There is a change going on with the people that were raised on Hip-Hop during the Golden Era and the 1990′s. Has a generation that adored Hip-Hop like a newborn started to hate it like an invasive degenerate? LL Cool J, Kevin Powell, Tha Hip-Hop Doc, Planet Asia and a lot of 30-somethings discuss these changes.
John Williams is hosting a festive gathering in his spacious home in the lower regions of Delaware Middletown to be specific. On an unseasonably warm winter day, his closest friends and family surround him and they all celebrate the newborn twins that his lovely wife birthed late last year. With his doting wife, his children, his home and his career, all of which are in perfect order, John is happier than hes ever been.
Despite all his joy, on this day, he finds one topic symbolically provides a brooding, grey cloud over the otherwise beautiful affair. Now, clocking in at 35 years old, John Williams and several of his friends cook a cornucopia of delicacies to share inside his home. He and his similarly aged friends of different races and walks of life weigh in on Hip-Hop, a culture they loved and grew up with, but now have grown to dislike.
Rap was fun in the 80s. Political in the 90s and is mostly just plain vulgar these days. I believe that the culture in the United States is changing as we become more materialistic, sexually perverse and self absorbed, John says later after the crowd disperses.
For CB, a retired battle rapper with a wife and two sons, rap is just wack now, he complains. An admitted East Coast partial fan, he says, Nowadays, I cant even name 10 artists that I really like. Lets see, he ponders. Joell Ortiz, Joe Budden, Royce Da 5’9, Common, Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West, TI, Black Thought, Crooked I and thats about it. Im stuck at nine.
Despite his admiration for a few, CB treats most current Hip-Hop music like dirty porno magazines in the 70s. It stays hidden from his kids and wife.
I have certain artists that I like that [I] will play alone in my car to and from work and such, he admits. I wont watch any Hip-Hop videos around my sons [aged four and six] or listen to any Hip-Hop music around the house as I dont really find anything that is suitable for their ears. Occasionally, a harmless song will come on a local radio station that I may let slide.
In 2007, approximately 3.8 million Americans turned 30, studies say. Statistically they are 42% older than all Americans, lost approximately 10% of their muscle mass and are likely to be having sex 2.24 times a week to be exact. Most have acquired a certain amount of experience via their breadth of experience, travels and personal interactions.
Rani G. Whitfield, a medical doctor that calls himself Tha Hip-Hop Doc, says that a number of changes occur when a person turns 30 as it pertains to urban culture.
The music has changed significantly, but so has the level of maturity at age 30. Raising children, marriage, and social networks all influence when, where, and how we listen to Hip-Hop, Whitfield maintains. Thirty-year-old parents generally make sure their children dont live down to fake notions of Black masculinity that too often are epitomized in rap music.
Congressional hopeful Kevin Powell says the radio and other entities are structures that have changed the complexion and complexity of Hip-Hop.
I love Hip-Hop – the culture – but I have a big problem with the FCC, Hip-Hop the industry, and anyone who cannot see how destructive the lyrics and images [have] been, for at least the past decade, to young people, especially the young people of color who created Hip-Hop in the first place, says Powell, who through the years has written about an assortment of artists like Tupac and penned several books.
I listen to everything, I do not believe in censorship, continues Powell. What I do believe in is balance in how we present ourselves, balance in how we view and treat women, and balance in our understanding that if you put negative out there, that it is going to come back to you sooner or later.
Back in the day, John Williams used to do a mean Michael Jackson-style moonwalk across a broken down cardboard box. He also expanded his creative mind by learning graffiti and realized he was a lousy DJ. And his many Hip-Hop incarnations are distant memories too. Dr. Up Rock, Jammin J and MC Mayhem, his alter egos, were laid to rest years ago. His favorite years are the golden era of Rap, when he was a teenager. This is when he argued fervently in the high school lunchroom about who was the best: Rakim, Kool G. Rap or Big Daddy Kane. He always fought for G. Rap, but still loved Rakim and BDK. He also treasured and admired Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy, X-Clan, Poor Righteous Teachers, Lakim Shabazz and others for their ability to spread wisdom and incite revolutionary thought.
As the 80s gave way to the 90s, Williams relished in other burgeoning collectives like Rap-A-Lot, Death Row, Cash Money, No Limit as well as rappers such as Big Pun, Canibus, Mobb Deep and others that impressed him on all fronts of Hip-Hop. He also argued that Nas was better than Biggie and Jay. All of these acts were good for the game and for a booming business.
Jenn Robinson, a self employed political consultant, was reared on rap acts like De La Soul (and other eclectic forms of music) and is completely sickened by what she hears the music industry machine pumping out.
