In contemporary Hip-Hop culture it seems that fans, critics, and even musicians are constantly bickering with each other, often resorting to contrived responses and offering conventional examples of what they perceive as an accurate representation of Hip-Hop music. Now I’m all for criticising mediocre music but these days it seems to me that the majority of fans are set in their ways; they’re either “old-school” purists or blinkered “new-school” followers and if either camp sees or hears something from the other side they instantly dismiss it as sounding “old” or “new”, strangely with both contrasting terms serving as a disparaging description of each clique’s so-called opposition.
Very similar to the East Vs. West division in the 1990’s, in the 2010’s we can observe two clear factions within Hip-Hop; on one side we have a cliche of 1998-2006 (someone who still wears Mecca rugbies, baggy jeans, and Lugz boots) and on the other side we have a cliche of 2008-2016 (someone who wears Supreme sweats, pre-ripped skinny jeans, and Air Jordan reissues). Okay, so the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” may come to mind when you read my previous sentence but today’s rap-fans seem more like leaflets; they’re not very deep and more often than not, you can tell the person’s tastes and opinions just by glancing at their exterior. One thing is certain; one of these looks is out-of-style and the other is a year away from becoming out-of-fashion too. Maybe everybody needs to look for a third option.
Whilst on the topic of fashion, although big labels including Adidas and Timberland have always been part-and-parcel of Hip-Hop, once we went from the street (Dapper Dan) to the high-street (Tommy Hilfiger) mainstream fashion labels suddenly became the genre’s leading marketing tool and during the noughties, catwalk fashion almost usurped the music. I was always critical of black artists lining the pockets of rich white designers but these days the issue of clothing vs. music has escalated to the point of distraction. Hip-Hop’s support of fashion labels is no longer an issue of selling out your music but instead is a diversion from an artist’s mediocrity. What I mean by this is that upon hearing bland Hip-Hop, fans incorrectly conflate the issue with fashion but this correlation interferes with the real issue of dull, formulaic Hip-Hop music. For example, Young Thug wearing a dress doesn’t change the fact that his music is appalling, his androgyny has nothing to do with making substandard music. And it’s pretty clear that Kanye West looks like a walking joke regardless what he wears so a skirt looks just as absurd on him as trousers. Remember Kanye looking like a microwave meal at the Met Gala? His outfit that day proved that trousers look just as daft on him as skirts do. Therefore any fan yelling “that’s skinny jeans rap” or “real rappers don’t wear skirts” is missing the real issue of unimaginative and uncreative music.
When it comes to Hip-Hop musicians, innovation and uniqueness is the key to respect but it’s an odd situation when you witness contemporary Hip-Hop fans claiming something sounds “new” or “old” when it quite clearly doesn’t. 9 times out of 10, everything is a throwback to the 80’s and 90’s. A lot of modern Hip-Hop fans for example, hear something distinctive when they listen to A$AP Mob, but didn’t southern and mid-western groups such as Three 6 Mafia and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony come up with that sound back in the mid-90’s? You also get fans lauding Kendrick Lamar’s “woke”, off-beat yet complex flow but didn’t Ras Kass do something similar back in the late-90’s? Conversely, every time an artist like Joey Bada$$ makes a so-called “90’s sounding” album, mainstream critics are quick to label it as such but they oddly forget that all of these aforementioned styles were aspects of the Golden Era. Whether it’s Boom Bap, Trap, or Political Rap, it’s nothing new, so why the bias towards certain sub-genres?
What people seem to forget is that the 1990’s weren’t all “two turntables and a mic”; the decade contained G-Funk, Double Time, Horrorcore, Jazz Rap, Mafioso Rap, and Trap (among others). The 90’s wasn’t a single idea, it wasn’t a single sound, anybody telling you that has an agenda to peddle. I’m sick of people acting like the past was a singular uniform concept and the present is completely and utterly original.
Whether it’s genre fashion or sub-genre sounds, the 1980’s, the 1990’s, the 2000’s, and the 2010’s all contained differing aesthetics. Just take a look at these three rap groups; A Tribe Called Quest, Above The Law, and the Gravedaiggaz. Not only was their look unique, their sounds were too and yet they released music in exactly the same year. I’ll also point out that these looks were unique and credible, in fact you could get away with them today…
On the flip-side look at these examples of corny ordinariness. Regardless which decade these artists were in, they looked and sounded phony and affected. No matter which period these rappers were from, their outfits and style was laughable, even on the day they originally wore these gross-looking garments…
It seems to me therefore, that the played-out argument about the corny past and the stylish present is a lie. The conversation should be about lame and cool regardless when it exists, it’s not when you’re from but where you’re at.
