Hip-Hop – when compared to other genres of music, it is relatively new. However, since its birth in 1973, Hip-Hop has seen numerous forms. From the early days of break driven cuts, to the first introduction of the Emcee in a larger role, to today’s so-called “Mumble Rap” with beats more suitable for the strip club than the streets, there is no doubt that Hip-Hop has changed.
For the most part, the argument could be made that the changes have always been for the betterment of the culture. From the the mid seventies to the “Golden Era” in the nineties, DJ’s used ever changing technical skills to develop more complex beats, and Emcees followed suit with more dynamic rhymes – sometimes even inventing totally new ways to put words together; (Think Das EFX.)
For those of us who came up listening to Hip-Hop, (I myself was in my early twenties in ’94), it will always be hard to compete with the quality of those years. So yes, I may be biased. However, it is undeniable that some of the most legendary and game-changing albums in all of Hip-Hop history came out in the years between ‘92 and ‘96. From Biggie to Pac, Souls of Mischief to Tribe, these years will forever be seen as not only a pinnacle, but also the years that brought Hip-Hop into the mainstream and showed the world that the ghetto had a voice.
There were more groundbreaking albums in these years than you can count. But even among this massive pile of legendary sounds, one stood out as arguably the best in all of Hip-Hop history; Illmatic. Nas’ debut album painted such a vivid lyrical picture that it transported the listener right into the streets of Queens, and showed life exactly the way Nas saw it. With a fleet of legendary DJ’s like Premier, Pete Rock, Q-tip and Large Professor, Illmatic showed the power of Hip-Hop, and it is still as good today as it was the day it came out.
Earlier this week, freshman pro basketball player and junior league rapper, Lonzo Ball, made the claim that rappers like Future and Migos are “Real Hip-Hop,” and that “No one listens to Nas anymore.” Despite being a young genre, Hip-Hop has always had a few things that never changed. It is aspirational, it helps elevate yourself and your community, it’s educational, empowering and enlightening for the goal of “being eye-to-eye with the higher ups”, as Jay-Z would say.
Hip-Hop is informative. From artists like KRS-One to Public Enemy, Hip-Hop has always sought to reach out and teach. Hip-Hop can showcase everything from drive-bys and stickup kids, to rollerskating on a Saturday. It paints a picture of our lives, for better or worse.
One thing you could always say is that above all else, Hip-Hop knew and respected those that came before; those that paved the way and opened the doors for Hip-Hop to continue to grow; until now. With one sentence, Lonzo Ball showed the public at large what real heads have known since Lil Yachty embarrassed himself on Flex’s show; in the words of Nas, “Hip-Hop Is Dead”.
Although I’m not a fan of Yachty, and Lonzo has yet to even prove himself as anything, either in Hip-Hop or basketball, comments like his show a pattern that is not only disrespectful, but is actually taking the culture backwards. Not only have these young rappers like Future, Migos and Yachty disrespected the game, but by taking lyricism out of Hip-Hop, they have removed the very thing that made the music great; the voice. Whether it was the actual voice of the Emcee, or the words they used to give voice to a topic, personal or political, the rise of the lyricist is one of the things that changed Hip-Hop from a simple way to hype a party to a powerful force for change.
It has been said that those who don’t learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. But in this case, repeating history would be a step in the right direction. With Yachty calling Biggie overrated, and saying he couldn’t name five songs by Pac or B.I.G., he gave a degree of credibility to disrespecting Rap history. He went on to say that his reason for not knowing was because he hadn’t been born yet. By this logic, that’s like being a painter and not knowing who Rembrandt was.
I don’t think that every young rapper needs to know the entire history of the genre, and I don’t need to hear tributes to the older Gods in every song made this year, but knowing this little about the game that had made him a millionaire should embarrass him. While Illmatic will forever be considered possibly the greatest Hip-Hop album of all time, these young rappers should remember that even to this day, you can put Illmatic on and it is still as good as the first time you heard it. Until Yachty, Migos, Future or any other of the new generation can make a record like that, I’ll stick with being outdated.
Sure, it may be true, perhaps no one in their twenties listens to Nas. But no one listens to Lonzo Ball either.