Hip Hop Culture for Grown-Ups
Words by Tony Grands
Regardless of the genre of music, any long term, dedicated fan of any particular cultural soundtrack probably has a problem with how’s it being done today, versus how it’s been done before.
If you ask an old country-western guy what he thinks about any of the new kids representing it today, his response will be the gas face, or the urban cowboy equivalent of it. If you question Aretha Franklin about Rihanna’s sonic prowess, she may slap you & start singing about why you should respect her. The point is that it’s nothing personal, but like everything else throughout life that one has a vested interest in, they think they know what’s best for it, especially after time & emotion have been dedicated.
Hip Hop fans are the same way.
Over the years, Hip Hop culture has been refurbished, revitalized, resurrected, remixed. For those of us who’ve had a place in the system since it’s inception (or close too it), sometimes it’s hard to fathom how hard & fast things change.
These days, the average over-30 year old rap music fan feels he is a technical expert on the culture. Why? Because he has seen it transform & transcend various parameters & boundaries, & at this point, he’s sure he has the formula to get the culture back on course. It’s not unlike an uncle who’s been around all your life, but during the teen years wasn’t around as much, & now that you’re grown, he thinks knows what’s in your best interest because he knew you before you actually had any interests, so to speak.
The fact that breaking in to the rap industry these days is somewhat easy – compared to the days of hunting down live bodies & staking out in front of brick & mortar label offices – causes a great divide between old & young, failed & successful, on it’s own accord, but we’ll save that discussion for another day. Soon, in fact.
The hipster scene (or whatever they like to be called) is totally different than the grimy 90’s, which was filled to the brim with colorless, oversized clothing & more sports attire than ESPN could shake Marcellus Wiley at. Cats wore construction boots because it represented the struggle, both in the proverbial workplace & in the very real streets. Rappers dressed like they were broke, even when we knew they had dough (because everybody purchased their pre-internet music), & the high fashion cats usually caught ridicule, random disses, & prejudice for not looking Hip Hop enough.
Even though the culture is mocked & often scapegoated for whatever societal problem it’s relevant to at the time, we can all agree that Hip Hop is a global phenomenon. & along the way, the ideal of self expression has been molded & modified just as much as rap music itself. Over the years the dress code has flip flopped a dozen or so times, & no matter how expensive the belt or how tight the pants or how absurd the hat, older heads will never fully conform to the way today’s rap stallion fashionably expresses himself. Why do you think Jay-Z caught so much guff over wearing skinny jeans?
For what it’s worth, my kids like to entertain the current trends (or at least, what I’ll allow), so I’m not knocking it, I’m just noticing it, if you smell my cologne.
Beyond the changing of the guard
‘s uniform, the music – in general – has become a bit mundane & cylindrical. Of course, there are notable exceptions that are breating fresh air by the tankful into rap culture (feel free to list who you think they are in the comments…), but for the most part, it’s becoming an assembly line for rappers. The irony in that is that at a time when it’s possible to spread one’s message(s) globally, with minimal effort, most rap acts have a similarity to them. It may not be immediately pinpointable, but be it a chant, chorus, ad-lib, etc. but it’s something familiar. Maybe it could just be the content, which seems to revolve around the same five base topics, no matter the orator or how fancy his/her delivery. Sincerity level be damned, most rappers – even your favorite one(s) – stick to a strict curriculum, like an elementary school teacher.
I don’t need to map a chart or calculate a graph to know that the art of storytelling is lost. Ghostface, Nas, Slick Rick, Ice Cube, & Scarface are a handful of rap music’s most visual conceptualists, & the type of exhaustive audio clips they produced don’t have a home in Swagville, Trillnited States of America. (Not that there’s anything wrong with.) Rap music – like technology & humanity – can’t stay the same. It must evolve. If it mills around in one location for too long, Hip Hop will face the same fate as Jazz music, fact. Despite it’s self-destructive nature & ability to spark thinly-veiled temperament, Rap has survived all this time due to it’s rapid fire, rabbit-like leaps into new territory every couple of years. That keeps the culture two steps ahead of it’s own foreseeable future, creating trends & fads & styles faster than it can even keep up with.
This leaves the “old head” stuck in a curious state of suspended animation, by no fault of his own. Before Hip Hop become such a massive, Matrix-like complex, it was easy to keep up with who’s hot, who’s not, & who’s next because those lines of communication were limited. There was no informational superhighway to clog with constant status changes & updates & what not. One could easily keep up with the culture & the major players who ran it. But once the Internet bullyfooted it’s way into the hearts & minds of rapmankind, the proverbial world expanded, & it became a bit harder to maintain connections with the who’s, what’s, when’s, where’s, & how’s.
If you think about it, the whole old head versus new culture controversy makes total sense. We’re supposed to live fast & die young, so rap fans from the so-called golden era of rap music & beyond (artists, too, for that matter) are becoming the grumpy old curmudgeons that the Hip Hop gods intended us to become.
So, if you bring up Dom Kennedy & I counter with a Too $hort, or if you are talking A$AP Rocky & I start talking Slick Rick, don’t take it personal. Ageism (which goes both ways) is Hip Hop’s most nefarious demon, & it has yet to be defeated. & just think; in 10 years, you young cats will be taking the exact same defensive stance against a new(er) generation, because by Hip Hop’s standards, you’ll be an “old head.”
Words by Tony Grands