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Posted by Robert
Rap News Network
3/3/2005 6:34:08 AM

Tags and topics realted to this article include Kanye West.

Watching the Grammy Awards' rap album of the year winner Kanye West arrive for a Hollywood club date the other week, you could clearly see the dramatic change that's overtaken rap/hip-hop in the past months.

Instead of the intimidating, gun-toting crews surrounding older rap stars, with their familiar sour looks, baggy track suits, bulletproof Hummers and threatening poses, Wes and his preppy new-generation pals strolled in as if they were showing up a few minutes early at a business-fraternity mixer. Polo shirts, khakis, sports jackets, friendly smiles, relaxed handshakes - could this spell the end of the expletive-deleted world Snoop Dogg, Nas, DMX and 50 Cent once knew?

The acclaimed West and his chart-topping R&B protege John Legend - along with the likes of the Black Eyed Peas and rappers Commn and Talib Kweli - are spearheading a new musical movement that shuns the misogyny, gunplay, bloody revenge fantasies and mindless conspicuous consumption of a previous generation of hip-hop record makers and breakers.

It's hip pop - a sound that borrows from authentic gospel and its close cousin, vintage rhythm and blues, while also using beats and sampling techniques that have helped place the relatively gentle new genre firmly in contemporary pop culture's big-bucks mainstream.

West - pictured recently in a national magazine wearing a Ralph Lauren shirt and jeans while sitting next to his beaming parents - and his frequently mesmerizing debut, "The College Dropout," is only the most visible tip of the new hip-hop iceberg. Son of a university professor, the 27-year-old producer-turned-rapper, who purposely registers low on the bling-bling scale, has seen close friend Legend's debut disc, "Get Lifted," climb to No. 4 on the albums chart. It's a branch of tuneful, socially conscious hip-hop that first broke through in a big way with Lauryn Hill's 1998 debut.

"It's the return of the middle-class rapper," says Todd Boyd, a hip-hop theoretician, author and professor of critical studies at the USC School of Cinema and Television. "In the '80s, it wasn't so uncommon."

But Boyd says that with the emergence of N.W.A. and West Coast hip-hop - so-called gangsta rap - in the late '80s and early '90s, increasingly hip-hop was almost solely identified with ghetto culture, the 'hood and lower-class sensibilities.

At the 2005 Grammy Awards, a pop/hip-hop/R&B coronation of sorts took place when West won three of his leading 10 nominations, while R&B singer Alicia Keys took four, and pop superstar Usher had three wins. (The late Ray Charles received eight trophies).

"What we're doing is reflecting the values of where we come from," singer-pianist Legend, 26, said just before launching a tour with Keys. "Our values were shaped by our upbringing. We come from regular middle-class families. We weren't exposed to gun violence, and it wouldn't occur to us to carry weapons or pose with them. The people that do that usually do it for a reason - they actually have concerns for their lives."

One tough-guy artist with apparently genuine worries is 50 Cent, the rapper born Curtis Jackson, who survived nine bullet wounds in 2000 and whose record-breaking debut two years ago, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," stands at 7.1 million records sold. A sophomore effort, much anticipated by retailers, is due in stores March 8, but few believe it will eclipse the widely accepted positive messages now being issued by other hip-hop artists.

"Hip-hop is a reflection of everything that surrounds it," said Will I. Am of the Grammy-winning Black Eyed Peas, a top-selling Los Angeles rap/R&B ensemble whose genre-busting music has long avoided thuggish wordplay and imagery. "Authentic rappers rhyme about their lives - and in many cases that means drugs, guns, gang violence, broken homes and misogyny - and the desire to accumulate wealth. It's what they've been raised around. If I ever got shot,

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