While many of us like to hold hip-hop close to our hearts as an expressive art form, it has become now more than ever a business. Since money first started pouring in during the ‘80s many rappers have been switching their style up and jumping on the latest trends. This stylistic transformation is typically born out of the rapper’s instinct to survive. It’s eat or be eaten in the rap game.
One of the most blatant examples is the ‘dirty south’ outbreak of the mid-2000s where every rapper and their mother started rhyming about the ‘trap’ and ‘sippin’ lean’ over the same tired 808 drum pattern. Two years after dropping the holy bible of hip-hop, Illmatic, Nas for some damn reason tried to reinvent himself as a money-throwing, trigger pulling mobster. Whether he felt pressure to live up to his classic or he was just deluded, it took until 2001’s Stillmatic for Nas to fully realise his true path as a hypocritical street poet. Two of rap’s favourite punching bags, MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice, both tried to reignite the flame. The former Christian devotee Hammer attempted to go gangsta, even going as far as signing an ill-fated deal with Death Row Records. While Hammer was said to be gangsta in real life no one believed Vanilla Ice when he tried to reinvent himself as a Cypress Hill-inspired serial stoner. Cracker please!
2012 seems like the year of transformations. Everyone is either getting all confessional and emo, attempting to sound like Drake, or they’re changing their name. For some it’s more a marketing ploy in hopes of reaching renewed popularity. It’s worked for the former Tity Boi, now 2 Chainz. The jury is still out on ex-Clipse member No Malice who has seemingly just removed all references to cooking and selling crack in place of veiled references to faith and religion. Hip-hop’s all-time king of transformations however would have to be Calvin Broadus, now reborn as Snoop Lion. He has worn so many hats that it’s no surprise he has traded in his pimp hat for a Rastafarian one.
While Snoop won’t have any trouble surviving, rap transformations for the most part have been hit and miss affairs. Here we look at the successes and failures in hip hop reinvention. Did we miss anybody? Let us know!