Confessions of a Hip-Hop Purist

Originally posted on The Listening’s blog

It’s really hard to be a hip-hop fan these days.

It would seem that we no longer have to fight for hip-hop to be taken seriously as a musical genre, because we have constant representation throughout media. It’s on billboards and music videos and award shows and clothing labels. Nearing ubiquity, it seems that all is well because we’re pretty much getting love all over the place.

That’s when a person like me has a problem.

I love that more and more people appreciate this new genre of music. I really do. It was made by the people to communicate a story and an experience for the people. Music itself is supposed to be available to everyone.

I guess my main issue is when you feel like you can see the money exchanging hands. It’s hard to know what someone else may mean when they say that they “love” hip-hop or that they’re a “hip-hop head”.

Allow me to clarify.

I love food. You could probably look at me and deduce that fact. I’m almost at foodie-level status, if inclusion into this club is the appreciation of a decent provolone and prosciutto sammich (ham and cheese, for the homies). As a lover of edibles, I tend to have some fun in the kitchen every now and then. I cook. But I am not a cook.

There’s a difference between the two. To cook (verb) is simply preparing a meal. Technically, if I microwave a Hot Pocket, I’ve just cooked. However, being a cook (noun) is to prepare meals as a profession, which entails a level of skill, reverence, and to an extent, artistry, i.e., the culinary arts.

I see hip-hop the same way. Hip-hop, as a culture, is bigger than act of rapping, which is the verb in this instance. So if someone calls themselves a hip-hop artist, I’m thinking that their alluding to the culture as a whole. I’m thinking that they’re considering the elements of hip-hop, which are rapping/rhyming/MC-ing, breakdancing, (legal) graffiti writing, DJ-ing, and an appreciation or knowledge of the culture. Rapping, on the other hand, is just a part of it.

Not to be an elitist, but there is more than the summertime club banger or a particular drum loop that represents the culture of hip-hop. Does everyone know that, or is that just me?

Last year, entertainer Rich Homie Quan was performing at the VH-1 Hip-Hop Honors Award Show during a tribute to Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace, when he forgot the lyrics to one of Biggie’s hit songs, “Get Money”.

Before you stans attack me, I don’t have a problem with the man forgetting song lyrics. It happens. My problem isn’t totally on RHQ, an entertainer with (in my opinion) far less charisma and lyrical skill than Big, being allowed on a stage to pay tribute to that same artist. I’m even aware of the fact that the song itself advocates less-than-Christian behavior.

I get it.

What I have a problem with is him being called a hip-hop artist. Because in that moment, he did a really bad job of representing the culture.

Am I being petty? Maybe. But we’ve got to get to a point of calling a spade a spade and establishing a standard.

Not everyone is going to know the history of hip-hop, or know the 5 elements therein. Not many people will care. Most people that call themselves fans of hip-hop can’t tell you the difference between Biggie and Big Daddy Kane. Maybe they just like rap. And that’s fine. But my fear is, when it comes time to review the history of a culture that spoke to the experiences of a disenfranchised people, no one will know what version of hip-hop they’re referring to. Are you talking about Lil’ Uzi Vert? Desiigner?

What’s potentially worse, they won’t be able to recognize a balance.

I know myself, and I know that I’m not a big trap-rap fan. I’m not crazy about Drake and his emotions, I could care less about Lil’ Durk, and every day I don’t hear about Iggy Azalea is a wondrous event. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a part to play in hip-hop’s history.

As a purist, I just want to make sure that the culture is represented with a view point of both sides of the coin. For every club anthem, there needs to be something reaffirming. With every “Get Money”, there’s gotta be a “The Light”. We’ve got to be able to recognize the difference between the culture of hip-hop and the genre of rap.

What do you think? I may be just rambling on, but it bothers me when today’s middle schoolers only know who Tupac Shakur is because he’s on a t-shirt, but can’t name any of his records or don’t know who his mother is, as if that’s not crucial to his legacy. Or they may wear a Wu-Tang hoodie, but not know ANY of the members (not even ODB).

Share your thoughts below. I’m curious.

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