What is Real Hip-Hop?
According to the history books, hip-hop was born 11th August 1973, with a young Clive Campbell aka DJ Kool Herc spinning records at his sister’s birthday party located at 1520 Sedgewick Avenue in the Bronx. The date and location of our genre’s birth can be argued but this article isn’t an origin story. The aim of this piece is to decipher what constitutes “real” hip-hop.
My inspiration to explore this subject came from an interview with French Montana (don’t laugh, ok hear me out!) from 2014, where he basically stated the era of the lyrical rapper had come to an end. Fair to say, I as much as any “true” hip-hop fan felt a range of emotions while reading this. First came anger, then came laughter and then I forgot about it and ordered a Chinese takeaway (salt and chilli chicken btw). Then months later his incredible statement came back into my mind and I started to wonder… Does this mean the music French makes is not hip-hop when compared to say… Nas, Big Daddy Kane or Rakim?
Before we answer this let me clarify my position. Being born in 1990, I didn’t really experience the so-called golden generation first hand, my true introduction to the culture completely reeks of cliché, you know the story, white kid buys Eminem album, but it was this first taste that lead me to find out more about Dre, then the other members of NWA and before long I could name any of the big artists of the 80’s and 90’s. Then as the likes of 50 Cent and The Game began to dominate the airwaves I found Immortal Technique, the first independent artist I truly listened to, followed by Diabolic, Brother Ali and Atmosphere. This was a whole new world, the sensation of knowing artists’ others didn’t was like a drug. Luckily for me this phase ran right through the dark age of mainstream rap where even Nas wondered if Hip-hop was dead (on an ironically poor album). After this low point, a new dawn emerged where rappers such as Kendrick Lamar and J Cole showed that lyricism in mainstream Hip-Hop was far from deceased. Admittedly all new hip-hop hasn’t had this lyrical streak, Future and Migos have virtually made whole careers out of saying nothing, not necessarily what I want to listen to at home, yet, if I’m in a club, I love that shit, all the while doing the weird arm movements and saying words like “turnt” and “lit” (ask !ll Blacka about the video I sent the other week at 4am..).
Still, the artists I listen to on a daily basis are more often than not, the “real music” many purists and backpackers often talk about (shown in #DiamondsinTheDirt). Nonetheless, I always try to steer clear of being labelled a purist. I simply detest the idea that I should limit myself to only listening to Krs-one, while sitting in a dark room, pretending that I still find everything he does exciting and relevant. Now I expect to get some heat for that previous sentence, but, while I give credit to the pioneers of the genre such as him. I’ve been through that phase of trying to enjoy an artist’s music because I SHOULD, I know there’s many people that still think this way and honestly this opinion is almost as cancerous French Montana’s.
Now to be able to answer the question at hand, we need to look to another even older genre, rock, which since its inception in the late 1940’s has splintered into countless sub-genres over the years, are any of these not rock? The same applies to Hip-Hop there is always going to be the party rappers, the conscious rappers, backpackers and the thugs. My view is whether you believe the music to be bad or good, It’s all hip-hop.