If you actually look at Hip-Hop culture as a whole, it becomes obvious that mediocrity isn’t a unique symptom of the present. It doesn’t matter when a piece of music, fashion, video, or art is made, what matters is the distinctiveness and credibility of each artist and if you look properly, every era has good and bad, original and unoriginal (which despite many people missing that fact, was the point of my Hip-Hop Timeline article – but apparently certain people think that certain rappers are infallible and can’t be critiqued – I guess the status of “legend” and “genius” needs to be judged a little more shrewdly). But I digress.
So pick a year, in 1994 for example we had music by the Fu-Schnickens, Gravediggaz, Smif-N-Wessun, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and Notorious B.I.G. but did they all sound and look the same? Of course not, so how can so many people say the 1990’s followed one big contrived trend?
If you go forward by 20 years to 2014, we then had music by Underachievers, Dillon Cooper, Vince Staples, Nicki Minaj, Tonedeff, and Hawk House but did they all sound and look the same? No? So how can so many people say that the 2010’s followed one big contrived trend?
The annoying aspect of all this is that people are too quick to put a certain sound or aesthetic into a box; it contains record scratches and Jazz samples so that’s old, it contains echoed claps and heavy bass so that’s new. But like I already said, that’s a very blinkered perspective. If you think 90’s Hip-Hop was just East Coast Backpackers, if you think 00’s Hip-Hop was just Southern Trappers, and if you think 10’s Hip-Hop is just Mumble Rappers then you’ve got a very narrow outlook on rap music.
Back to the topic of “old school” and “new school”, a combination of both the mainstream media and underground heads overrating their own camp’s music whilst simultaneously mocking the opposition, has resulted in this splintering of Hip-Hop culture. Sometimes it feels like a crap civil war with citizens of the same genre verbally warring with each other over something that should be uniting them. If you go to the comments section of YouTube or any online Hip-Hop publication, if a review for a Trap album or artist is favourable, you’ll get all the old heads dismissing it as simple and corny, and if a review for a more orthodox Hip-Hop album or artist is favourable, you’ll get all the contemporary fans saying it sounds dusty and corny too. Of course both these opinions can be true but not when they’re aired by people who repeat the same sentiments based solely on the age of the sub-genre they’re commenting on, these agitators are completely wrong and are misleading the masses.
So let’s make things clear: someone like Drake is wack because he’s a ghostwriter-hiring, poor singing, below-average rapper not because his music is released in the present day. Lil Yachty is trash because he’s an under-skilled, amateur-sounding musician, not because of how he dresses or looks. And don’t forget that MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice both dropped music during the Golden Era of Hip-Hop, but does that make their vapid material an automatic classic simply because it was recorded “back in the day”? Of course not, so why do fans keep acting like Hip-Hop is one type of sound, and one type of style which lasts for one decade at a time? Why does one side keep acting like the past was faultless and why does the other act like everything created in the present is free from reproach? This has never been the case and never will be. Skills and talent transcend time and overrated hacks should be exposed regardless when they exist. You could put someone like Denzel Curry or Meechy Darko in a time machine, send them back to 1988 or 1998 and they would still get love and respect, send Lil Uzi Vert, Travis Scott or Post Malone back however, and they’d be laughed out of the game.
So despite rap fans arguing over “who is better” and Hip-Hop enthusiasts forming sets since the inception of the genre, and despite feuds being an integral aspect of Hip-Hop culture, stereotyping and generational divisions was never meant to be part it. If you’re a fan of Hip-Hop, please stop arguing over pointless shit – it’s either dope or it’s trash – it doesn’t matter when, where, or by whom it was made. I don’t see fans of other genres arguing with each other, dividing themselves over fashion trends and musical eras. Do fans of Rings Of Saturn hate Slipknot or Sepultura? Do fans of Snail Mail hate Eddi Reader? Do Jorja Smith fans hate Alicia Keys? Do Skrillex fans hate The Prodigy? Do fans of Tommy Lee Sparta hate Cuttie Ranks? No? Then what the fuck is wrong with the Hip-Hop community?
The War’s On.