GZA writes: “Rap lyrics sure ain’t what they used to be”

Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA has put pen to paper, writing an open letter to hip hop. Published on Medium, he speaks about how lyricism is now something of a lost art in rap, and how many rappers don’t have a ‘message’ anymore. As we discussed in our own feature earlier this week, there is a small number of ‘message’-led rappers with political motivations, reclaiming the mainstream. But as a whole, “Rap lyrics sure ain’t what they used to be.”

Talking about the history of rap, the messages rappers spread, alongside their image, originality and authenticity, he gives plenty of examples, and says that many rappers don’t exude the same power or meaning that we once saw in hip hop. He lists artists including Nas, Biggie, Big Daddy Kane and Melle Mel as artists who relayed messages through rap. “…they all had a message: socially, politically and economically. They spoke about the injustices in the city. They spoke about poverty, and they told a great story,” he writes.

Here’s some highlights, but you can read the whole thing here.

“Hip-hop started with street poets with great lyrical skills, and that’s what hip-hop has always been about for me. If you hear people talking about the Golden Era of rap they’re usually talking about the early-Wu Tang Clan era. And then Nas and Biggie and so on. But for me it goes back to the 80s — 1986 to 1989.”

“Rappers aren’t grabbing you anymore, it’s not pulling me in. What can I get from talking about my car? It’s irrelevant. It’s not about the art form anymore. I think it was Chaka Khan who said, “I would sing for nothing because this is what I love to do.” It was never about money for me. There’s a line we had in Wu-Tang for years: ‘It was not a hobby but a childhood passion /

That started in the lobby and was quickly fashioned’” (From Rushing Elephants)

“I’m sure there are great lyricists out there today, but when you look at mainstream hip-hop, lyricism is gone. There are some artists out there that think they’re great storytellers, but they’re not. Nowadays there are certain things I don’t hear anymore from rappers: I haven’t heard the word “MC” in so long; I haven’t heard the word “lyrical.” A lot of rappers think they’re hardcore or say they’re from the streets and there’s that thing where they always say, “I live what I rhyme about, I rhyme about what I live.” But you don’t always have to do that. Because for me it’s not about telling the story — it’s about weaving the tale.”

What do you think?