When old rap heads criticize new rap music, it is an act of self preservation. They are not only trying to preserve the history and integrity of hip hop, but the cultural importance of it’s existence. It is a black art that quickly shaped itself into a rite of passage. Like the negro spiritual, hip hop acted as a conduit to empower black lives. It’s worked as a stark reminder of the black excellence that persevered and triumphed when white America continued to abuse and appropriate black culture. It was a modern way to recognize the special talent of the black American that was easily accessible yet required a particular and lyrical skill. This lyrical skill was an evolution of spoken word, poetry and the manipulation of rhetoric. Word play, entendres, storytelling, and brevity set to music was quickly regarded as an art form. Those that could utilize all these tools were recognized as great. Arguably, the most important point is, that in its origin, it was a black owned, black sponsored and unapologetically – Black.
” I arrived on the day Fred Hampton Died” – Jay Z
Hip hop was birthed from the children of civil rights leaders, artists, policy challengers and radicals that wanted to actively change the position of people of color in the American tapestry. These children, were not only influenced by their parents, they were in a position to benefit from the advancements of civil rights movement, but still seeing how much was unchanged. Blacks have always been victims of systematic racism and oppression but the invention of Hip-Hop, started to redefine what it meant to be black in America.
Make something out of nothing; that is the mantra of Hip Hop. The pioneers of Hip Hop recognized the barriers facing them, and turned them on its head. These young black and brown kids had nothing and took elements of the dominant consciousness and bent it to work for their benefit. Either out of a love of music, the chance to be glamorous or simply just to matter in mainstream America, Hip hop was aspirational. You could dream of having a fancy car, a big house and beautiful woman at your arm, and then you could build that fantasy within the architecture of this new emerging culture.
” Fab Five Freddie told me everybody’s fly
DJ’s spinning I said my, my
Flash is fast, Flash is cool ” – Debbie Harry
The 70s was an era of psychedelic drugs, experimental fashion, and exceptional musical achievement. Disco music did things with instruments and voices that had never been done before. We got the burning years of Queen, Gloria Gaynor‘s “I will survive”, hits like Earth Wind & Fire’s “September” and Chic’s “Good Times”. Different aspects of art and entertainment had started to blend and continued on that course through the 80s, where we saw New York graffiti artists such as Fab Five Freddie and Basquit bridge the gap between urban art and music.
Black communities in the 80s were faced with major conflict. Globalization and Regan’s war on drugs campaign lead the charge of job scarcity and mass incarceration within inner cities. Hip Hop was an effort to combat that. Teenagers would go from dancing to their parent’s soul-funk records to hearing to stories of how those same parents were chased downed by cops with fire hoses and attack dogs. The lyrical content of early hip hop is that of angry, disenfranchised, black youth. Their recorded stories took on everlasting meaning. Their stories highlighted their subjugation to systematic police beatings, their experiences as discarded people, and the ongoing war to keep them powerless.
It was a time in which traditional American cultures, attitudes, and values where clashing and society was about to give way. Hip hop pushed the conversation on racial strife and inequality forward. Early songs like Grandmaster Flash & Furious 5’s “The Message” showcased the effects systematic racism had on disjointed inner city communities at the dawn of the 1980s. This song alone exposed white listeners to a world that they were completely isolated from with places they did not know existed and people they never cared to think about.
” Let me in now, Let me in now, Bill Gates, Donald Trump let me in now” – Nelly
Hip hop had this colloquial power to sneak into mainstream white society and give blacks a platform to explain their experiences first hand within conventional white spaces. It gave us a chance to exhibit our black power and beauty in a way that was perceived as an extreme threat to the status quo, but appealing nonetheless. This power of agency that Hip Hop provided, this cultural value, is what old Hip Hop heads fight to maintain.
With recent comments from new age artists such as Wacka Flocka Flame or Lil’ Yachty it’s easy to assume that new rap stars don’t respect the foundational craft that rap was founded upon. Where respect in hip hop was previously garnered based on overall lyrical ability, it is now measured by mainstream popularity or the ability to translate one’s energy to a record. The use of hip hop still remains true. It is giving young black and brown children a means to express themselves. “It’s a mood. If you’re happy as shit you can just rap about whatever cause you’re happy as shit.” says Waka Flocka Flame, who has admitted that he always had trouble verbally expressing himself, “The best times for me to rap are when I’m happy and mad. When I’m depressed and shit, I don’t too much like rapping. When I’m happy and mad, I love it.”
” I know you rather see me die than see me fly” – Puff Daddy
Young Thug, Gucci Maine and Designer are children of the trap area. They are descendants of mass incarceration, the ’94 Crime bill, and broken education systems. Their struggles manifested differently than their predecessors but resulted in similar outcomes. Whether you were rapping in the 80s or are rapping in 2016, your options for advancement were limited by systemic barriers. The colloquial representation of successful black men is displayed almost exclusively in music and sports. This is a common thread from the 80s to today but throughout those 30+ years, Hip Hop was there for them. The new generation of rappers were born into a world where Hip Hop has always existed. It’s presence helped to shape their perceptions of black achievement.
Aside from the newer generation’s ability to identify with hip hop, its accessibility has always been attractive. They could develop and use their artistic talents to access a part of American society that was never made for them and finally take part in the American dream. They could obtain affluence, wealth, and success by means within their reach. Hip hop acted as a social underground tunnel that was made to create a sort of asseveration for black and brown youth. Old school Hip Hop artists demonstrated the modern untapped magic of black power, while new Hip Hop embodies the fruits of their labor and actualizes the ongoing systemic issues that face black communities.