Microphoning it in
Sounding “mainstream” can be political suicide for a rapper in Reno’s hip-hop scene. And for good reason—a lot of mainstream rap music sucks.
Hip-hop culture split into two separate identities when the genre became socially accepted in the early 1990s: the mainstream, which you hear on the radio; and the underground, which is appreciated by a smaller but arguably much more devout fan base.
The theory behind the split, from the underground perspective, is that underground rappers can push artistic boundaries because there is no label pushing their music in a certain direction for commercial success. The focus tends to be on deep, introspective lyrics over solemn beats. This freedom has resulted in some of the best hip-hop music of the past 15 years.
Mainstream hip-hop, on the other hand, has been plagued with stereotypes that rappers are forced to subscribe to, whether or not their lives actually fit the bill. Lyrics about guns, selling drugs and getting women have dominated mainstream hip-hop. The catch to the survival of the lyrically inferior mainstream hip-hop is that it’s catchy and easy to dance to.
As with much of America’s entertainment, consumers have learned to filter out any actual message and accept anything that sounds catchy or looks pretty.
Local rapper Michael “Mic-Rob” Robinson basically has a mainstream sound without all the ignorance attached to mainstream hip-hop.
“It has a melody to it and a message to it,” the 28-year-old Los Angeles native and current Reno resident says of his music. “Even though I speak on serious topics, you got to make people feel good—especially the ladies.”
“The day I come out and say I got a gun … how much drugs I got—that day, turn me off,” he says. “It’s kind of killing the future of hip-hop.”
It’s refreshing talking with Robinson about hip-hop culture. He’s an obviously intelligent, gifted and ambitious rapper trying to make it in a music industry that doesn’t always appreciate intelligence.
This interview happened to take place on a very symbolic day—Nov. 4. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Jay-Z was rapping about “Big Pimpin,” not campaigning for America’s next president. A slew of other rappers have all cleaned up their acts, as well.
One can’t help but wonder if mainstream hip-hop is going to begin to conduct itself with a bit of class. If so, Robinson might have the perfect opportunity to slide right in.
He’s working on an album, The Adventures of Microphone Robinson, which is set to be released in March 2008. He’s also talking with various labels and managers.
Local musicians of all genres always talk about how they’re going to make it big in the industry, how their music is unique, how they’re talking with so and so from some label. It’s naïve of anyone to believe every musician or rapper who talks the talk, seemingly just for the hell of it.
But Robinson might really be on to something. A rough draft of his new album possesses all the elements of other mainstream albums, but with a pleasant dose of intelligent lyrics. The music isn’t too serious to keep you from dancing to it, but not so dumbed down you feel guilty for doing so.