“I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now, what I’m with isn’t it, and what is it seems weird and scary to me.” – Abraham Simpson
“How many Hip-Hop fans does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Three. One to screw it in, and two to argue about how much better lightbulbs were made back in ’94.” – Sage Francis
Recently, my fellow blogger, homie and GetOnDaMic partner Adam Bernard published a piece on the “Myth” of the golden age in rap music. In it, he states that the idea of a “Golden Age” in rap, or anything, is the product of wishful wistfulness. Whether it be the rose colored glasses of people not remembering how many awful songs were out at the time of the great ones or late-comers nostalgic for an age that never existed, Adam goes on to state the further implications this mindstate has, leading to a depleted creative pool with a redundant output. It ends with SPOILER ALERT a reminder that there’s plenty of good rap artists still out there and one need only look to realize the genre is just as good as ever. It’s a good article and while I agree a lot with what Adam writes, I think there is a case to be made when determining a Hip-Hop “Golden Age.”
For one thing, “golden ages” are often idealized because of what could be done in them that could never happen today. The planets aligned, the chips fell, lightning struck and left just as soon as it arrived. Look at the “Golden Age” of film where a movie like Metropolis* can have hundreds-upon-thousands of extras in a single shot within an elaborate constructed set not remotely feasible by today’s standards. The Hip-Hop equivalent would be sample laws. The production on everything from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Paul’s Boutique to Critical Beatdown would be a licensing nightmare. Will hodgepodge albums like that every be made with such regularity again? Probably not. While I do love what innovations there are in today’s regional rap climates around the country, it’s unfortunate that even post-Mashup craze there’s been little leeway is sample license legislation.
As for the other “Golden Agers,” I have a theory.
If magic is all we’ve ever known, then it’s easy to forget what really goes on. But I’ve seen miracles every day, and I’ve seen miracles in every way. I believe that everyone’s all time favorite music, no matter what, will always be the music they played the most their senior year of high school. While it’s easy for many to just look back and think “Well yeah, that’s because I was a senior during THE GOLDEN AGE,” that might just be the problem. It’s a time when your high school career is basically over, the wheels are in motion to already determine where your next year will be and you have one last span of a few months to really devote to a carefree music indulgence. You were able to immerse yourself in your personal soundscape and really believed, out of everything out there, those songs were the best. It’s also a time of countless firsts and lifelong memories which, even subconsciously, these songs will always be linked to. “Golden Ager” listeners will then spend the rest of their lives with an invested interest in these artists that festers into either actively following them or the occasional curious Google. “Golden Ager” artists, on the other hand, spend their entire careers attempting to remake their favorite songs to recreate that feeling in listeners despite the fact that what made it matter to them so much in the first place was how new and different it was.
These discussions are only going to intensify as we’re currently sifting through Hip-Hop’s first generation gap. Today’s young rappers grew up with both parents listening to the genre as what was once a cutting edge counter-culture is now THE institution. As a teacher I can tell you first had how kids in Harlem use the likes of Disturbed and other hard rock outfits as their “too deep and dangerous for my parents” music. Even from a traditionalist standpoint, rap is the by-product of the Hip-Hop YOUTH culture. If anything, the division between the “this is the Golden Age” camps shows how the genre is alive and well. Let’s not forget Melle Mel hated KRS-ONE, Common dissed NWA** and Tupac compared New York to Nazi Germany. There’s a reason why Bambaataa didn’t make a funk record when he made “Renegades of Funk” and that’s because he was a renegade. That’s why everyone’s “Golden Ages” exist because today all that glitters is what’s found in the (inhaling deeply) gold-dust.
So until next time…let’s agree to agree!
*I mean the actual movie, not whatever Janelle Monet likes to pretend she saw.
**Let’s not pretend this “wasn’t a dis.” It’s the same boom-bap dinosaur conscious posturing that’s going on today. Dietcokegapterminator:salvation.