Just as hip hop (at least its prototypical form made popular by Grand Master Flash, Sugar Hill Gang, Run DMC, Kurtis Blow, LL Cool J and so many others) is getting some long overdue propers by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it is suffering its worse slump of its 30 year existence. Hip Hop’s funk troubles me especially. I’m a life long fanatic of the music. As a kid I passed many a recess reciting the lyrics to the likes of Rapper’s Delight on the playground while my friend played the rhythm on the bars of the jungle gym. As a teenager, I relied on Chuck D to fuel my rebellion and instruct me on the injustice of the American Legal System and Selective Service. And as a fully grown (if not fully matured) man, I look to hip hop for inspiration, strength and an outlet for my un-subsided angst and legitimate frustrations with the world.

But lately I’m just not feeling it. It’s not the copious bad rap out there, as I’ve always been successful at filtering out the bullshit when it comes to hip hop. It’s not the vulgar language, although recently I had to flip past a song by self-proclaimed conscious rapper Common when he dropped a homophobic epithet one too many times. It’s this: with very little exception, everything I hear these days is derivative. Same story, same beat, similar sample. Blah, blah, blah. Plus, every clown I see limping down the street with an AI jersey, pants sagging and a hat on sideways makes me smirk with disdain. It’s all so tired.

Nas is right: Hip Hop is dead. Here’s how dead it is: It’s inducted into the Hall of Fame with Van Halen (also dead), and NPR did a story on how dead it is. Now that’s dead. Next it’ll be snubbed for an Oscar, just like Peter O’Toole. NPR’s story this past weekend was onĀ  hip-hop’s slumping album sales. In an environment where music sales are slumping across the board, hip-hop sales have dropped precipitously, deeper than the industry as a whole. A CNN article I found while writing this piece puts the drop at 21% over the 2005-2006 period. That span also marked the first time in nearly a decade that hip-hop had no album in the top 10.

The avenues that have been explored in hip hop seem to have come to a dead end. The exceptions in my view are the routes explored by artists like The Roots and Andre 3000 – and their experiments seem to be taking them out of ‘traditional’ hip-hop and moving them into curious places, off the map and out of this world. In the case of The Roots, their latest album Game Theory, which I actually love, fuses hip hop with acid jazz, trip hop, and something not yet categorized. Black Thought still rhymes, but the rhymes flow in and out of the music with less structure, and the beats and tracks tend to morph and twist. The album as a whole is fluid and refreshingly unstructured. I’ve nothing to say about Andre, except to say that his long-standing inclination to innovate is leading him far astray – and far ahead – of the genre that made him famous.

At its core, hip hop has always been about innovation and ruthless, honest expression. Recently, with all the mainstreaming and major label fiddling, its lost its way. But the raison d’etre of hip hop, or at least the things that made it so revolutionary and provocative (when it was still revolutionary and provocative) are still with us, and hopefully will be forever. I look forward to something new and revolutionary out of Brooklyn, South Central, Atlanta, Oakland and all the other places where hip hop once lived, but until then I’ll be relying on throw backs to the days when hip-hop was still alive. Hip Hop is Dead, Long Live Hip Hop!