Are You a Purist or Evolutionist?

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Gone from existence are the days of the early 1990’s; huddled masses of young men with gigantic boomboxes reciting RUN DMC’s “It’s Like That” on local street corners. The lyrical complexity that made up the records of artists such as Tupac, Big L, even Method Man, has been replaced with the infamous mumble of a newer generation of rappers dedicated to creating a new sound. Which school of thought do you belong to? Hip Hop Purist or Evolutionist?

Let’s take a look at the foundation of the genre. Many jokes have recently circulated on Twitter about the “lyrical complexity” of Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” released in 1980. Throughout the 80s, mainstream American society was introduced to the hip hop culture that had been established in the 1970’s in small circles. Gold chains, hi top fades, track suits, and of course, Kangol bucket hats, became symbols of a glamorous lifestyle told through increasingly complex lyric patterns. Artists such as Rakim, Slick Rick, and Roxanne, used strict voice cadence to create memorable records that punched through our imagination with a vengeance. The 1990’s brought the “Golden Age” of hip hop, with artists such as Tupac, Notorious B.I.G, and Big L all dominating airwaves through lyricism dealing with street violence and cultural awareness. Artists such as Outkast (Big Boi and Andre 3000), Missy Elliot, and DMX, began experimenting with new ways of creating spectacular music, creating the means for artists today to sound the way that they sound.

Fast forward to 2017, and hip hop is the most flexible genre/culture in the world. Artists wear Birkenstock sandals, retro basketball jerseys, and bandana adorned fedoras while carrying guns on their waists. Songs regularly blend genres, using singers as rappers and vice versa: giving us amazing possibilities that were not seen decades ago. Lil Yachty, for example, is one of the most original artists out currently. He uses autotune (popularized by “Computer Love” by Zapp and Roger”) to sing romantic ballads to women and fame. There are so many combinations that are acceptable by the mainstream that anyone could pick up a mic and become a member of the culture, differ from the hardcore aspect of “being the best” of the 1980’s and 1990's.
For some reason, people who are hip hop “purists” despise the music that’s released today. They deem it as not lyrically fit or lacking in substance. Artists like Lil Yachty, Famous Dex, and Lil Uzi Vert are instantly dismissed as “mumble rap.” In mumble rap, the artist rapping over the beat is believed to be speaking at an inaudible level. Rap veteran Pete Rock took to Instagram last September to call out Lil Yachty for being an originator of mumble rap, prompting the rapper to respond in a negative manner.

Why is it that the flexibility of hip hop is deemed its weakness? Purists believe that the Golden Age of rap is the only period that should matter. All new music should sound equal in cadence and delivery to artists that were popular over twenty years ago. Doing this shows that there’s no progression or flexibility that allows genres to grow. Does “Love Story” by Taylor Swift sound the same as “I Like It, I Love It” by Tim McGraw? Does “Look What You’ve Done” by The Weeknd sound similar to “One In A Million” by Aaliyah? In short, they do not because the genres that these songs belong to allow the flexibility that in hip-hop circles is deemed not acceptable. When Joey Bada$$ released 1999, an homage to the Golden Age of rap that purists salivated over, it received polarizing responses. On one hand, critics praised it for its complex lyricism and song quality, while others gave it a lukewarm reception based upon the reinvention of ideas instead of creating new ones. This response shows that you’re either damned if you do or damned if you don’t.

There’s also the manner of purists believing that you have to be familiar with the “greats” in hip hop in order to successfully craft music. That means that if you haven’t heard Notorious B.I.G’s “Ready to Die” or Jay Z’s “The Blueprint” that you’ll need to listen to both albums before becoming serious about your rap talent. This is absurd for a number of reasons: First, before you become a serious artist that’s loved drawing since you were a child, does that mean you have to research artists such as Albert Duhrer and Leonardo da Vinci? Second, what about their albums makes them prerequisites for creating music of your own? Lil Yachty recently came under fire after he admitted to not being familiar with too many Tupac or Notorious B.I.G. songs. Does it really matter? Movie directors such as James Cameron and Stanley Kubrick are hailed as some of the best directors of all time and they skipped film school instead of attending it.

Hip hop was founded on the experimentation of African Americans in the 1970’s. It’s how the genre evolved over the years with the addition of different cultural elements that didn’t just stop in the 1990’s. It’s a rapidly changing and evolving lifestyle that will continue to grow until the end of time. Think about just how much of America is influenced by the brand. It’s literally changing the face of our country. Tying it down to one period would be disrespectful to the pioneers of the genre.

Supporting the new wave of artists is essential in being a hip-hop evolutionist. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. There’s nothing wrong with that. But judging it prior to listening to it just because the artist is a “mumble rapper” is just as bad as an employer denying an applicant based on a discriminatory factor like race or sex. While there is a share of Lil Yachty and Famous Dex songs I don’t like, there is a majority that I’ve grown to love because they provide an amazing sonic experience.

As I close, I ask that you allow the genre to grow as our hip hop fathers allowed it to. Give artists a chance and support experimentation. Don’t be a hip hop purist, be a hip hop evolutionist.

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