The Insidious Forms of Hip-Hop Snobbery
This is directed to fellow millennial hip-hop fans, who have been listening for a while or are at least listened to some of the back catalogue. Non-hip-hop are not the audience here. Basically having listened from the mid-90s, I’ve started seeing some attitudes towards rap music or hearing some phrases repeatedly that grate.
Consider this some ‘pet peeves’ about millennial hip-hop fans, where I get into issues related to the 1990s; allegedly superficial music content; rap vs. hip-hop; defining “real” hip-hop; and dismissive perceptions of contemporary trap style rappers.
1. “I only listen to 90s/early-00s hip-hop”
I love hip hop and I hate hip hop
Cause people that love Pac hope that Drake get shot
Cause he raps about money and bitches, for heaven’s sakes
Pac did the same shit, just on a drum break
— Logic, “City of Stars”
Ok, as a hip-hop fan saying that, I hope anyone saying that is also checking the 80s and early 1990s as well, otherwise we are being hypocrites. If we’re thinking we’re “real” fans because we only listen to music from a certain era, and then we aren’t familiar with the preceeding era that birthed it, that’s weird. So we gotta be familiar with our Public Enemies, Tribes, Big Daddy Kanes, Marley Marls, etc…..
But implicit in this arbitrary insistence on listening to “only 1990s hip-hop” is some sort of inherent superiority of everything in the 90s, in several ways:
- The Boom Bap New York sound: For many the boom bap, drumbeat influenced sound of New York that dominated the 1990s is the only legitimate sound of hip-hop. Anything else is dismissed. I started noticing this in the 2000s with the rise of Southern artists, when the southern sound started dominating the charts which foreshadowed how the trap sound is received today by many older hip-hop heads.
- A (contrived) obsession with Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.: Everybody knows Pac and Biggie are the greatest rappers of all-time because…., well, they just are! This is another symptom of our tendency to fetishize 1990s hip-hop. We conveniently forget that 2Pac was not exactly always the most conscious level-headed rapper, he was quite the hot-head. Our amnesia doesn’t allow us to concede that Biggie was pretty polarizing — I mean many hated Puff Daddy and Bad Boy records for being openly commercial and therefore “ruining” hip-hop with their sampling, sing-a-long choruses, glitter, new cars, and chains.
- Ageism: We’re turning into our parents, who told us that our rap was not music. And of course our parents lives were forever ruined by rock and roll music.
Those restricting themselves to only 90s music are missing out. The likes of the new generation greats such as Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar, Drake (yes Drake), Joe Cole, etc., who would not be out of place in the golden era at all. And in this list, I deliberately omitted southern or trap influenced artists (more on that later).
2. “All they talk about is money, drugs and women”
Say that I’m foolish I only talk about jewels (bling bling)
Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it?
See I’m influenced by the ghetto you ruined
That same dude you gave nothing, I made something doing
What I do through and through and
I give you the news, with a twist it’s just his ghetto point-of-view
— Jay-Z, “Renegades”
First of all for anyone who is 25–40 and says (or thinks) stuff like that about the content of hip-hop, chances are they grew up on the likes of Snoop Dogg, 2Pac, and Puffy, who I’m pretty sure talked a lot about “money, drugs and women”. Everyone agrees Doggystyle and The Chronic are classic albums right?
The money, I see it as inspirational. And celebratory. For many, it’s rags to riches. And given that many hip-hop artists are young, we should also allow kids to be kids and to let them mature. Are you the person at 35 that you were at 20? Are you talking the same way and are you at the same level of maturity?
On drugs, why is it only hip-hop where people recoil from “money, drugs and women”? The Beatles did a lot of drugs. Some of the greatest rock vocalists, your Robert Plants (Led Zeppellin), Elvis Presley, Kurt Corbain (Nirvana), etc were drug users. But metal or rock were never seen as corrupting societal ills the way hip-hop is talked about sometimes.
Now on women, I admit I’m more conflicted here. There can be a streak of misogyny in some, but at the same time I’d argue it is a reflection of the environment many of the young men are growing up in. It is also telling that there were no mass boycotts of R. Kelly or Chris Brown, their shows sell out and women love those two. Also if you look at many (not all) of the top female rappers — Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, etc as some high profile examples, you’ll find that they themselves are pretty candid and raw about sexuality. I don’t have the answer for this, and I’m only using the example of the female rappers to show that there is some nuance on this matter.
On attitudes towards women, there is hope from hip-hop attitudes towards the LGBT community. Hip-Hop for example used to be aggressively homophobic, but now you don’t hear stuff like “faggot” and uses of homophobic slurs in rap lyrics as much. In fact, this is something old hip-hop heads should appreciate about current hip-hop, you have artists like Young Thug flirting with androgynous appearances and behavior in a way that would have been unimaginable in hip-hop as recently as a decade ago.
