How are we to define this thing we call Hip Hop? Many say it’s the genre where you’ll find rhythmic rhymes over soulful samples and powerful percussion. Some say it’s the raw, unadulterated true soul of black folks from the inner city. For a while it was called jungle music; it was uncouth, unfiltered, and unpleasant – think Radio Raheem.
I argue with people frequently over what Hip Hop is, partially because I’m tired of people trying to label and define things. This is how blacks progressed from Niggers to Coloreds to Afro-Americans to Blacks to African-Americans, when outsiders defined us. It’s also how the Gaza strip changed possession so easily and left a whole country, Palestine, nowhere to be found on a map. I digress.
Most people want hip hop to be the old Golden Era rap: the b-boy rap, the “I talk about crack because I really sold it” rap. They want the 36 Chambers Wu, the Paid in Full Rakim, the Ready to Die Biggie, and Illmatic Nas; just like mothers never want their sons and daughters to grow up. But Hip Hop has grown up; it’s 30 and bearing children of its own. Just look at the many sub-genres of rap that permeate our music and culture.
The only reason Travis Porter, Jay-Z, Chiddy Bang, Sam Adams, J. Cole, MIA, Kid Cudi, OutKast, and Tech N9ne can all exist within the same art form is that they capture different audiences. They are the spawn born from the sperm and egg of Sugarhill Gang. Just like parents, Hip Hop tried its best to raise its children with good manners and a sense of social responsibility. And just like children, especially true considering Hip Hop’s overflow of youth, Hip Hop’s spawn will grow evermore experimental and rebellious until a maturation point arrives.
I make all of these analogies to say this: Hip Hop seems, on the surface, no different from any other musical genre that has grown old enough to have its own babies. It just has a lot more drum and bass. The core of hip hop, however, has always stayed the same – to rebel and dictate youth culture. The younger artists will continue to rebel by having their fun, the older artists will continue to have theirs by speaking their mind about the world and it's politics (whether in the hood or internationally). Hip Hop is rhythmic rebellion.
We’re stuck trying to find an old feeling. We want that Golden Era hip hop to resurrect, those hard drums over jazz samples and raw lyrics. We’re addicts hankering for another hit. Where’s our next fix? Where’s our rehabilitation?
Instead of looking for our next fix, we should sober up and embrace what else life has to offer, what joy this new generation can bring us. Just because something is new doesn’t make it detrimental. It just makes it new. Progress is about taking pieces of the old and synthesizing them into something unique and powerful. I think Hip Hop’s done a good job of that. Survey everything, love only a few things, and never subject the world to having the same desires as you.