I think [Hip-Hop now] is disgusting and that it makes Black people look uneducated, and ridiculous. I believe it perpetuates the perception that there are two types of Black people the educated type and then the rest, the 35-year-old mother of three says. I think the general Hip-Hop audience looks at the educated people as the sell outs and then the educated people look at the Hip-Hoppers as the thugs. It does not bode well for bridging the gap.
With Hip-Hop entering its mid-thirties, there is a significant difference in what a 30 to 40-year-old appreciates and a modern teen the latter being a music marketers chief target.
The aging rapper/Hip-Hopper/DJ is quite prevalent (think Jay-Z, Nas, Dr. Dre, Busta Rhymes, WC, Ice Cube, LL Cool J, DJ Kay Slay, Will Smith, Scarface), but the older Hip-Hop fan is not necessarily still loyal to them for a multitude of reasons.
Many older artists are still making music chiefly for the youth and, while their age might match up, the notion of popping bottles, flashing ice and other similar behavior doesnt necessarily correspond with a spouse, kids, a mortgage and the pursuit of stability.
For some, closing the curtain on Hip-Hop isnt necessarily a negative thing.
I dont think it can be fixed. I think its a generational thing. This, for whatever reason, is what people are buying and want to listen to now, says Ken Swain, a 32-year-old software engineer in Southern New Jersey.
LL Cool J has endured changes in Hip-Hop since the 80s, but he feels the only changes needed are on a corporate level.
I think that its about 19 records that we hear all the time [on the radio]. Its a little nasty. Its a little disgusting, Cool J says. Thats probably the only thing I would change in Hip-Hop. I would mix it up so people could get a balance.
The rapper says that he felt that his longtime label Def Jam no longer supports the type of Hip-Hop he creates. Im doing Hip-Hop for the love of Hip-Hop, he says.
Planet Asia, a rapper from the West Coast, has been out since the 90s and said that the age gap is simply the way things are. Get over it, old heads.
Kids dont want to be hella uptight. A lot of these dudes get of age and then they are like, Oh, we need to clean up Hip-Hop, he bemoans. Thats bulls**t, if you are damn near close to 40 of course you gonna say that, but you cant tell an 18, 19 year old kid to stop saying n***a.
Writer/filmmaker dream hampton (lower-case spelling is a style point) isnt one to dismiss Hip-Hop, no matter how talking heads like Bill OReilly may rally. Even when her daughter was a child, dream says she mandated her child listen to certain songs such as Biz Markie’s Pickin Boogers and dead prezs “I’m an African.”
Hampton, a 30-something Brooklyn resident, admits she doesnt have a Hip-Hop Jones anymore, but still admits to checking for exceptional lyricists like T.I.
I’m not bourgeoisie, puritanical or Christian, so what I think is vulgarpeople pretending monogamy is some ideal, war, oppression, rape, women hyphenating their last names so n***as’ll know they’re marriedothers don’t find offensive, she admonishes. I always find language fascinating. Sometimes it’s oppressive, sometimes it’s self-destructive, but rarely vulgar.”
Powell adds that disdain for Hip-Hop is not exclusive to the old heads.
I think people of all ages are saddened by the state of Hip-Hop, the industry. I hear it from teenagers all the way up to early 40-somethings, any of us who grew up and came of age with the culture, know the history of the music, and know the kind of quality, across the board, that once existed. It is an understanding, on some level, that there is a big difference between Hip-Hop culture and the Hip-Hop industry, and that the industry side, which passes off anything as good music, has done major damage to Hip-Hop culture.
These days, the 30 and up crowd have greatly expanded their listening or have gone back to the very music they grew up loving.
John Williams and others interviewed for this story expressed pleasure in listening to Beyonce, U2, Joss Stone, Maroon 5, M.I.A., White Stripes, Ne-Yo, Omarion, Amy Winehouse, Ciara, Gwen Stefani, Feist, John Legend, Leela James, Lily Allen, Mary J. Blige, The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Rakim. G Rap, Lyte, Pharcyde, Talib Kweli, Fabolous, Outkast, Nas and a broad, colorful assortment of other artists.
Furthermore, other cultural elements become important to the aging rap head.
The bottom line at age 30, the decision to celebrate the culture and true elements of Hip-Hop becomes more important than just enjoying the music, says Dr. Whitfield. But how could you not get up and dance to Planet Rock?
And now John Williams is left with decisions in the midst of his changing life.
After being the consummate B-Boy, Williams is hopeful even though he has relaxed on listening to Hip-Hop.
If you really listen, you hear the variety coming back to rap. Im not a fan of Souljah Boy, but I can appreciate that hes relatively harmless and fun for the kids, he says weeks later. On the other side, Public Enemy, Talib and Common all dropped albums in the last year. Im actually happy. Theres room for everything, but some of us old heads just have to look harder and support more.
** John Williams is a real person, but his name has been changed, because he doesnt want people to think he really hates Hip-Hop. His wife is happy and his kids are healthy.