Friday, December 19, 2008

sTaLe HiP hOp?

I often find it hard to accept that a genre rooted in solidarity and innovation has become so intent on separation, prejudice and boundaries. If a male hip hop artist attempts to create or dress outside of the "hip hop norms" he is instantly tagged as either gay or a bitch. This has been extremely evident in the hip hop community's response to artists such as Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West, Andre 300o and Charles Hamilton (to name a few). It seems that over time hip hop has created a rule book that reads as follows:
  1. Don't change
  2. Don't be gay
  3. Don't be innovative
  4. Don't be a woman or "bitch"
  5. Don't be smart
Now, I want to acknowledge that many artists are having success by breaking the "rules". However, it is quite evident to me that their fan base does not consist of hip hop "heads". You know the type... Grown men who still dress like teenagers did in '95, gathering in circles at GZA concerts exchanging vocabulary saturated with homophobic rage:

"bro that beat is so GAY..."

"bro, Kanye dresses like such a fag..."

"bro fuck Jay-Z, he's whack bro....."

"Nas fell off since IWW....."

"fuck Pharrell he can't even sample...."

"Jedi Mind Tricks were soooo dope fam....."

"I'm sick of this new faggot hip hop shit....."

I am no stranger to what some call the golden era of hip hop. My adolescent sentences were spelled with The 18th Letter and my actions were Violent by Design. At any moment you could catch me with a discman spinning anything from Liquid Swords to Enta Da Stage. I loved hip hop then and now. I have found beauty within every generation of it's lifespan and I refuse to miss out on it's future by enabling the "rule book."

From what I can tell, those who cling to the "golden era" are attached to more than it's sonic value. Musically speaking, the 90's were an time of hard exterior and toughness. Rock music found itself cloaked in grunge while the hip hop community rallied around gangster rap and east coast angst. There was an element of hyper masculinity attached to the rap music of the time that has since proven hard to shake. It seems to me that the hip hop purists who are quick to dagger the likes of 808's & Heartbreak and The Cool are doing so in defense of more than just hip hop. They are defending their way of life and their practice of seeing the world. If the music and culture that they grew to love heads in a direction that is foreign to their tastes, they fear that they may not have anything left. Music is much more than sound, time and culture... It is our identity and our community. That is why we defend it so passionately on our blogs and in our daily conversations. It explains why we sometimes become offended if our favorite artist tries out a new sound or if all of sudden skinny jeans pop up in music videos... Change is hard to accept, especially when it is not clear that it is for the better.

For the first time in a long while, when I look at where hip hop music is headed I see a world of potential. There is a new generation of artists emerging that seem hell bent on taking the rule book and burning it. To some this may be threatening, but to me it is exciting.

I have no issue with any person who clings to their favorite generation of recordings. In fact, if you have found something that brings you pleasure I am truthfully happy for you. All I ask is that you refrain from projecting negativity onto the new generation of sound. If you don't like the change that you hear, so be it. Blog, tell your friends and freestyle in your cyphers, but please don't detract from the artistic progress that we are making as a genre by refusing to listen with open ears. It should not matter if Charles Hamilton wears pink and thinks he's sonic. If Kanye wants to sing in skinny jeans, let him, and if Pharrell wants to make furniture, give it a chance... Listen to the music, try on the pants and sit in the chair and if you decide that you still don't like it, try to come up with a method of explaining your discontent without retreating to misogyny and homophobia. Push yourself to explore a new vocabulary the way that some artists are pushing themselves to explore a new sound...




Timothy Moore said...

Oh my it's like you were with me and Bruke tonight, this was entire conversation for the last couple hours...only we had a few beers too.

Joey said...


Nickolas said...

Well written and articulated! I concur!