Nobody can really pin down how or when it happens, but at some point in the cognitive development of hip hop heads, cobwebbed eardrums develop an unhealthy disdain for contemporary sounds. This affliction manifests itself in the form of rash contemporary music polemics from the uhh... seasoned connoisseurs of hip hop. This is nothing new or specific to music. Everybody wants to feel special, like their era was unique. But in the abrasive words of Kanye West, "I'ma let y’all golden-agers finish, but hip hop's post millennial crowd is pushing out some of the best music ever."
If you asked hip hop’s pallbearers what the cause of death was, they’ll tell you that opulence killed the MC, while money was the motive. Nas spit the eulogy "Hip Hop is Dead" in 2006.
Just like every politician looking for a come-up, reminding his constituency that the American Dream is over and that only he can save it, “Hip Hop is Dead” was the anthem for purists who want their hip hop back.
In its short life, every generation has tried to dead rap. The ‘80s cats claimed ‘90s hip hop focused too much on gangbanging. And the generation whose ears grew up on the sounds of Chuck D, Tupac, B.I.G. and NWA viewed the Aughts as the “ignant generation."
But rap isn’t on the decline. This is the roaring 2000s.
As much flack as he takes for his pop lyrical leanings, I’ll take Macklemore over Vanilla Ice any day. And Nicki Minaj’s wigs over Lil Kim’s chameleon faces and skinny jeans over Kriss Kross’ backwards jeans.
Run DMC, Raekwon and Biggie are the senseis of the old guard. Meanwhile, Yeezy, pre-punk rock Lil Wayne, T.I, J. Cole, Common and peers of their ilk are master MCs on the vanguard of the millennium in rap music and culture.
Success has gotten to our heads. As evidenced by hip hop Gatsby Jay Z popping off about his art collection, Drake sniffles over slow-tempo beats, while Moscato has replaced the 40 oz. in hip hop lexicon.The mainstream shift for hip hop has made artists moguls, movie stars, fashion mavens and designers.
Conscious rap isn’t gone from the game, it's just not getting as much radio play. Wale is a salient example of an artist with a message. Rap may be becoming more of a melting pot and increasingly commercial, but the core is no different than it was two decades ago when 2 Live Crew was laying down lewd, law-breaking tracks.
But the cause isn’t lost. The frenetic basslines pumping through powerful speakers en masse are en vogue right and are a flashback to the simpler times of Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock bangers during hip hop’s nascent years. The Ying Yang Twins, Lil John and 2 Chainz’s simplistic messages and club anthems are lambasted as acne on hip hop’s surface. But succinctly that’s just a veiled shot at southern rap.
Modern beefs on wax are tofu compared to the battles of hip hop past. But after the tragic escalation that cost Biggie and Pac’s their lives, we were bound to run to the other extreme. Hip hop’s not abandoning its roots, it’s going through a puberty stage, trying to navigate its changing body on a new scene. The commercialization of hip hop has watered down its rough exterior. But rather than harping on what hip hop in the Aughts lacks or ungainly pimples on the exterior only misses everything that’s right with music today.
Culture is cyclical. ‘80s swag isn’t the only throwback style making a comeback. Hi-top fades are fading back into style, and eventually the sound will do a 180. And there are still throwback artists in the game. Kendrick Lamar totes the hopes of purists around as the old soul in a young mind, slingin’ old school rhymes that give mature hip hop heads a portal to the past. Lamar’s combative verse on "Control" last summer was a direct salvo across the bow of his slumbering industry peers. Within days, he had inspired a multitude of responses that harkened back to the wax skirmishes of yesteryear.
I heard the barbershops spittin' great debates all the time
Bout who's the best MC? Kendrick, Jigga and Nas
Eminem, Andre 3000, the rest of y'all
New niggas just new niggas, don't get involved
And I ain't rockin no more designer shit
White T's and Nike Cortez, this is red Corvettes anonymous
I'm usually homeboys with the same niggas I'm rhymin' wit
But this is hip hop and them niggas should know what time it is
And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big KRIT, Wale
Pusha T, Meek Millz, A$AP Rocky, Drake
Big Sean, Jay Electron', Tyler, Mac Miller
I got love for you all but I'm tryna murder you niggas
Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you niggas
They dont wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you niggas
What is competition? I'm tryna raise the bar high
Who tryna jump and get it? You better off tryna skydive.
- Kendrick Lamar, “Control,” 2013
Dope MCs are fewer and far between as artists saturate the scene chasing platinum riches and pop artists invade. Purists can reminisce about the past all day and recount old stories on the stoop like Slick Rick. Or they can get with the times and start appreciating the innovators, movers and shakers of the new millennium.
Get with it or get left behind.