Once upon a time, way back in the ’90s, some music critic — it’s not clear who exactly, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it was a snarky British scribe — invented the term “dad rock” to describe bands who 1) originated in the classic-rock era or 2) sound like they are influenced by bands from the classic-rock era. As reductive shorthand, dad rock was originally intended as an insult against supposedly backward-looking, musically conservative acts. But over time, dad rock was slowly embraced as a term of endearment, in the way that southerners now refer to themselves as rednecks. Why wouldn’t it be a term of endearment? Dads are nice. Guitars are nice. Therefore, dad rock is extremely nice.
Now, another issue has emerged. While there are plenty of great dad-rock bands currently waving the flag for the Springsteen-loving, salt-and-pepper beard set, rock music is no longer prominent enough in mainstream culture for dad rock to act as an easily recognizable emblem. The boomer dad who loves Steely Dan, or the Gen-X dad who loves Wilco, don’t necessarily share the same tastes as a millennial dad. “Dad rock is typically assumed to be music for straight, white, American dads, despite the observable truth that not all dads are straight, white, or American,” The Outline recently observed. “When we talk about dad rock, we talk about just one kind of dad.”
For instance, plenty of dads who came of age in the ’90s and ’00s love hip-hop, a genre whose history now stretches back about 45 years. While rock is still 20 years older, hip-hop is nevertheless firmly ensconced in middle age, making it ripe for dadness.
And yet “dad rap” doesn’t have quite the same connotation that “dad rock” has. Part of this is a function of how each genre has preserved its own history. For all the deference given to “old school” acts, hip-hop’s essential energy comes from constant reinvention — sounds and styles change quickly, which inevitably causes all but a small handful of artists to fall by the wayside. In rock, however, there’s a thriving legacy industry that keeps older acts on the radio and inside arenas and stadiums for decades after they stopped having hits. As a result, in the common narrative of pop music, rap is still seen as “kid” music whereas rock is “nostalgic,” even though plenty of young people are still forming bands and millions of graying music fans listen to hip-hop as a way to relieve their pasts.