Article by Michael Partis
White Sun Glasses, “Get Silly,” and “Crank That” is just as Hip-Hop as “Smooth Operator,” “Fuck the Police,” or “Paid in Full.” It’s time for hatin-ass old heads to keep it “real ” with themselves and remember the past, but respect the present.
The Ice-T/Soulja Boy story has lead to a number of comments and discussion on one question: What is real Hip-Hop?
The topic of “Real Hip-Hop” has been one of the most popular subjects in Hip-Hop circles over the past few years. It has especially been spoken about as we moved into the new generation of Hip-Hop music. And as two sides of the argument emerge, and we see some very clear divisions: by region (“East Coast,” “The South,” or “Da Bay”); by rating (think about all your “Top 5” list, or “Hottest MC’s” rankings); but most notability by age.
Last year in an interview KRS-One questioned if Kanye West was “Hip-Hop.” Currently, we have Ice-T claiming Soulja Boy “single handedly killed Hip-Hop.” Here we see old school rappers discrediting some of this generation’s most successful rappers.
The important thing to note is that KRS-One and Ice-T are NOT the only people criticizing today’s rappers. Talk to enough older people, read enough Hip-Hop websites and blogs, check enough online Hip-Hop music discussion boards, and you’ll find an overwhelming amount of folks who think that today’s rappers and their music is garbage.
Old:The Humpty Dance(1990) New:Crank Dat Soulja Boy(2007)
The question Hip-Hop fans of all ages have to ask is: What is “real Hip-Hop?” And more so, what do we mean by “real.”
In Hip-Hop culture, “keeping it real” meant to speak the truth—no matter how offensive, ugly, unpleasant, or raunchy it may be; it meant to stay true to the cultural practices of your family, friends, neighborhoods, and community; it meant to “do you” or to stay true to yourself (whatever you may be).
The desire to “keep it real” is what in some ways spawned what would be called “gangsta rap.” The music’s harshness is what either made people praise it or reject it. Some championed how the music conveyed the difficult reality of urban life and provided an authentic voice of those from it; some found the vulgarity, the misogyny, and the violence as uncalled for, and as a flawed representation that did not show all sides of urban Black life.
It is the gangsta rap version of “realness” that has become something that remains a requirement for a rapper to successful become a Hip-Hop star. There has to be something authentic about you. While what “real” is extremely subjective and ever-changing, too often it’s “hustlin,” “pimpin,” going to jail, or committing a violent act that makes you real. Gangsta rap became synonymous with this definition of “real” and serves as Hip-Hop’s quintessential example of realness.
But the other side to this idea of “realness” is Hip-Hop music’s origins.
Hip-Hop started as party music. It was made so you could enjoy yourself at a party, dance, and HAVE FUN.
Hip-Hop did NOT start with the MC. Hip-Hop did NOT start with “gangsta rap.”
No matter if your old school or new school, those are two historical facts every Hip-Hop fan should know.
Hip-Hop music originates from the DJ. Their job was to play hot songs to keep people dancing. Eventually, the DJ discovered to play the hottest part of the song, and to repeat the dopest part of the beat. To help keep the party going, to help keep people dancing, the DJ enlisted the services of someone who was witty, personable, and nice with words. This person became know as the “MC.” Over time the MC evolved from someone who just talked over the songs, to someone who could rhyme words while staying in rhythm the instrumental; a person who’s words were catchy enough to keep your attention, while they stayed on the beat. The catchy words were filled with jokes, shout outs, and word play. Eventually the MC’s would use literary devices such as symbolism, similes, and metaphors to “rap” better then everyone else.
This tradition developed into what we call “lyricism,” and it incorporated all the elements that would come to mark a great MC: the ability to tell a story, to be witty, to rock a party, to have a social message in your words, to make connections that others would not get, to verbally express ideas combining slang and conventional language. At its core, an MC’s lyricism should make them able to say things in a way we’ve never heard, and convey a message to the audience.
The critics of today’s Hip-Hop artist, and the Hip-Hop old heads seem to have remembered the “realness” they want from an artist, but forgot about what Hip-Hop’s started from: PEOPLE WANTING TO HAVE FUN. And it’s a damn shame that many of today’s younger Hip-Hop fans and artists seem to understand that better than the older one who is actually old enough to remember the beginning.
It is ironic, for some of Hip-Hop’s biggest figures and contributors came up in party Hip-Hop tradition. Nas was a pop-locker growing up; Jermaine Dupri came up in the 80’s as a break dancer; Diddy was a back-up dancer and party promoter before Biggie and Bad Boy blew up. It’s probably not a coincidence that you also rarely hear them hating (unless you count Nas’ whole “Hip-Hop is Dead” as hating; granted, it’s debatable).
If you want to say Soulja Boy isn’t as lyrical as like Big Daddy Kane or Rakim, that’s fair. If you want to say Kayne isn’t “real” like other gangsta rappers, it’s understandable. If you want to say mainstream rappers make music that lacks a political message or empowers the hood, it’s debatable…but still valid. But to say that Soulja Boy killed Hip-Hip, or that Kanye West ain’t Hip-Hop, your just a hater.
The lyrical ability of young rappers, the standard for what makes a good rapper, what makes a hot song, those are things that we can debate. But there is no debating that they ARE Hip-Hop.