“Is it just me or has hip hop music gotten worse?” I often hear my friends who grew up in hip-hop culture ask this, what they consider to be a rhetorical question. What they expect me to say is “without question son!” What they are often met with however is “actually it’ s gotten a lot better!” This of course brings about many a heated debate to the death about the type of crack I’m smoking and the true virtues of hip-hop. After I state my case, I am still accused of drug usage but there is a bit of acquiescence.
Hip-hop has gotten better over the past 20 years. In 1993, we had ATCQ, LONS and Jungle Brothers representing the backpackers. In 2013 we have Lupe, Talib, Mos Def, Dead Prez, Common, The Roots & Kanye… sometimes. In 1993 we had Biggie, Tupac, Jay-Z, Wu Tang, and Nas representing street rap. In 2014, 3/5 are still here plus 20 years of their catalogues in addition to a slew of other rappers representing the streets (50, Rick Ross, T.I, and Kanye… sometimes.)
In 1993 no white rapper (MC Serch, Everlast) was being taken seriously and were seen more as novelties. Eminem has since changed all that. In 2013 we had stupid a$$ songs like “All Gold Everything” and “Stupid Hoe”. In 1993 we had stupid a$$ songs like “Put it in your mouth” and “Doo Doo Brown”. The only category I will concede to is the female rapper category. Nikki and Iggy can’t hold a candle to the incomparable Lauryn Hill, Lil’ Kim or Foxy Brown. I won’t even mention Queen Latifah or MC Lyte. With that exception, in 1993 we had pioneers. In 2013 we have history. Both are equally relevant.The audio quality of hip-hop production has also gotten better. Live instrumentation and rhythmic composition on tracks have been improved by light years and the dynamic of lyricism has also gotten better. In 1993 hip-hop was N.Y centric which was great for New Yorkers. But in 2013 hip-hop has cross regional representation and an international presence, which is great for hip-hop as well as New Yorkers.
There are triple the amount of artists and triple the amount of content. So then why is there the constant quip that today’s hip-hop music sucks?
Lyrical content seems to be the #1 gripe as it relates to the alleged degradation of hip-hop music. Although rappers typically stay in their respective lanes and always have (except for Kanye), I’m not certain if this proverbial lane is chosen or dictated in modern hip-hop. Are the drugs and alcohol based rappers choosing their own content or mimicking what they know sells records? If they were limited to a finite set of experiences then their art will most often reflect that. So if all you have been exposed to is the cocoa, then this may be all you know…which explains why you’re so in love with the cocoa.
But if lyrical content is the issue then why is it when emcees like Drake, Andre 3000, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino or Joey Badass emerge, they are shunned, chastised, labeled weirdo rap and put through the ringer for not keeping it “street” enough? But when traditional artists retain their street cred or don’t “sell out”, they are considered old school and played out for refusing to adapt, vary in subject matter and change with the times. What do you stankin’ hip-hop fans want exactly?!
It occurs to me that most people aren’t looking for new music or even good hip-hop music. They are looking for the feeling they had when they heard hip-hop for the first time and from the same source. Sorry to burst your bubble but you can only be a teenager once and you can only lose your virginity once… unless you have 2 vaginas or 2 penises, in which case, do your thing (twice). I think it’s time we let hip-hop leave the house and stop being so over protective of our own opinions to the detriment of our culture (sounds like some of your parents don’t it?)
The bottom line is this; do not trust nostalgia. Don’t compare old Jay-Z to new Jay-Z for they are not the same Jay-Z. No one is expecting you to still be walking around in baggy Cross Color jeans and Bart Simpson book bags either. So why do we refuse to let our culture evolve? It may not be in our exact likeness and image but it wasn’t supposed to be. It is supposed to reflect the voice of the young generation as it did for us. 30 years after the birth of hip-hop, there is still hip-hop. 30 years before the birth of hip-hop, there was Jazz and Doo Wop. Rather than lament that it ain’t what it use to be, you should be happy that it has stood the test of time and didn’t go the route of Jazz and Doo Wop. Our generation generated a lasting and evolving medium of self-expression and dammit that’s good enough for me!
SideBar: Kedrick Lamar’s new album To Pimp a Butterfly” should ease both sides of the argument for it is both stupid fresh and on fleek! SideBar Complete.