Somewhere in America, right now, a self-proclaimed “hip-hop head” sits at a sticker-decorated Macbook exhausting 140 characters on why hip-hop is dead. With the age of the social media came the casual critic.
Social-networking tools like Tumblr and Twitter provide a platform to appease the human ego’s assumption that people care what you think. And so, we tell you. It is here that the hip-hop music community rears its ugly head as a mirror to the social class system of a capitalistic American society.
Snobbery in hip-hop invites polarization because the essence of the term induces a separation. What hip-hop elites do in terms of placing exclusionary boundaries on the music they deem acceptable illustrates a need for respectability and division from those with less authenticity. These are the bourgeoisies. They pick over each and every line, as regulated by a fictional “Lyrical Accountant’s Guide to Discernment.” The more conscious, the more lyrical and the less commercial equals the more hip-hop. Any deviation from this self-regarding, ideological formula is instantly deemed ignorant. It’s just not “real hip-hop.”
But who and what is “real” hip-hop?
“Hip-Hop Music is Run DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Gang Starr, Wu-Tang Clan, Pharcyde, Hieroglyphics, Aceyalone, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Public Enemy, Common, Mobb Deep, Nas, Rakim and many more old school and underground acts,” asserts the Urban Dictionary.
Well, sure, these artists are undeniable staples in hip-hop music, but they are also the top 1 percent. How unfair.
I find it a little difficult to clearly define an art form that has only existed for three decades. I can, however, say that hip-hop is the voice of urban America. Historically, the music was the voice of the disadvantaged. It told compelling socioeconomic stories of the lower-class neighborhoods and provided insight to political, social and personal struggles.
“There’s a war going on outside, no man is safe from,” wrote Prodigy of Mobb Deep in the duo’s critically acclaimed song, “Survival of the Fittest,” where he also compared life in the streets of New York with the Vietnam War. These lyrics have been echoed by various rappers ever since, to illustrate the upward battle to make something of themselves from nothing in a world that is a bucket full of crabs.
As the art form grew, so did the diversity of its artists, fan base and subject matter. I think it is very important to understand that at this point, the state of hip-hop is too diverse and complex to compartmentalize and ascertain what is best. Every song cannot be a “Survival of the Fittest;” every album not an “Illmatic.” And guess what: that’s okay.
I can only imagine how many iPhones and snapbacks were thrown at televisions when Esperanza Spalding won her Grammy for best New Artist over “the realest in the [rap] game right now” – Drake. My Twitter timeline was instantly filled with “Who IS that?” – as if by dubbing yourself a knight of hip-hop templar, you forbade anything without familiarity to be considered great by others. That just goes to show that music is bigger than what one person likes.
The fact of the matter is everything has its lane. Every class of artists and fans serve a purpose in a collective – something more fulfilling than self-regarding agenda. For every politically apt, socially conscious fan who wants to hear Lupe Fiasco rap about the Gaza strip, there is a girl in the club ready to shake her hips and her hair on cue with an 808-heavy Lex Luger beat, while her boyfriend whines in tune with the newest Wale ‘rap-n-b’ song at home. I have unapologetically been all three of these people.
Try not to put everything in a box. Allow your mind to be a clean canvas and let the artist paint the ideas you derive from what you hear. Music is designed to give you feeling, not only generate thoughts. There is no offense taken by Talib Kweli because you have chosen to listen to Waka Flocka while working out. (He sure knows how to get your heart rate up!)
Ultimately, by turning up a nose to what is not readily identified as hip-hop, we have separated ourselves from one another. There is no answer to who’s right and who’s wrong. Whether you are a drug dealer trying to make it from the most desolate of neighborhoods, or an educated young professional trying to climb the ranks of the corporate ladder, you are one of us. You are the culture of hip-hop. You are a fan.
And we are the 99 percent. And there is still a war going on outside from which we are not safe.