In a world where pop culture icons have more of an influence on kids and teenagers than politicians, teachers and perhaps even parents, a singer’s voice can be good for more than just making money.
Famous hip-hop artists like Kanye West have never been shy about expressing their opinions, be it through song lyrics, on stage at an awards show or during a live newscast. However, there are other players in this game; these players may be smaller in status, but their songs speak volumes.
Underground hip-hop artists, or alternative hip-hop artists, are using music as a platform for social reform. The songs tend to be politically themed or socially conscious and are intelligent.
As recently as 30 years ago, all hip-hop music was underground. The genre’s big break came when the Sugarhill Gang gained recognition in 1979. Today, the airwaves and Billboard charts are dominated by hip-hop artists.
Since nearly all hip-hop music was underground not so long ago, it can be hard to distinguish who the true underground artists are.
Depending on the person you talk to or where you search on the Internet, you will be presented with different examples and definitions of underground artists. Some people consider underground artists to be those who are not well known by the mainstream media but who are famous in their own right for pushing some political agenda. Others consider underground artists to be those that simply are not signed to a major label.
Cracked.com cites underground hip-hop as a “reaction to the increasingly glorified street violence and womanizing seen in the rise of gangsta rap.” According to the site, this shift towards commercialization and the image of thugs in mainstream hip-hop was considered a break from creativity and credibility. As a result, underground artists moved away from mainstream hip-hop on the grounds that the most important characteristic of hip-hop music is honesty and truthful, real-world interpretations.
Slug, who has become very well known amongst underground artists over the past few years, has built his reputation on being painfully honest. In an article that discusses the 10 most intelligent rappers of our time, Listverse.com calls Slug the poster boy for underground hip-hop. The article credits Slug for taking listeners on a thought-provoking journey through his own psyche in an attempt to discover his true self.
Andre 3000, half of the popular group OutKast, also makes the list. Andre 3000 gained notoriety and credibility in underground hip-hop before making it big with OutKast.
“As his group progressed with its music, Andre 3000 became increasingly cerebral in his raps, often dipping into abstract lyricism and existentialism,” said the article on Listverse.com. “His unconventional use of language began to become more metaphorical than ever, making the average listener listen twice before continuing to groove out and have fun.”
In an article disclosing the 25 freshest unsigned albums from underground hip-hop artists, Rateyourmusic.com lists artists that the site claims makes hip-hop music the way it should be made. The list includes albums from Masta Killa, Aesop Rock, Non-Prophets, Living Legends and Lightheaded, to name a few.
Underground hip-hop offers listeners more than what is in rotation on radio stations across the country. The lyrics are intricate, the beats are original and the artists are true to themselves and their music. The albums produced underground are good not just for artistic expression, but also for stimulating conversation and perhaps teaching listeners a thing or two about what is happening in the world around them.
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