The Hook: Hip Hop’s Double Edged Sword
These days, rap or hip hop songs usually need a good hook to get popularly recognized. This has its benefits. It forces collaboration. Let’s be realistic; Eminem, B.O.B, Jay-Z, and Kanye, while all great artists and lyricists, can’t really sing without an auto tune, and often need help to put out hooks which appeal to people outside of the hard rap fan base, an appeal necessary for immense popularity. This dynamic has given us great hooks like those in Airplanes, Love the Way You Lie, and I Need a Doctor. It has also allowed artists like Hayley Williams to become more recognized than they would have otherwise, not that Paramore was struggling. Nevertheless, the desire for a catchy hook has its problems as well.
The necessity for the hook is troubling because it says that we aren’t attentive enough to make it through the first fifteen seconds or so of a song before judging it. Granted, the music industry largely operates under the “impress immediately or flop” mentality, but this has led, at least in the modern age, to songs losing the substance they once had, and those artists with substantial lyrics not getting recognized, at least in hip hop.
Consider the songs with catchy hooks that you remember: Airplanes, Not Afraid, In Da Club, California Love, etc… How much of the rest of the song do you know? How much of Eminem’s lyrics do you remember from Airplanes? Do you remember any of In Da Club except for the hook? Yes, Fifty Cent does write raunchy lyrics, but the actual bars from In Da Club are really sick, and comment on important issues in his life and in the hip hip community, something few people ever recognize. Consider Eminem’s Recovery, how many of the other songs are you familiar with? Cold Wind Blows, Space Bound, White Trash Party? These songs have tremendous lyrics, but do not have the hook to make them sustainable in popularity. If you can’t sing along to it, you’re rarely willing to listen to it. Coincidentally, in the peak days of Pac and Dre, the hook wasn’t really that important, because people focused more on the actual body of the song. Some of Pac’s greatest work like Changes and Hail Mary would be a complete flop in this day and age, and that’s really tragic to think about. Consider incredible linguists like Bone Thugz who do not attain nearly the recognition they deserve because their songs aren’t catchy and are difficult to sing along to.
Every time the next catchy hook comes up, you can see the Facebook statuses changing immediately, pasting the lyrics in an attempt to be creative. The real tragedy, however, is that songs with little to no substance become popular when they shouldn’t. Tinie Tempah should be kissing Eric Turner’s feet and thanking him for Written in the Stars. Kid Cudi and Soulja Boy also both suck in terms of their lyrics. Their bars are terrible, and they can’t rap to save their lives. Yet, both of them are multi-millionaires because they had great hooks. Think about it, how much of Day N Night do you actually know? Snoop Dogg, Lil’ Jon, and Chingy all owe their rises to fame to peoples’ tiny attention spans and desire for unsophisticated lyrics. The hook has forced great lyricists like Fifty Cent and Ludacris to sell out and write about irrelevant trashy things. All the while, there are several struggling rappers who may never make it big because they focus on writing poetic hard hitting bars instead of writing catchy “rap tunes.” Such examples include Real Deal, Illmaculate, and Heartless.
Anyway, that’s my two cents.