The Hip-Hop I Loved…In Memoriam (Almost)
To me, 1989–2005 was the Golden Era of hip-hop. You can argue if you want, but good luck winning this battle. Do you remember those years? Because I do. Back when hip-hop was great. Back when hip-hop was ours, not everyone’s.
What made that era so great for hip-hop? And to be clear on what I mean when I say “hip-hop”, allow me to quote the great KRS 1- “Rap is something you do. Hip-hop is something you live.”
Back then, everyone had their own lane, but everyone brought lyrics. Think about it: Mobb Deep. Nas. Jay-Z. Beanie Sigel. KRS-1. The Beatnuts. Redman. Keith Murray. Outkast. EPMD. Rakim. Goodie Mob. Mad Skillz. Dr. Dre. Snoop (yes, even Snoop had lyrics). Tha Dogg Pound. Mase. Black Rob. Jadakiss. Styles P. Sheek Louch. Eminem. Ice Cube. NWA. Kool G. Rap. O.C. GangStarr. Pete Rock & CL Smooth. Big L. Big Pun. Big Mike. Scarface. The Geto Boys. Fabolous. Brand Nubians. A Tribe Called Quest. Black Sheep. Wu-Tang Clan. DMX. The Lox. Lil Kim. Eve. Ludacris. Cam’ron. 50 Cent. Tip/T.I. Jeezy. Rass Kass. (And on and on). Now make a list of who’s been great since 2005. Eleven years worth of artists (notice I didn’t say “MCs” because well…) and your list couldn’t begin to match even the bottom 20% of that list. Today’s list might have about three people that would rank above Master P. and that’s if you can even understand what today’s artists are mumbling.
No Urban Dictionary, DatPiff, WorldStar, or Mixtape.com.
Back in those days, you had to live hip-hop. You couldn’t “dabble”. There was no cheating. If you wanted to know what a “herb” was or understand the “dun language” you needed to live it. You couldn’t just look it up form the comfort of your suburban home. You needed to go and buy your mixtapes and mix CDs, whether off the streets or at a local bodega. A lot of the outsiders claiming hip-hop today wouldn’t have dared venture into those spots, so we didn’t have to worry about them ruining the music or the culture. There was no downloading the music or ordering it to your home. If you wanted to be the first with a DJ Clue exclusive, you had to be in the “hood” (as some like to refer to it). Today, these kids just scan Urban Dictionary for the latest lingo, watch WorldStar for trending dance moves, and download mixtapes so they can claim they know the music better than others. And they do…but what’s that worth when 90% of it is crap? And if one more person says “for the culture”…
There’s no Allen Iverson anymore. These days, every athlete is too concerned with endorsements to truly represent hip-hop culture. Allen Iverson was himself because that’s all he could be. He didn’t carefully manage his image (ahem…Lebron) and calculate his social media efforts (back then they were just social efforts which, for him, meant TGI Friday’s in Philly with his crew). A.I. was just real, and unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever see someone like that again (yes, that even goes for Boogie, even though he seems to be a pretty real dude). There will never be another like A.I. The Question and The Answer.
Kanye West wasn’t Yeezy and Jay-Z was just Jay-Z.
Remember when Kanye burst on the scene with Polo shirts and backpacks and he was just a humble yet cocky (I know, on paper it’s contradictory) producer-turned-rapper? When he wasn’t a dick that thought he was a performance artist/fashion designer/reality star? Remember when Jay-Z was making great music with guys like Memphis Bleek and Beanie Sigel and was involved with films like “Backstage” and “Streets Is Watching” (holy shit, can you even imagine the reaction if either of those came out today?) Remember when these guys weren’t “brands” and weren’t one half of “celebrity power couples”? Remember when Kanye got in a car crash and Jay stabbed Un (allegedly)? You think Jay-Z would put Mobb Deep on blast at Summer Jam these days? Shit, he probably wouldn’t even make the “Big Pimpin’” video now. And Kanye? When was the last time he even drove himself somewhere (although maybe that’s a good idea)? It’s almost hard to remember who those guys were once, isn’t it? Let’s not even get into who Lil’ Wayne was once upon a time and the whole Puffy>Puff Daddy>P. Diddy>Diddy>whatever the fuck his name is now mess.
Note: The scene in the strip club in “Streets Is Watching” set to the track by Sauce Money and Jay is etched in my brain forever. Pretty sure most the new Jay-Z has had that whole scene wiped from his mind by Will Smith with one of those MIB memory sticks.
Does anyone actually like all this tight, skinny shit? Every time I try it, I just end up sitting in a puddle of my own sweat all day…and I can’t be the only person that feels that way.
Everything wasn’t a movement for social media crusaders.
What if NWA came out today with its homophobic and misogynistic lyrics? Just imagine the internet outrage. As I mentioned, what if “Streets Is Watching” came out today? Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer would go ballistic. Remember artists like Public Enemy and Kam talking about revolutions? That shit puts the Black Lives Matter movement to shame. I mean, Kam was straight up talking about murder in the streets, not just protesting. Peopel woudl have been up in arms. Or what about Outkast, Erykah Badu, and Goodie Mob? Those artists made great music that represented who they were and what they loved. And we loved it. Outkast and Goodie Mob were talking about hot sauce, Cadillacs, afros, and collards long before Beyonce and every blogger didn’t feel the need to write a research paper on the meaning of such images in the context of race and power and whatever. It was beautiful music about what you knew, not a social media movement or a calculated branding effort devised to sell records and capitalize on the latest trends. And it was real. Real as sitting on the front stoop with socks and flip-flops.
People didn’t over-analyze everything.
These days, thanks to the internet, everyone’s voice matters…apparently. How many articles am I going to read by some white hipster analyzing Marvel’s “Luke Cage” or Donald Glover’s “Atlanta”? And we are talking 6,000 word essays here, analyzing everything down to the flavor of the wings a character orders and putting that in some sort of context about race and white privilege and slavery. Can’t those wings just taste good?
Technology wasn’t what it is today…and that meant you had to be committed to make music.
It used to be that you needed to know how to make music in order to make music. And then you needed to be good at it to get it out there. And you needed to hustle. Now, that’s not the case. Any asshole with GarageBand can “make music” and load it onto the latest “mixtape” site. Anyone can make a video and load it to WorldStar. The result? An overabundance of low-quality and watered-down music that is supposed to represent hip-hop. And some really lame ass dance trends as well.
Do I sound mad? Because I am. I’m Bad Boy Mad Rapper mad, which is ironic considering what Puffy is today (yes, he is still Puffy to me, not Diddy). Can we stop being so sensitive and just appreciate the word play of Fabolous or Jada, even if they’re talking about violence or getting head?
Nas declared hip-hop dead a while ago. I wouldn’t quite say it was quite dead then, and maybe it still isn’t today, but damn, I have to take a trip to the nursing home to see it…and I see the sadness in its eyes. It might be time to say goodbye and resort to celebrating its life through the photo albums.