(Above: a comparison of age among today's hottest hip-hop acts. Click the image to zoom.)
"There's still a stubbornness, man. There's a lot of people who don't like me, don't understand. But then again, there's a lot that do. It's just gonna take some time. We're not gonna win everybody over right now. And there's a lot of people who only want to f--- with [DJ] Premier beats and the Black Milks — two very dope producers, by the way — but they're stubborn, you know? They won't be into a TV on the Radio record. They won't be into a Gaga feature. They want the boom-bap. But the boom-bap is still here, it's just evolved a little, you know what I'm saying?"
This quote by Wale (taken from this MTV News article) speaks for a new generation of hip-hop lovers who are ready for the game to evolve. Problem is, too many skeptics have become so comfortable with what defines hip-hop, that it has limited the genre from maturing properly with time.
According to Bakari Kitwana's book Hip Hop Generation, those who are truly part of hip-hop's birth and development were born between the years of 1965-1984. I barely missed the cut (he also said you have to be black), but all you 30-somethings are welcome to test me if you think I don't know my hip-hop. I dare you.
This older generation of hip-hop "purists" are quick to ignore what's going on with hip-hop as it continues to transform. If it's not making your head nod the same way KRS-One did in the '80s, or it's not as "gangsta" as Death Row in the '90s, it ain't shit to you. And that's cool with me. But please, generation before me, please: do not get in the way of what has the potential to be something special. Your generation got their own version of hip-hop, and now it's time to let us get ours.
Of the four original elements of hip hop culture (MCing, DJing, graffiti, and breakdancing), only one remains an *essential* part of the game anymore. Lyrical prowess will always be there. But these original elements grew tired. Then gangsta rap killed itself. Soon enough, "bling bling" went bankrupt. Remember when hip-hop was about having fun? That is exactly what this "new school" is trying to accomplish.
I used to judge what really defined "hip-hop" in terms of its lyrical "value." So much did I hold a distinction between the two genres that I organized them separately in my iTunes library. It used to be easy to organize: "hip-hop" contained conscious collections (Tribe, De La, and Mos Def), while "rap" held a potpourri of party anthems and gangsta classics (Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, Ludacris). In recent years, however, it's become painfully difficult to define which is which. For example, where do I put the Cool Kids? The duo doesn't spit about anything remotely important, but clearly pays homage to its "b-boy" predecessors through its old-school production.
In an effort to find where the line is drawn, I've concluded that there is no line. Like what you like, take the music for what it is, and enjoy. There's too much good stuff out there to argue over what is or isn't "real hip-hop."
Most hip-hop heads fell in love with this music because it was something new, something different. Today's artists are doing that more than ever -- Wale with TV on the Radio, Izza Kizza with Colin Munroe, Kanye West with his flavors of the week -- is this so different than the so-called "groundbreaking" sound of Run-DMC and Aerosmith's "Walk This Way?" Getting in the way of this development goes against the very principles on which hip-hop was founded, and haters are too busy hating to recognize that.
In ten years or sooner, there will be a healthy array of "old-school rap" stations on the airwaves -- er, Internet -- because no genre can truly last forever. But the name "hip-hop" will never disappear, even for new music. To call an artist like Wale "not hip-hop" because a pop singer is on his hook, is 100% absurd. Longtime hip-hop fans, you have two options: come along for the ride, or get left behind. This ain't your uncle's hip-hop game anymore.