Every so often in hip-hop, we’re introduced to a new kid on the block who happens to be white; this new face gets loads of media mentions and a group of the genre’s fans wild out on the blogs—they usually call themselves “true hip-hop heads.”
The latest to get the wrath is Iggy Azalea. Before her, it was Macklemore.
Plenty of white rappers have had to deal with the closed-mindedness of a group of hip-hop-goers that can’t get past the prehistoric idea that hip-hop is purely a black experience. This is far from the truth. Over time, the Beastie Boys, 3rd Base, House of Pain, Kid Rock, Eminem and even Vanilla Ice have left their imprints on the culture.
To be totally clear, by no means is Iggy Azalea the rap game’s Australian messiah (nice try, Forbes), and her “rap accent” is questionable in comparison with her normal voice, but it’s 2014 and she’s welcome to experiment.
What the so-called true hip-hop fans fail to realize is that those black hip-hop artists they love are doing the same as these white artists. They’re exploring genres that would traditionally seem taboo and infusing them into hip-hop. They are moving into music that is normally considered “white” and embracing the genre.
Just in case you’ve been sleep for the past few decades, I’m here to let you know this isn’t a new phenomenon. De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising or Run-DMC’s King of Rock are prime examples of expanding music’s horizons. Hell, Rick Rubin alone has godfathered a bridge between rock and rap, but it feels more prominent than ever as more and more black artists blur musical lines and redefine the culture in a unique manner.
Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Childish Gambino, SZA, Odd Future and Danny Brown are just a few of the growing number of artists incorporating techno, electronic, metal and pop into their music.
“Hip-hop is a worldview, a disposition, a way of being in and seeing the world,” said S. Craig Watkins, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of Hip Hop Matters: Politics, Pop Culture, and the Struggle for the Soul of a Movement. “That continues to change as each generation of hip-hop experiences the world in different and complex ways.
“Hip-hoppers today are growing up in a world in which the flow of ideas, art, expressive culture, etc. happen in curious and complex ways,” Watkins continued. “Their musical tastes and creative practices may be [a] reflection of those shifts.”
The artists didn’t solely create this musical paradigm shift, the millennials who listen to and embrace their experimentation have aided in this musical symbiosis, as they don't carry the same worldview as the generations before them.
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center (pdf) earlier this year, the top three things that those born after 1980 believe make them unlike any other generation are technology use (24 percent), music and pop culture (11 percent) and more liberal and tolerant ideologies (7 percent). It’s a given that technological advances give people access to information more than ever before, and this opportunity is one reason millennials have embraced different genres of music, according to BET.com’s associate editor, Taj Rani.
“Most millennials grew up in a TRL generation,” said Rani, referencing Total Request Live, MTV’s daily music-video countdown that first aired in 1998 and lasted 10 years on the air. "Your countdown had pop with Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, rock with Linkin Park, R&B with Destiny’s Child and hip-hop with Jay Z and Nelly, so you were getting a top 10 countdown that consisted of all these artists five days a week.”
Having access to a variety of music via television and Internet streaming made it harder to discern what black- or white-associated music was to a younger generation because they just liked what they liked, according to Rani.
In a recent study, MTV and David Binder Research (pdf) noted that “millennials feel that ‘colorblindness’ is something to strive for.” But they also believe in celebrating diversity, according to the research, with 81 percent stating that embracing diversity and celebrating differences between races would improve society.
“Hip-hop is not this exclusive thing, separate from the cultural world that produces it,” Watkins said. “It never has been and never will be. Though it often gets defined as African American, hip-hop has always had elements of multiculturalism and diversity. Any attempt to control hip-hop, to define and restrict its creative ambitions, has always been met with resistance within hip-hop.”
Hip-hop isn’t monolithic. It’s traveled the world and has more stories to tell now than when it was conceived. True fans of hip-hop understand this transformation. True fans never forget hip-hop’s beginnings, but also see the potential hip-hop has to touch the world like never before.
“As far as genres crossing, we all need to be a bit more open and understanding that people listen to different stuff,” said Rani. “You can’t put us all in a box. Music, in a perfect world, wouldn’t have a color association.”
Taryn Finley is a summer intern at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.