3. “Rap is not hip-hop”
Rap and hip-hop being different is technically true, but almost never in the way people mean it. “Rapping” is simply just the rhyming sure, or more literally the braggadocio, smooth trash-talking — like that’s literally what to rap was, before hip-hop was even a music genre. So rapping is the vocal aspect of hip-hop music, the verbal part. Hip-Hop as a culture rather than a style of music also encompasses DJing, dancing i.e. breakdance/b-boying originally but now other styles, and graffiti. I’d argue now that one should include fashion in there too as an unofficial 5th element.
What’s annoying when people say something like “I like hip-hop, not rap” is that what they’re really saying is that “I like what I think is underground or my classic hip-hop, music that sounds like the late 1990s”. This is so unneccesary because hip-hop music is worldwide and certainly big enough for different styles. Fans of progressive, tech, jackin, deep, acid, electro, or chicago are all able to agree it’s HOUSE music, you don’t get these circle jerking over which variations of house are really house, and which types of house music should be excommunicated. So why can’ t hip-hop’s umbrella be large enough for trap and for 90s boom-bap, for club ballads and for socio-political commentary? For complicated, intricate rhyme schemes and for the mumble rap styles more popular these days. Drill style from Chicago style is as much hip-hop as Common or Lupe Fiasco’s social commentary.
4. “Real hip-hop”
I first noticed this as a teen when there were always debates about underground backpackers into socially conscious music as being true authentic hip-hop. This was in contrast to those artists and fans into clothes, jewellery, clubbing, etc, which was seen as some combination of ignorant, vane, stupid, dumb, or illegitimate. The best example of this was how people were mad at Nas because he “sold out” on It Was Written because it didn’t sound like his classic debut Illmatic (in my unpopular opinion, It Was Written is a better album, it has certainly aged better.)
The second time this really came into focus started around the time Lil’ Wayne was blowing up in the mid-2000s. You’d always see in YouTube comments people saying , “now this is REAL hip-hop, not like that Lil’ Wayne nonsense” or something like that. You also see it these days in regards to Drake.
This is problematic for two immediate reasons. First, we selfishly don’t want artists to grow. Why should Jay-Z sound and rap the same as he did as a 25-year old hustler from the streets of Brooklyn as he does at a billionaire at 40, having been exposed to entire new social circles both within and outside the music industry? Second, we assume that just because an artist gets popular we forget what they are capable of. I mean Drake and Wayne are still killing it. Ask Meek Mill if Drake is “soft”.
But anyway, as a big fan of the culture, I really feel I don’t get to decide what is “real” hip-hop, when this is a a global movement that can inspire and be relevant in the most unexpected contexts:
5. “Are they speaking English”?
This is the latest dismissive protest from many hip-hop fans about the state of the genre today. The new ‘mumble rap’ as many scoff, is popularized by the likes of Chief Keef, Lil Uzi Vert and probably most famously Future.
For me this misses the mark right out the gate because on the vocals, charisma, flow, presence, and voice, are just as important on the as the actual lyrics. Some of these ‘mumble’ artists have incredible catchy flows — I actually think Future is a great artist, I’d much rather listen to him than (2nd unpopular opinion warning) J. Cole who for me is boring. And even going back to the actual lyrics there is the logical fallacy that big vocabulary automatically means more profound. It doesn’t! It certainly doesn’t mean more entertaining, and at the end of the day music is entertainment.
Music is often simply about a good time. Sometimes you just want to feel good, to sing-a-long to some melody, raise a toast to your friends, and lose yourself in the night. You don’t need memorize a social manifesto for that. Sometimes you just want to feel good singalong, raise a toast to your friends, and lose yourself in the night. You don’t need a sermon for that. YOu don’t need to be reflecting on Socrates philosophies and hypotheses at the nightclub!
Hip-Hop has always been about pushing boundaries and trying stuff, even outlandish sometimes. I mean the sound of hip-hop, the breakbeat, was literally a bastardizing and ruining a record. So if one of the paths lyrics is taking is by mumbling or a different rhyme scheme, we should welcome it. Let the kids try out.
To end and TLDR this, my point is basically that let’s judge artists on their own merits. If Lil’ Wayne or Drake is not your cup of tea, fine, but it should be because you just don’t like them or they have some failing as artists you can articulate. But if it’s because Wayne is a “southern rapper” or Drake is a “soft dude that sings on trap” then you’re potentially missing out on lot’s of great music. Another thing to remember, is that you cannot judge someone’s intelligence based on the subject matter of their songs (for example listen to any 50 Cent interview and he is disarmingly articulate).
Too often we hip-hop fans approaching the genre from a close-minded place, or worse, we are posing and trying to appear intelligent and responsible to our peers. Hip-Hop fans should relax and be more open-minded, and just allow ourselves to enjoy good music in whatever form, without feeling the urge to label, categorize and box everything.