When hip hop was a baby it took a lot of criticism. No one really knew what to think of this new culture sweeping the nation, taking the youth with it and making strong statements over what, at the time, was considered some pretty hardcore production. Parents were terrified that their children would be swallowed up by this evil musical force that clearly came straight from the devil and so they took to Congress to try to stop the offensive language from reaching those most influenced by pop culture. The “fad” of hip hop didn’t die though, and the government couldn’t do much more than slap a warning sticker on albums, so hip hop continued to grow into a billion dollar worldwide industry. But now rap has a new enemy, a new group of people trying to suppress it and keep it away from people, its own fans.
Since the beginning, rap has faced opposition from those on the outside for its vulgar language, its offensive treatment of women and its so-called promotion of violence. They tried to silence 2 Live Crew and while Tipper Gore and all the scared white folks were horrified at depictions of half naked women, hip hop supported the collective who were becoming “Banned in the U.S.A.” When N.W.A. received a letter from the FBI basically telling them to chill, rap and its fans stood tall and proudly rode right along with N.W.A exclaiming “fuck the police”. When Ice-T went from playing a cop in New Jack City to getting Tipper’s wif….husband to make all types of outrageous claims about what one song could actually do, hip hop defended one of its best social commentators. Point is, hip hop fans have always shown loyalty to their own whether it was to argue that yes, rap is music not just black people talking, or that no, a couple of bad words here and there isn’t the end of the world because rap reflects reality, which isn’t happy-go-lucky all the time. Rap fans have defended rap with such strong emotion because rap is always under attack. But now it’s the fans who are attacking rap with the same ammunition that Congress, and the Gores, and C. Delores Tucker used back in the day, and using the same justifications for their actions as well.
The recent wave of mainstream artists in hip hop has divided fans more so than ever before. While the “flashy suit era” created the tired distinction between “real hip hop” and “mainstream rap”, these days those labels can be simplified and we have “real hip hop” and “garbage”. If your name is Soulja Boy, or Gucci Mane, or Waka Flocka, or Lil’ B, the music you make is “garbage”, it’s “uninspired”, it’s “noise”, it’s “ignorant”, basically it’s everything that old white people used to call hip hop about 20 years ago. The difference is it’s not those old white people making those claims, it’s rap fans. It’s people who are over 30, who grew up with the Native Tongues and Public Enemy, who feel that hip hop was better when it wasn’t about the money and the girls, when it wasn’t celebrating the fruits of hustling but instead promoting a “Stop the Violence” movement. To these long-time fans, the antics of kids today is the antithesis of everything they love about hip hop. So, much like their elders rejected this new form of music in the 80s and 90s, they are rejecting the efforts of a generation influenced by hip hop now making their own mark on the culture, more or less because they don’t understand it and thus don’t want it around, again, just like their elders.
Am I telling you to enjoy Soulja Boy’s music? Not at all. If swagged out anthems aren’t your red solo cup of Henny then who am I to tell you what to listen to. But there’s a huge difference between having a preference and declaring that an artist sucks, or has no talent, or shouldn’t be making the music they’re making. I’ve actually had people say that Jeezy’s music is bad because it celebrates drug dealing, that Flocka’s music is bad because it promotes violence. But have the people who’ve made these claims listened to Jeezy or Flocka’s whole catalog, or just choice lines that would lend to the belief that they only promote drugs and violence? And if so, how are they any different from those who claimed N.W.A. promoted the killing of cops, or that Dre and Snoop only rapped about fucking bitches and doing drugs (actually…) or that rap itself was nothing more than a “gangsta” culture instead of including the consciousness of someone like Talib Kweli or the brilliance of someone like Canibus? How can the people who once stood with their peers rejecting society’s view of this “negative” culture now be doing the exact same thing to their own people?
I’m not saying Flocka’s bars are comparable to a Malcolm X speech, or that Jeezy doesn’t make some boasts about the drug life, but two important points need to be looked at before judging what they do. First of all, it’s what they know, and rap has always been about “keeping it real” so what is wrong with someone rapping about what they actually know and live? Secondly, since when has rap been about making music that’s acceptable to all people? The whole point of hip hop was that it was music that wasn’t accepted by mainstream society, that it was outside of the norm and that’s what made it so great. It pushed boundaries. And third (yeah I know I said two points) these people are making money, and what exactly is wrong with that? Strip clubs need music, why not hip hop? Clubs need music, why not hip hop? Why not have it be hip hop that accompanies the general public in their lives wherever they are whether it’s the office or the bar? All of this generates income for the artists, and honestly, anyone who hates on someone like Flocka who can afford to bring his whole crew in the studio and record a mixtape in which he sounds like he’s having a whole lot of fun, only to turn around and sell it to thousands of people while consistently doing shows, is just jealous of the money he got by doing what he wants and enjoying himself. There’s nothing worse than hating on someone who’s making money doing what they want, how can you even justify that?
It’s sad to see hip hop get to this point, where the people who supported it from day one now hate on it for the same reasons they loved it in the first place, because it gave people who otherwise wouldn’t have a voice a chance to tell their stories, to let the streets talk without a filter. This is the foundation of hip hop, the words of the streets, and now those who maybe have moved on from that life are turning around and telling the kids “you shouldn’t be saying/doing that” like the attitude of teenagers isn’t going to be exactly what it was 20 years ago, a middle finger to authority.
If you’re a fan of hip hop who rejects artists like Flocka and Gucci Mane but takes it further than just “I don’t prefer to listen to them” then try to remember what it was like defending The Chronic to a bunch of elders claiming it had no artistic value and was just degrading, violence-promoting garbage. Remember how to you, Straight Outta Compton was not just gang banging on wax but instead a call for social justice. Remember that when Public Enemy said “Fight the Power” that they were talking about all those trying to silence a group of people based on no logical reasons but rather simply because they didn’t like what was being said. Then ask yourself if maybe the fans of Flocka and Soulja Boy and Rick Ross aren’t dealing with the same negative comments today. But instead of those comments coming from people outside of hip hop who they can easily point to an ignorance of the whole culture, it’s coming from people inside their own community, who supposedly understand the rejection of an entire culture based off one or two lines taken out of context. You don’t have to like an artist but at least respect them for contributing to this great culture of music that has been bubbling for over 30 years now and will continue to flourish for decades to come. And next time you go to call Soulja Boy garbage because he just talks about swag and doesn’t have any socially conscious verses, remember that this is a young black man making millions of dollars in America, and hip hop has allowed him to do that. Don’t let personal opinions make you forget how many jobs are created every day through hip hop, how it gets so many families up out of the projects, and how just because you may not understand the music they make doesn’t mean it’s bad, that’s what hip hop has been about from day one, pushing boundaries and spitting in the face of authority.
A lot of yall seem to feel like you should be policing hip hop, like you should be in charge of what music is released and who is allowed to make it, to that I say what you said a little over 20 years ago to those who tried to stop the force of hip hop because they didn’t understand it, “Fuck the police”.
Have you become one of the people you hate? Comment below…