Music

What Hip-Hop’s Old Guard Can Learn From The Creator Of ‘Halloween’ As Both Evolve In 2018

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This past weekend, legendary horror producer John Carpenter returned to the franchise that made him a household name — and basically kicked off the enduring popularity of the slasher genre Halloween — with a fresh, 21st-century take that has delighted general audiences, genre fans, and critics alike. Needless to say, this is kind of a feat for a 40-year-old property which experienced slumps in three different decades.

Ironically — or fatefully, depending on whether you’re a hip-hop writer with a taste for both classics and their contemporary counterparts — the Halloween franchise is nearly the same age as hip-hop, the reigning most popular genre in American music. And while it may not seem like there any deeper lessons inherent in watching teen babysitters being stalked and dismembered by lumbering serial killers, in this case, there is something veteran creators and followers of the music and culture can learn from Halloween and its own creator: How to remain successful 40 years later through evolving, while still remaining true to the spirit of the original.

Also, there’s this:

When Carpenter was asked why he finally returned to the series after leaving it in the wake of Halloween III‘s lukewarm reception, and over creative differences with his producers, he told Rotten Tomatoes: “I talked about the Halloweens for a long time, the sequels — I haven’t even seen all of them… But finally it occurred to me: Well if I’m just flapping my gums here, why don’t I try to make it as good as I can? So, you know, stop throwing rocks from the sidelines and get in there and try to do something positive.” It’s true: The Halloween movies that followed the third iteration are often considered inferior rehashes of old formula short on scares, new ideas, and perhaps most damaging, the spirit of the initial film.

I happened to catch the new Halloween last week, and as a fan of the genre and the series, it occurred to me that he’d largely succeeded. Carpenter’s latest take is fantastic, borrowing hints and nods from the previous films, but not living off their nostalgia. It updates old tropes and finds ways to seamlessly work in social and technological changes from the 40 years since the original (my favorite is the way the movie dispenses with the near ubiquity of cell phones as modern horror plothole fuel). By accepting its characters’ growth and development and incorporating them into a loving homage to all the details that make the first movie work so well, the newest reboot/remake/sequel is the first that might actually live up to its legacy.

As a fan of hip-hop, however, Carpenter’s above quote reminded me of the shortcomings of my other favorite genre, along with a video that resonated with me, and got me thinking about how fantastically that reasoning applies to rap — and how many rappers, outlets, and fans are failing to meet that standard. On last week’s episode of Genius’ interview show, For The Record, guest Styles P shared a few critiques of modern hip-hop culture with host Rob Markman. The below clip, which was shared widely, drew an impassioned response from hip-hop heads who follow the show and also potentially offered the seeds of a solution.

Styles effectively reiterates Carpenter’s words above and shows exactly how Carpenter’s comments would practically apply to rap with his music. He and New York rapper Dave East recently teamed up to release their joint album Beloved, much like Carpenter did with a pair of younger filmmakers in David Gordon Green and Danny McBride to revitalize his franchise. Beloved combines the best of both worlds, old and new, by sticking to the rap purist formula on Styles’ side while updating it with elements of Dave East’s more new-school, trap-inflected New York swagger. He says, “We could have did some sh*t just to get a look or that had nothin’ to do with hip-hop… Nah, let’s make some authentic hip-hop.” That’s what they did, combining hip-hop’s Golden Era lyrical emphasis and roughneck style, with Dave East’s youth and vital, current outlook. However, their approach — like Carpenter’s — is a rarity.

While it’s no secret that sectarian dissent has divided rappers and their fans into opposing camps — lyrical rap against mumble rap, woke rap vs. cloud rap, old heads vs. Generation Z — in shorter supply are the answers to healing those divisions and recognizing the ways in which each of those subcategories defines and complements the others. More fans and artists are more interesting in the constant fighting, casting their stones in an effort to prove their favorite subgenre or approach to the craft is the best, than in actually supporting, growing, and building the culture of hip-hop as it evolves and expands to encompass multiple generations, ethnicities, nationalities, and identities of fans.

