I’ll start with a disclaimer: I’m an old hip-hop head. I am 30-*coughs and crumples paper while driving under a bridge* years old and I am set in my taste, similar to how white people describe their racist parents as being “set in their ways.”
I know what I fuck wit.
If you know me, you know I’m no fan of about 75-80 percent of new hip-hop ... but this isn’t a big issue for me. I have Google Play, so I can easily find what I like. My concern lies more in how much the discussion and debate around the culture have changed and—in my not-so-humble opinion—devolved.
The rivalry between the nostalgic fans of old-school rappers and the new-school up-and-comers (or, as I call them, “Team: Art is subjective”) can get downright sitcom-ish at times.
From Anderson .Paak scolding Lil Yachty’s non-Tupac-and-Biggie-knowing-face-ass about learning and respecting hip-hop’s lineage, to Pete Rock wanting to smack fire out of Waka Flocka for claiming to be the new Nas and Jay-Z (Pete got that arthritis and shit, so he just wrote an angry Instagram post instead), to the infamous Joe Budden-vs- Migos standoff, to 21 Savage calling out “OG Rappers” for judging the new generation, everyone seems to be in a perpetual state of social media warfare over the current state of hip-hop.
I get it: All the big, bad Joe Buddens of the world need to stop huffing and puffing and blowing up everyone’s spot while pining away for some long-lost golden era of hip-hop. #TeamArtIsSubjective and their fan base are vocal about their desire for us old-school critics to give the youngins room to create and allow hip-hop to have subgenres like all other music. Lil Yachty said, in an interview with The Guardian: “Older hip-hop people, they don’t understand evolution, or just don’t want it. One of the two.”
Here’s the thing that’s hard for an old head like myself to admit: They’re right (well, the Yachty quote is debatable, but ... whatever).
If you’re still saying, “That ain’t real hip-hop!” you need to return your whole narrative to 2004 and go find yourself a cave to go cry in. It’s all hip-hop.
Jazz includes contemporary, big band, acid and blue note. Rock ’n’ roll includes grunge, punk, classic and metal. Even metal includes thrash, speed, death and crust punk (we’re talking subgenres inside a subgenre ... it’s like Inception, but for people who like guitar music).
So there’s absolutely no reason why trap, snap, bass, hyphy, crunk and “mumble rap” (which I’m just learning is a controversial term, but ... they do be mumbling!) can’t be included under the umbrella genre that is hip-hop.
The argument turns left for me, however, when you tell me I can’t call a thing trash when it’s obviously trash. Some things aren’t subjective. 2 Chainz will never be 2Pac, just like Tyler Perry will never be James Baldwin. I don’t know when we got into this “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” era of hip-hop discourse, but I’m telling y’all, it’s for the birds. It’s indicative of how a lot of us have become disconnected from the full spectrum of the culture.
The larger culture has always been critical of artists and music it determined to be inferior. It’s where the phrase “wack emcees” comes from. If it seems disrespected, it’s supposed to be. Hip-hop literally invented the word “diss.”
Yes, it is true we oldies sound the same way our parents did when they were shitting all over whatever we were listening to when we were younger. But be honest, guys: Who, in their youth, ever gave a fuck about their parents’ opinion on ... well ... anything? So let’s not pretend it’s so damaging.
(And, if we’re being honest, our folks were right about a lot of shit. If you grew up in the ’90s, you had Boyz II Men, Jodeci, En Vogue, Whitney Houston and a few others who might be able to hold their own sharing a stage with Motown’s finest. Even Boyz II Men would just barely be holding the Temptations’ jockstrap. But I digress.)
The truth is, this isn’t purely a generational thing, as there is no era in hip-hop where purists (or real “heads”) weren’t talking shit about commercial rap music. Ask Kool Herc and Grandmaster Caz what they thought about the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” Ask Run-DMC how many elitist assholes had something to say about their crossover collaboration with Aerosmith.
Shit, I was calling out the unabashed wackness of mainstream pop rap when I was in my late teens and early 20s (meaning I was still of the current generation). We old-school hip-hoppers have always had a list as long as an MC Hammer remix of rappers from our era we absolutely despised. And none of our opinions had even the slightest impact on their bottom lines. Which leads me to a final question:
Why do you give a shit what we think?
If you’re a fan of popular music, you’re on the favorable side of supply and demand, so I just don’t understand the degree of contempt you have for the detractors of your faves. It’s like you’re sitting at the popular kids’ table worried about what the second-string chess club is gossiping about. Migos spent all of 2017 at the top of every pop chart in the country. You think that nigga gives a fuck how trash I think he is?
Wait ... what? Migos is three people? Well, shit
“We the biggest group ever. Ever. In pop, hip-hop, all that, because every genre in music right now is structured off us. We got this culture.”
—rapper Offset of Migos
Hell, try being an underground head. Think how much easier our lives would’ve been if we had just liked what the masses were in to. Do you know how many women I wouldn’t have had to eventually cancel because they kept hopping into my car and snatching my Pharoahe Monch out of the disc drive to bump that new Ja Rule or Nelly (by the end of this piece, you should all be able to guess my age).
I grew up in Atlanta, the city where clubbing is a staple of the culture and a rite of passage, as someone with a serious distaste for Lil Jon and the Ying Yang Boys (wait ... that’s not right). I was the old guy in the club when I was, like, 22.
Maybe I am just an old fogy shouting at the modern rap world to get off my lawn. But I’d like to think that harsh criticism among the different sects of hip-hop fandom has always been more healthy than draining, and I fail to see how it prohibits the evolution of the culture or the ability of new generations to get their shine and add their own branches to the genre tree.
Truth is, subgenre has always been present in hip-hop. What was the media-inflamed East Coast-vs.-West Coast beef but a battle between rap genres no different than when a death metal enthusiast declares their hatred for alternative punk?
All music is art, and all art—when put on display—is subject to the judgment and interpretation of both appreciative and unappreciative audiences. And the nature of that world, for both the artists and their die-hard fans, requires a thicker skin.