Rap music, as a genre, originated in the Southern United States, while its roots can be drawn back to West Africa. Rapping, MCing, rhyming, and spitting bars, as they are affectionately known, are ways of delivering emotion, content, and words, incorporating flow. For the past few decades, at least in the US, rappers have been associated with street credibility – it’s almost impossible to be a successful rapper unless you have the right street cred.
Think about the biggest American rappers to date. The ones who invented and popularized their own vocabulary. We’re talking the Wu-Tang Clans, the MF Dooms, the Outkasts, the Nas’, and the Das EFXs of our time. From Staten Island, to Long Island, to Atlanta – their street cred was, and still is, off the charts.
As hip-hop trendifies itself (yes, I just invented that word) with the mechanisms of modern day music, street cred is less prevalent and less, well, important. But does this make the rap we listen to today less authentic? That’s a completely separate debate. But think about the North American rappers – the Drakes, the Kanye Wests, the A$AP Rockys, the Desiigners, and the OVO squads that are killing it in the genre today. What’s their street cred like? It doesn’t really compare, does it? I mean, as much as we absolutely love Drake, deep down he’s just a sad boy. Like let's be honest, the guy has more feelings than your mom at your wedding. Kanye is just a fashion killa and trendsetter who’s made his way into the Kardashian-Jenner legacy. A$AP fits into that category too now. This isn’t to take away from the dopeness of their music whatsoever, it’s just to solidify a change in the genre and a shift in where the spoken-word wordsmiths of today come from, versus where they came from say ten or twenty years ago.
Is this the death of street cred as we know it? Not only in the States, but in the global realm of rap music? VICE France recently published an interesting article in their July print issue, basically saying that French rap has lost all o the street cred that it may have never even had. They claim that street cred was a phenomenon created in the United States that dictates that rappers have to be hard a.f. badasses in order to be taken seriously in their craft. Frenchies have a lot to say about this – they think it’s idiotic and not legit in the least. After all, their rappers are actually really cute and kind deep down, like pretty boy Nekfeu or Black M on his side project from hip-hop mega group Sexion d’Assaut. While many of them emerge from troubled backgrounds and are raised in the French banlieue (take the Marsellais Jul or the Parisians MZ, for example), they’re still honest in their work and reject stereotypes about where they come from.
Even SCH, who rhymes like a true French rap gangster, smiles in his clips and has started dressing like a hypebeast. French rappers in general, including big names such as Maître Gims or Soprano, have set out to ensure that their hip-hop identity is based around love – a love for their crew and a love for that they do. That’s what makes them so successful across a wide audience.
I guess street cred really is dead… It’s all about the music now.