A prime example of this: Eminem’s recent album Kamikaze. In my review I pointed out that his railing against the developing tastes of the genre wouldn’t do much to transform it or endear himself to the new generation of fans he seemed hellbent on berating into submission. Effectively, Eminem is playing the role Carpenter pigeonholed himself into before this most recent project; throwing rocks at the Halloween 5s of the rap world — in Em’s mind, these are the so-called mumble rappers, or trap rappers, or crunk rappers, or ringtone rappers. You see how this cycle repeats itself. You can’t “fix” hip-hop; it doesn’t need fixing. Granted, there are a lot more elements going into the discovery, development, and promotion of new talents, and not all of it is positive.

I’m not sure signing viral personalities simply because of the number of views their latest videos have or because they have a ton of followers on Instagram is the best method for breaking new acts. It’s like the “reality TV” gimmick of Halloween: Resurrection: An attempt to seem “hip” but one that actually reveals how truly out-of-touch the producers were and how little they understand about the culture. But at the same time, firing off demeaning invective — whether on songs or in the comments sections of rap blogs and Youtube videos — doesn’t seem to be very helpful at all, especially as it seems listeners aren’t much willing to actually engage with the music they harp against, like Carpenter badmouthing the sequels he hadn’t even seen. That much seemed evident when Eminem chose to deride his newly-minted lyrical rival MGK as a “mumble rapper,” implying that he either doesn’t listen to much MGK or doesn’t actually know what a mumble rapper is supposed to sound like.

Meanwhile, the perfect counterexample to this approach and the closest to the Carpenter philosophy of “make it as good as I can,” would be J. Cole’s KOD. I know, I wasn’t entirely friendly to this album in my review of it, either. But in recent months, its grown on me. Sure, there are moments of “get off my lawn”-ism — I still cringe at that Love & Hip-Hop line from “1985,” especially in light of YBN Cordae’s stellar response to it, that Cardi B got rich from her stint on that show — but Cole’s approach was largely more productive and reasonable than Eminem’s in a lot of ways. Like Carpenter’s selection of hardcore Halloween fans David Gordon Green and Danny McBride to direct and write the new movie, Cole embraces some aspects of the new, but makes sure they’re grounded in tradition and executed with the utmost quality he can manage.

For one, rather than calling Lil Pump a “mumble rapper” or other such derisive epithet, he called him on the phone, organizing a sitdown conversation to better understand the youngster’s viewpoint. Rather than retreating further into a barricaded, recalcitrant, “real hip-hop” beachhead, Cole expanded his musical variety, trying his hand at contemporary trap styles — even if it was a little awkward in execution, it was appreciated. Rather than decrying the wackness of everything around him, Cole simply upped his game, working to make a doper version of the formula.

It has its flaws, but it works a lot better than Joe Budden constantly haranguing of Migos and Lil Yachty, or Nicki Minaj relentlessly disparaging Cardi B. Eminem can’t get people to stop liking MGK, and it’s not a zero-sum game anyway; it’s entirely possible to be a fan of both or neither. Just because The Curse Of Michael Myers was a different kind of horror movie than the original Halloween, doesn’t make it any less of an enjoyable horror flick; so it is with two approaches to hip-hop.

Everybody doesn’t have to get along, either. John Carpenter never stated that he went back and watched all those old Halloween movies, nor was he suddenly bursting with praise for Busta Rhymes’ performance in Halloween: Resurrection — although, how did Busta not win an Oscar for this moment, seriously? All jokes aside, what brought Carpenter and original Halloween scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis back to the iconic brand they created wasn’t the need to sh*t on the goofiness of prior takes on the formula, which to be honest, still have their charms. It was the opportunity to create something that met their own lofty standards, to recalibrate the conversation, and more than likely, to make truckloads of cash, which the 2018 Halloween soft reboot is currently doing.

So far, the movie has made $100 million worldwide, is the highest-grossing film of the franchise, and has already sparked chatter of revitalizing the entire slasher genre, all because it held itself to a higher standard of excellence and then actually went out and made something that met that standard, rather than standing on the sidelines throwing rocks. There are plenty of veteran rappers who could stand to update their formula, set a higher bar for themselves, and execute their visions for a better form of hip-hop. If Michael Myers can keep coming back again and again and still find a way to make a killing at the box office, so can the vets who make their living killing mics instead of frightened teens.

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