Sunday, May 22, 2011

Old School Hip-Hop Revivalists

The New York Times has a pretty neat article called "White Rappers Paying Homage to the Past". It's definitely worth a read for Rap fans, but here's the main point: The current trend for white rappers seeking respect is a fight to revive Hip-Hop's past. You can't go wrong traveling beaten paths. Insightful but I felt part of the story was missing, so I'm throwing in my take as an 11-year Hip-Hop DJ.

First, kudos. Someone at the Times must be a pretty big hip-hop head to recognize the 5 second homage to "Smoothe da Hustler ft. Trigger tha Gambler - Broken Language" in the Action Bronson track. I specialize in hip-hop circa 1995 and I barely hear of it (though the instrumental definitely makes the rounds). Unsurprising that it's obscure though, it's a 4 minute song with no chorus, just one giant verse with the same formula throughout -- listing a bunch of things that they are. Gotta admire sticking to themes.

The thesis of the article is an interesting one: many white rappers these days see themselves as preservationalists and throwback artists. Their next example was Beastie Boys, which is a bit off because that's not a sign of the times. The Beastie Boys have rapped like it's '86
since it was '86.

Really what I think you've got here is that Hip-Hop has always been a bitterly nostalgic genre. Case in point, that very 1995 track paid homage to Big Daddy Kane, whose peak relevance was in 88.

It's not necessarily a white thing, more of an underground hip-hop thing. There are plenty of examples of black rappers, underground and mainstream alike referencing tracks like
Slick Rick's La Di Da Di from 1985 ("La Di Da Di, we like to party..."). Amazingly, in that song Slick Rick was ALREADY complaining
about rappers biting his rhymes, and they're still doing it 25 years later.

If there has been a resurgence of the old school revivalist theme (such as Wu-Tang's recent "Take It Back", Black Eyed Peas "Bringin It Back" several albums ago when they were good, and virtually the entire Jurassic 5 catalog), I would ascribe it to the appeal of Hip-Hop as an
underdog genre. It's reached mainstream popularity dominating the charts, so we look back fondly to the days where it was relatively esoteric. As with grunge and many others, the hardcore fanbase feels let down now that our pride and joy has been warped toward popularity.

Identifying a trend with "White Rappers" is bound to get more readers, though.

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