside party that forces them to write lyrics that don't really come from within, but rather just fit the norm and never actually serve a purpose. It's Time To Be Creative And Dominate This is my entire reason for writing this article. I'm one of the many Hip Hop fans that miss the beloved old school Hip Hop, namely the 1990s and all the glorious beats and rhymes that dominated the airwaves every single day. I never understood how any rapper, producer, or beatmaker can't take it upon themselves to change the Hip Hop game. Why not? What is holding them back? I think a lot of it has to do with the influence that the current Hip Hop industry model has upon them. Because of that, they are writing rhymes and making beats a certain way because they think that's what they should be doing. They also think that since everyone likes that particular style, then that's what will sell, thus making them popular. So how do we fix it? Actually, the question should be more than that. Artists should be asking themselves questions such as: How did DJ Premier develop his sound? How did Jay-Z's flow become so popular? How did P Diddy push out so many hits? Why was Run DMC so popular? What made the Wu-Tang Clan so special? There are many more questions that could be posed, but these are just a few that should get everyone thinking. Let's look these over. How Did DJ Premier Develop His Sound? Premier is one of a kind. He's been around for years, making dope beats that are completely unique to him. Everyone knows that the second a Premo beat comes on, we all know who produced it. This is because his beats stand out from the rest, but why? He was creative. He dominated. He didn't just make beats that sounded like someone else and settled for that. Instead, he did his own thing and as a result, he changed the game. How Did Jay-Z's Flow Become So Popular? Not Jay-Z himself, but his flow. It's his flow that everyone has been trying to emulate over the years, and once again it's because of influence. All the fans heard him on popular songs so it was ingrained in their heads to the point that rappers were just spitting lyrics like Jay. It's a pity. But Jay-Z's flow is something unique. Granted, he has a very distinct voice but it's the way he delivered his lyrics that has made him stand out from the rest. It's like when DMX dropped and all of a sudden lots of rappers were coming out with rough voices. It's quite comical. Jay didn't just spit his lyrics, he made sure that he did so in a certain way so that he stood out. Have you ever heard him on older tracks from back in the day? Even then his flow was different, but he just wasn't as good back then as he is today. How did P Diddy push out so many hits? It's simple - Diddy was a visionary. When he hooked up with his team, many of them laughed when he was digging into old R&B and Funk records that sounded like something for the R&B charts, rather than a Rap song about a rags-to-riches story. However, it worked. What Diddy accomplished was huge and it literally changed how Hip Hop sounded. There were lots of acts out at the time and many had that East Coast gutter sound, but then Diddy managed to take some of that and sprinkle something lighter on top and it paid off. Why was Run DMC so popular? The thing with Run DMC is that even though they had a ton of great songs (many of which can still be played today at parties), they were more or less based on image alone. Now don't get me wrong - they were a great group but I think they were at the right place at the right time. It's the look. You can't front. Just look at Run DMC and how they looked - they embodied Hip Hop at the time and represented what Rap music was all about. They rocked the Kangol hats, Adidas gear, and they had hard-hitting beats with a back-and-forth style between both emcees. What made the Wu-Tang Clan so special? Do I really have to answer this one? It's the Wu. Tang. These guys came out back in 1993 which was a time when the West Coast was dominating. I don't care what anyone says, the West was at the very top of the Rap scene in the early 90's, mostly because of Dr. Dre's "The Chronic". But then the Wu-Tang Clan told us about the 36 Chambers. They completely changed the game because not only did they bring a different style, they also had a bunch of members that were all unique on their own. Plus, they brought Kung Fu to the forefront, which blew the minds of many Hip Hop listeners. It's Time For All Artists To Change The Game There will always be leaders just like there will always be followers. In all music genres there are some artists that sound like others. It could be that one artist is influenced by another, or it could be that they just happen to make music that sounds similar to one another. But when record labels, money, and just overall daily influence are involved, it can have a negative impact. With all of the beats that I listen to on a regular basis, I always hear something unique to each beatmaker. It could be how they mixed their beat, or the type of drum pattern they used, but they all bring something to the table. I think what happens is that once these beatmakers venture out to actually sell their beats, or collaborate with a rapper on a project, that's when their sound can possibly change. I understand if a beat needs to be tweaked here and there based on what the beat is for, but to change the style? No way. Now if you listen to DJ Premier's beats, you can clearly tell that his style is his own. If anyone else made a beat that sounded like Premier's, everyone would quickly say "Oh, that's a Premo style beat". But why do you think there are tons of rappers lined up to work with Premier? Because of his style! So if other beatmakers were to make their own style, the same thing would happen, right? I know it's not that simple, but what I'm getting at is that in order to stand out you need two things: Your own unique style. Dominate. Anyone can come up with their own style, but to dominate? That's the hard part, but that's what will set you apart from the rest easily. If you create your own style and it's so good that people WANT to hear it, and people WANT to hear more, then you're dominating. The key though, is to set yourself apart. There are many artists that want to work with Dr. Dre, DJ Premier, Kanye West, Lord Finesse, and the list goes on. Those are all producers that are unique and have their own style. Thus, they have dominated in their own domain, and that's why those are the names that popped into my head when I wrote them. Even though I just mentioned beatmakers and producers, the same thing applies to rappers. When I listen to a Hip Hop track, I mainly listen to the beat, but once in a while it's the lyrics and the rapper's voice/delivery that keep me hooked and wanting to hear more. Shabazz The Disciple is one of the few that can do this. His track "Breathing For You" is one of the realest, best written, and best delivered rhymes I have ever heard. I think a big part of it is the fact that it's a true story that he actually experienced. Hence, this also plays into the "keeping it real" saying I mentioned earlier. Shabazz wrote what he went through in life. He didn't write about sleeping with models and owning a private jet. He was real. A lot of rappers today don't expel that realness that they should. When someone like the Fresh Prince came out, his lyrics were all about having fun and being silly because that's what he was and that's what he went through. If he had of instead rapped about being locked up and the cops chasing him down regularly, it would have been a horrible product. Hip Hop has always been about "keeping it real" and being yourself. Don't tell the listener that you're rich and drink champagne for breakfast. That's not real. Nobody does that. I know that some rappers want to portray a fantasy, but many end up crossing the line and making it seem like reality. In Closing Did Berry Gordy produce a sound that was already out there? Nope. Instead, he produced the Motown sound and changed the music industry. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Public Enemy, NWA - they all created their own unique sound. They were innovators. So to all rappers, producers, and beatmakers - the Hip Hop game is very simple. Do what you do but stay true to yourself and the rest will follow. Each time you sit down to make a beat or write a rhyme, you have a blank slate to work with, so why would you waste it by creating something that someone else has already created? Keep it real. Further Reading About Keeping It Real Ask music production questions in The Lab. These are 5 tips that you can use for your beats. Drums are the key to a dope track but they have to sound great. Follow these 6 simple steps to up your beat game.