My dad once told me that music should grow with you. What you create should always be a reflection of where you are at that period in your life. It makes no sense for a man in his thirties to spend his life stuck in his twenties. Nobody wants to be the old guy hanging around the nightclub chasing after twenty-year-old girls and desperately trying to be “down” with what’s popular at the time. When you’re 40years-old, you do 40year-old man shit. That’s just how it goes. The fact that I don’t connect to what’s new and popular is a good thing and it says that the music I create will have maturity and level of introspection that the music created by the same version of myself ten years prior was lacking. When I really think about it, I’m happy to be where I am in life right now.
At my age (north of 40) I constantly think if I still have a place within my beloved hip hop culture anymore. Then I usually snap out of it within a minute and realize that my big homies and I built this shit. I recognize that I grew up in a very unique window where I came right after the original pioneers and soaked that up then processed it and laid the blueprint for what is happening today.
I came in to hip-hop during the early 80s. I could listen to and appreciate artists like Grand Master Caz and Melle Mel but Rakim, Big Daddy Kane and Slick Rick and A Tribe Called Quest, were my heroes. If I were to go back in time further than the early ’80s hip hop music would just sound old. Although I have nothing but the utmost respect for the artists who paved the way for my heroes and the rest of us, I have never spent considerable time listening to hip-hop from the late 70s.
I am fortunate to have been born in the era that I was raised in. My generation was privileged to be able to experience the music that birthed hip hop and then see hip hop born and then watch it blow up into this international phenomenon that the world loves today. But in all that growth was the original tenements of hip hop lost? Don’t put me into the salty old hip hop head group just yet, listen to what I have to say.
For years now I’ve struggled to pay attention or keep up with the current events. Musically, there isn’t really a lot happening that speaks directly to me. There are bits and pieces that I catch here and there, but overall I just no longer feel as connected to the new music and artists. When a new artist makes something undeniably dope, I seek it out and I listen with an open mind. As an artist I find myself dissecting every lyric and sound until it becomes a part of my DNA. The dilemma is having the patience, time and lack of cynicism to consider all of the new music coming out. Unfortunately for me, those moments of great discovery of new music and movements have been few and far between for quite some time now.
I should just listen to the music and turn my attention away from the hip-hop media. Yet media seems like the easiest way to get information on new music. Media would seem like the source to go to for the opinions of those best qualified. I find myself in a constant state of cringe when I do tune in to the current events and media I keep saying “how is this news?” Delusion seems to be the dominant theme in hip-hop. As my Instagram feed fills up with photos and text that make it seem as if it’s all good when it’s not all good. It’s like the boy who cried wolf too many times, people are becoming so cynical when it comes to media and critic’s opinions are mattering less because of the lack of integrity. This is not an attack on media this is me saying that the standard must be set and upheld in order for hip hop to advance.
Everything is so easy now, it’s easy to make music, easy to get music and unfortunately easy to take this music for granted. There is no attention to detail or respect for the process and most times this shows clearly in the lack of quality. All the things that we used to stand against now it seems like we are standing for in hip hop. Not only are we standing up for these things but we almost seem to be endorsing them and promoting them. Too many extracurricular things are clouding the clear view we should have on the music and the quality of the music.
Unlike the previous periods in hip-hop; we’ve reached the first true era of the legacy artist. While the aforementioned MCs, producers and DJs from the ’80s could and should be considered legacy artists, the same can now be said of Jay Z, Nas and Eminem. But the big difference between my heroes (Rakim, Big Daddy Kane and Slick Rick, KRS ONE and A Tribe Called Quest etc.) is that Jay Z, Nas and Eminem can still pack stadiums, as opposed to my heroes who largely now pack small-large sized clubs.
From 1998-2003 Jay Z reigned as king from the top of the cultural mountain and we loved him for it. But after The Black Album his popularity and influence slowly began to slide. He still had more than a few high points, but they were generally relegated to collaborations with younger artists (Rihanna, “Watch The Throne” with Kanye West) or huge concert events that only an artist who has been loved and appreciated as long as Jay Z could pull off. Now, Jay Z seems to be more of an elder statesman in hip-hop than a current artist. His influence is nowhere near the size of what it once was. I wouldn’t say that he’s become disconnected from the youth of today, its more that he has created a lane a school of cool in hip hop and he chooses to stay in that school or lane.
I will say that I am not too much into Fetty Wap or Young Dolph (really any big, lil or young whoever). When I log on to social media or visit blogs I feel lost a lot of the time and often find myself going into long internal “these young cats these days” rants in my head.” But maybe that’s just how it’s supposed to be.
So can a dedicated hip-hop head age gracefully? I think we can, as long as the artists and the listeners accept that we’re getting older. When I look around at hip-hop heads in their thirties and forties trying to keep up with the youth at large it comes off as pathetic. We’re fathers and mothers now. We have jobs, bills and lives to take care of. Most of the current pop music doesn’t speak to our demographic and honestly it never did. That is what made TRUE HIP HOP so special; it spoke to the struggle, it spoke to the people that pop music didn’t speak to. When you hear a song like “The Message” by Mellie Mel you feel like you’re talking to a grown man after a long day that is telling you about the problems he had during the last week.
In my humble opinion I think there is a huge market for what I call “Grown Man Hip Hop” and it makes perfect sense. Most of your true hip hop heads from hip hops “Golden Era (1986 – 1996)” are ranging in age from 35 to 45 right now and they are craving hip hop that grows and matures with them. Sometimes I find myself just having to go back and listen to 20 or 30 year old music to get that feeling. Most of the artist from that golden era are either trying to find footing in this new era and fit in or they are choosing to stick to their original artistic vision and are not getting support from a depleted recording industry. More and more of these older heads are getting into neo-soul and R&B music as they age or they are leaning towards the Jazz influenced hip hop of say The Roots, Common, or Yasiin Bey.
This is not to say that there are not artist from this new generation that speak to us golden era cats, artists like Big K.R.I.T, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Oddisee, Joey Badass and others openly acknowledge the influence of the golden era and attempt to operate on those principles. These artist speak to the human condition which is always universal.
The point is, as we get older we must embrace the wisdom that comes with it, we should not spend that time desperately trying to fit in and hang on to what was. We find wisdom and fulfillment in things that the younger generation won’t understand until they become us and that’s ok.