Sometimes Facebook becomes such an effective platform for people to express their thoughts about matters that actually matter. A recent comment by one of my friends on Facebook stirred my emotions about one of the most powerful influences in my life: music. Scott Poulson-Bryant, a person I consider to be a scholar, teacher, and pioneer as one of the founders of Vibe Magazine posted "I used to love Hip Hop but I don't love it anymore[.]" While you may think people were incensed by the post, most people, including myself, agreed.
We shared stories of how we fell in love with a genre that defined so many things for us in the 1980's and '90's. As lovers of hip hop, most of us responded by expressing our belief that hip hop is not dead but a significant percentage of today's music is very different from the music that made us dance, do a little romance, and become cultural aware back in the day. These days, there seems to be a disconnection from the roots of hip hop and today's commercially promulgated form.
Like any love relationship that is in jeopardy, hip hop fans falling out of love might need something akin to an "Iyanla, fix my life" intervention. People tend to fall out of love with people or things because something changed in a less than stellar way. If I could call Iyanla to fix my relationship with hip hop, she might ask if my love started to fall apart when I saw too many nearly naked women dancing in music videos. After all, I was part of the cheering section when MC Lyte and Queen Latifah proved hip hop was not an exclusive men's club. Iyanla might would wonder if the misogynistic lyrics made me scream "I'm done!" Possibly she would tell me to summon the courage to confront the commercialized, often overproduced, record company regurgitations of prior hits versus innovative underground lyricism that does not get advertised via paid YouTube promotions. At that point I might cry as I clutch my LL Cool J vinyl of I Need Love.
Flashback: Scott Poulson-Bryant with LL Cool J at a Run-DMC show inNew York City the night Rudolph Giuliani was elected Mayor in 1993. (Photo Credit: Scott Poulson-Bryant personal archives.)
Beyond the beats, rhythms, and rhymes, the hip hop vibes of yesteryear were organic, spontaneous, fun, sexy, and introspective. The raw, unadulterated feel came from performers who took the 'street feel' into the recording studio as inner city griots. Sometimes you got all of those vibes in one song. Back in the day, rappers and performers like De La Soul, Biggie, Tupac, A Tribe Called Quest, and EPMD created songs embracing the rhythm and blues, jazz, and soul music traditions. They sampled their momma and daddy's music. Momma and daddy may not have understood the metaphorical musings but we understood a good riff when we heard it. Could it be that hip hop during the early years felt authentic because rappers expressed contemporary situations in their lyrics while paying homage to the African American music tradition that gave birth to hip hop?
Hip hop has evolved with new lyricists, producers, and beat creators. Evolution is necessary for growth in any form of self-expression. Folks become uncomfortable when evolution begins to feel less like going through an awkward growth period and more like digression into a dark age. It can be argued that hip hop is on shaky ground because some of the newer artists are approaching the genre without a musically historic context or foundation.
At times I find it heartbreaking to hear hip hop artists on the come up who know very little about the genre's music of the 1970's through '90's. For instance, they will know Nas and Jay-Z's early work but if you talk about how EPMD sampled Aretha Franklin's Rock Steady in the song I'm Housin', Public Enemy's Terminator X showing off mad skills on Bring the Noise, or the magnificence of sampling The J.B.'s Pass the Peas intermixed with brilliant cut and scratch techniques on Eric B. and Rakim's I Ain't No Joke, nothing resonates. It feels like asking a person who says they are a classical musician if they every studied Beethoven or a filmmaker if they know the work of Francis Ford Coppola or Martin Scorsese but all you get is a blank stare.
Maybe I am a purist or a lover of the good 'ol hip hop days but I believe music becomes great because newcomers learn from the old school and inject new school flavor into the formula. I hope hip hop will have a renaissance. Like Mary J. Blige "I'm looking for a real love" to set my heart free with hip hop again. I want to feel the tingle down my spine again like the first time I heard Twice Inna Lifetime on the Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star album. Maybe old school hip hop lovers like me need to find their old d.j. mixtapes, get them digitized, and send them to the emerging generation of hip hop lovers to prevent that musical foundation from falling into the ocean of forgotten history. A little musical discipleship can go a long way.
So let's get the turntables spinning and musical love affair juices flowing. I may not be in love with hip hop anymore but the music is still near and dear to my heart.
And the beat goes on.