Move over, Dre: the biggest hip-hop mogul of 2015 turned out to be Hollywood.
The enormous success of the West Coast rap group N.W.A.’s biographical picture “Straight Outta Compton” last month signifies the beginning of a new era in hip-hop, one in which the general public’s view of the genre won’t just be formed by radio-worthy singles, but also by the latest biopic in theaters.
And there will be more biopics.
Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, Tha Dogg Pound, Outkast and Def Jam Recordings have all been rumored to be the subjects of possible follow-ups to “Straight Outta Compton.” It’s a hard-to-resist opportunity after N.W.A. speculated that they would make more money now than they ever did from the revitalized album sales. So as long as the artists continue to give Hollywood the thumbs up, there’s an enormous amount of profit in it for both parties.
In general, blockbuster biopics would be a welcome addition to the hip-hop industry, as hip-hop has recently become a contender for the most popular music genre in the world. They would assist in explaining the intricacies and origins of today’s mainstream successes to their audience, such as how “Straight Outta Compton” promoted the notion of hip-hop becoming a “conscious” art form that reflects the artist’s life. Classic hip-hop is notorious for both its influence from and on social issues, and all it needs is for someone to tell its stories.
The problem is that Hollywood’s the historian, and based on the subjects being considered for the next big biopic, viewers need to be wary of the industry’s desires. Hollywood isn’t looking at how the chosen hip-hop artists enlightened a nation about the realities of racial profiling or how they popularized gangsta rap as a staple of hip-hop. Unfortunately for the genre, Hollywood’s only looking for rappers with a legendary status among the youth of today and an underdog come-up story. Hollywood simply won’t have it any other way for a long time after last month’s success.
There’s a slew of artists that deserve a biopic based on their influences on hip-hop but will likely never get one based on Hollywood’s narrow criteria: Grandmaster Flash, the Beastie Boys, Sylvia Robinson, UGK, D’Angelo, DJ Premier, Ice–T — the list goes on and on. These are the people who changed hip-hop, who created the subgenre, who broke gender and racial standards and who brought it to radios across the US.
Thanks to Hollywood, a hundred incredible stories will die with our generation at a time when it’s most appreciated. Hip-hop is bigger than it ever has been. Now is the time we should be exploring its history and relevant cultural value, rather than trying to decide who has enough stardom to be featured in what will spiritually be “Straight Outta Compton 2.”
Benj Salkind is an undeclared sophomore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.