Some people call it rap, some call it crap, some people call it hip-hop and get told off because hip-hop is the culture don't you know; rap is the music - but there are rap artists who will call out and sound-off and shout-out to "hip-hop music". You're allowed to do that if you're a rapper, you see. But one thing you cannot do is knock the culture, the movement, the music.
Hip-hop (and we're going to call it that for the purposes of this post) is the last musical genre/movement/lifestyle to take itself (too) seriously.
Heavy metal knows that the joke can be on it and it can be part of the joke. Punk music is, largely, a joke these days, whether it wants to be or not. There's more of a punk spirit in so many other genres - folk music, actual folk music (and defining that is another post for another day of course) always had more of a punk spirit than punk music as far as I'm concerned.
Classical isn't all that stuffy (anymore), there is no such thing as alternative anymore (if there every - really - was) and jazz: well that doesn't smell funny. It's just dead. Or whatever it was Zappa said.
But hip-hop - that's where the problems are at, yo.
For a genre that wants to be acknowledged for its cleverness, for the magpie moves of taking from all other genres (not just literally taking: stealing - but actually being informed by a range of music/s), hip-hop music doesn't end up being all that all-inclusive.
Now there are plenty of hip-hop artists that show a great sense of humour as well as humility; artists that use the medium to offer a message. Some of my favourite music comes from the genre, or exists in that space - whether marketed to fit the genre or created by learned disciples tied to the movement.
But come on - it's just music.
All this talk of "the elements", this almost nonsensical use of "consciousness", the belligerent spiel about knowing the history - let's go back to Louis Armstrong's idea of two kinds of music: good and bad.
That'll do nicely.
The attempts to over-intellectualise hip-hop are what's holding it back. The see-and-be-seen scene that pervades, most obviously at live gigs, is an insult when this music is so open to being influenced from so many walks of life but the fans doting on it are so sure that there's a particular look and feel and sound - and a particular way of acting to acknowledge this.
Part of fandom is about forming clubs, or pacts - you're in it together because you're passionate, you're excited, you're knowledgeable, the music is a participatory experience; in that sense it is a sport, you turn out for the event and meet up with your team-mates, you're in it together, there's a common goal.
There is nothing wrong with this - beyond the fact that fan comes from the word fanatical.
But hip-hop fans are actually killing their code. The passion is choking it - there's a desperation for it to be taken so seriously and for it to be understood. If you don't like it it's because you don't get it. If you don't get it it's because you don't know the history.
The measurement we should always use is how the music makes us feel.
Supporting a movement is fine - it might even be admirable. But assess the music on its worth.
Is it good music? Or is it good hip-hop music? Shouldn't it be both to actually be successful?
You can like The Roots whether you're a hip-hop fan or not. Some could argue that you are a hip-hop fan for liking The Roots. It could also be argued that The Roots are not hip-hop - they've not just transcended the genre, they've transformed it; they've left a thin husk of it trailing in their wake.
Well that should apply to any artist - hip-hop or otherwise. A Meshuggah fan just might love a bunch of similar bands, or it might only be Meshuggah that does what it does. A Mastodon fan might like other hard-rock and metal too - or it might be that Mastodon scratches the itch.
So why does hip-hop have this paranoid delusion that it is greater and more important than it is? That it needs to be assessed as a collective, as a movement? Can't it be assessed piece by piece, album by album, gig by gig?
Why are the walls up when it comes to criticism but the door is open if you're prepared to walk that way all day?
Hip-hop's swagger has been cut short by its uptight fans desperate for it to be taken seriously. They're doing more damage than they realise. Just let the great tracks - and albums and performances - be discovered by people whose ears are open.
What do you think? Do you think hip-hop is its own worst enemy? Do you think the fans (and some performers) are too committed to the pack/clan idea and there's desperation in the constant braying for its legitimacy?
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