For the past three days, it seems like everyone — “everyone” being defined here as rap fans of a certain age and disposition — has been losing their minds over Ice Spice’s Halloween costume and performance at Power 105.1’s Powerhouse concert that night. Dressed as iconic 1930s cartoon character Betty Boop, Ice Spice’s short-cut dress is riling up old-school hip-hop heads as an emblem of the genre’s perceived decline in quality and class.
Which is utter horseshit.
Now, before this turns into yet another of hip-hop culture’s near-constant internecine generation wars, I want to make one thing clear: People are entitled to their opinions and the internet has been custom-designed over the past decade to ensure that everyone has a platform to share those opinions. But come on, man. It is truly an inane outlook to dump all over a 21-year-old kid for doing what 21-year-old kids have done for at least the past 100 years.
Here’s an example of one of the crotchety, get-off-my-lawn-ass takes that have proliferated online since the performance. Veteran rapper Nikki D posted an Instagram response to the performance — along with a video of it, which… — writing, “You mean to tell me, this is true talent.. the Female genre of hip hop today is the ‘prostitution era’, fight me!!”
Okay, I will.
Perhaps the Germans have a word for the emotion this sort of thing evokes for me. I am amused, yes, at how silly it is to get so mad over someone’s HALLOWEEN COSTUME (cue Lindsay Lohan’s Mean Girls voiceover explaining the appeal of Halloween to just about anyone under 40), but I am also entirely disheartened to see “my” generation (okay, I’m technically an “old” millennial where Nikki is Gen X) turn into our boomer parents.
I’m old enough to remember when hip-hop — as a whole — was being painted with a broad brush. Devil music, they called it. To hear our elders tell it, rap music was solely responsible for a rise in violent crime, teen pregnancy, and general churlishness in young adults throughout the late ’80s and ’90s, blaming the music for everything from lewd dancing at parties to the Columbine shootings (they had a point about the churlishness, though).
And we pushed back, hard. In fact, so much of hip-hop’s anti-establishment, pro-shock value demeanor of the era (and since) has been a direct response to this tut-tutting from authority figures like Barbara Bush and C. Delores Tucker. If “F*ck The Police” — a righteous response to police brutality — was so bad, then the later gangsta rap only doubled down on the more garish elements of that song to clap back at those pearl-clutching haters.
Likewise, I’m not totally sure that Nikki — and the rest of her fellow over-50 hip-hop heads — remember tuning in at 3pm to watch rappers like Lil Kim and Foxy Brown flaunt their fannies on Rap City, but I sure do (not specifically, but they were on there). Rap heads of a certain age sure supported it back then — what’s changed?
And to be clear, this is not just Ice Spice they do it to. Cardi B, City Girls, Latto, Megan Thee Stallion, Nicki Minaj, and more have all fielded similar complaints, which have only gotten more and more strident in the past few years. Remember the absolute emotional breakdown people had over “WAP?” Snoop Dogg — THEE Snoop Dogg, who made “Ain’t No Fun” at the height of his popularity — insinuated Cardi and Meg had gone too far.
Now, screaming hypocrisy aside, Nikki’s statement did make some decent points. “Where’s her show production?” she wondered. “And for god sake PLEASE STOP singing over those studio vocals it’s not a live show at that point.” But couching valid performance criticism in slut shaming basically overshadows the good advice she’s giving.
For what it’s worth, I’ve been ambivalent about some of the newer rappers’ stage shows myself. The twerk breaks, generally speaking, have been crowd-pleasers, eliciting a pop at pretty much all the Cardi/Latto/Meg shows I’ve been to for work over the past five years. On the other hand, it’s pretty disappointing for me, having grown up watching A Tribe Called Quest, Little Brother, Missy Elliott, and yes, OG sex rappers like Kim and Fox put on true displays of stage presence, choreography, and personality — without backing tracks, mind you.
Would I love to see Ice Spice or Latto make it through an entire verse, let alone a song, without stopping to turn away from the audience (what used to be an onstage no-no) to shake their assets for a quick pop? Sure. But given how quickly today’s stars blow up without the prerequisite grind and slow climb that used to be standard artist development back in the day, I can’t say I blame them. There’s more competition and for an audience that knows what it wants, you give them what they came to see, not necessarily what online hecklers are going to nitpick about after the fact.
But to those online nitpickers: Chill out. Try to remember when you were a young adult being admonished by your elders for being too “fast,” for dressing “like a ho,” or for “showing too much skin.” Think about how bad that felt for you, and whether you want to pass that down. I’ve written extensively about how rap’s double standard hurts the genre as a whole; would you rather contribute to it or help make the genre better with good, empathetic advice, offered without judgment and aimed at helping today’s artists be the best they can be? Hopefully, it’s the latter.