The 2010 Year in Review: Mic Check 1,2: Whatever Happened to the M.C.?

Back in the day before the Fat Back Band made a record using rhyme[1], the M.C. or master of ceremonies or mic controller seemed to be nothing more than an ego booster for the DJ, who was the star of the show.

It was the DJ whose mixing and scratching moved the crowd, as the M.C.’s job was to tell everyone how great that particular DJ was and to keep the party hyped with classic party lines like, “Throw your hands in the air and wave ‘em like you just don’t care!”

Within a couple of years The Sugarhill Gang ripped pages from Grandmaster Caz’s notebook, Melle Mel began a commentary on the South Bronx and the course of hip-hop history was altered, the M.C. moved from hype man to main man and became the mouthpiece of a generation.

From Melle Mel to DJ Run to KRS-One, Rakim, Chuck D., Kool G Rap, LL Cool J, MC Lyte, Slick Rick to the B-I-G D-A-Double D-Y K-A-N-E, the bar was continually raised through the 80’s as brothers with the ill street blues[2] started to put words together reporting live from the streets. It was more than beats to the rhyme[3] for these guys; it was becoming an art form as they wrote in their book of rhymes, all the words past the margin[4] to stake their claim as sole controller of the M.I.C. And we let our tapes rock, ‘til our tapes popped[5] because we needed to be able to go line for line with our favorite M.C.’s as if we were studying for a science test.

Back then it was just two turntables and a mic[6] (maybe two dancers also) It seemed every M.C. was rapping about his or her superiority with words while sprinkling in social commentary, 5% knowledge, or telling a story, but they’d all be damned if they let a Fisher-Price M.C. hang![7] It was apparent that hip-hip was not the place for sucker M.C.’s, but record company executives didn’t care for that assertion. What was once considered a fad had now become a profitable genre and the labels had to cash in and Q-Tip taught us industry rule #4080[8].

Record company people were indeed shady, but the money couldn’t be restricted to the suits as we moved into the 90’s and the next generation of M.C’s/DJ’s/Producers became more business savvy and had dollar signs in their eyes and on their minds. Once upon a time in the projects[9], the dopest rhymesayers were seeking record deals, but the climate of hip-hop changed and everywhere you looked there was Harry, Dick and Tom with a demo in their palm[10], as hip-hop had become the new hustle.

Even when hip-hop came straight outta Compton[11], the boys in the hood were writing their best rhymes to Dr. Dre’s beats and added a new sound to the genre New York had dominated. Dre, Ice Cube, Ice-T, Snoop Dogg and others took their culture nationwide with West Coast tales of gangbanging, dope slanging and chronic smoking. But it was obvious that they loved the artistry and simply wanted to add another voice to the chorus.

The next generation of New York M.C.’s included a trio that many point to as being the three greatest M.C.’s of all-time, Biggie, Jay-Z and Nas. It seemed as if these three had been created by those Gods of 80’s hip-hop because the rhythm was in sync and the rhymes were on time[12] and they told stories, got money and each proved to be a superior M.C. time after time. The Notorious B.I.G. suffered a premature death and Jay-Z and Nas have had to shoulder the burden of being a true school M.C. and not rhyming for the sake of riddling[13] in this sad state of hip-hop.

I can tell you the exact moment when the game changed. It was a winter night in 1998 when Funkmaster Flex dropped bomb after bomb on Juvenile’s “Ha”. I’m not saying that the South ruined hip-hop, I’m saying that Manny Fresh’s 808 beats ushered the beats back to the forefront and made what the M.C. is saying mere ad libs as cats are just trying to make a quick hit song and a few bucks while talking about how much coke they’ve sold, how many people they’ve killed and how many ménages they’ve had.

I guess hip-hop is passing me by[14] or I’m just longing for the days gone by, because the hip-hip that me and you, your mama and your cousins too[15] grew up on is now old school and the new school M.C. doesn’t even want to be a rapper. He wants to be everything but a rapper. He admires the number book takers, thugs, pimps & pushers and the big-money makers[16] and views the rap game like the crack game[17], a come up and escape from his present circumstance.

He doesn’t write his rhymes anymore, but he may want to take an hour with a pen and a pad[18], because the pressure to come back with another fat song[19] is on and many of today’s rappers can’t recreate the magic of breakout hits because they aren’t spending the time to develop their craft, because when the product’s in stock, the fair-weather friends flock, but when your chart position drops[20]? Too much time is being spent spending the money on what they lied about in their now and later rhymes, you know, they rap about it now, hope to get it later[21].

Wanting to be the best M.C. seems to be lost on many young rappers these days, as the focus has shifted to Maybach’s and Louie Vutton luggage, instead of just needing a stage and microphone[22], but unlike Rakim, you are a joke![23]The M.C. is a dying breed these days, as the artistry has been lost to the profit principle and rap is like a setup, a lot of games, a lot of suckers with colorful names, I’m so & so, I’m this, I’m this, but they’re all just wic-wic-wack![24]

Note* Put the footnotes together and you have one dope mixtape back from when I used to love H.E.R.[25]!

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