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Name: Adam Bernard
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About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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The New Old School
Friday, August 01, 2008

I was having a conversation with DJ Riz of Crooklyn Clan the other day and for a few minutes we got curmudgeonly about Hip-Hop. Like a lot of folks who are reaching, or are already in, their 30’s, we lamented the lack of knowledge younger Hip-Hop fans have of the old school. Riz, however, also brought up the interesting point that teenagers today have their own version of old school and it may surprise a lot of people to see which artists fall under their “old school” classification. If you’re around my age the list will also make you feel really really old.

I started listening to rap music when I was nine or ten years old. To make this equation easier let’s just say ten. I was ten in 1988, so anything before 1988 is my version of "old school." It just so happens, because of when I was born, all of that music also falls into the traditional definition of "old school," as well. With that timetable in mind, let’s take a look at the current incoming college freshman class, most of whom are 18 years old. They were all ten in 1998, so providing they didn't have older siblings who could introduce them to Hip-Hop earlier in life their version of “old school” starts in the mid to late 90’s.

The idea of Wu-Tang, A Tribe Called Quest, The Fugees, Redman, DMX, Onyx, Naughty By Nature, and even NORE being “old school” is painful to a lot of Hip-Hop fans. It gets us riled up when younger fans don’t know about Rakim and our favorites from our youth, but the fact of the matter is that’s two generations of artists ago, so unless they feel like being historians they’re not going to know who any of those artists are. Heck, most 18 year olds don’t even know about The Fugees. Why would they? The group had broken up before these young adults even cracked double digits in age! And unless NORE’s “Superthug” was rocking their fifth grade dances they probably have never even heard his great workout tip to “run laps around the English Channel.”

After taking all this into consideration I’ve decided to lighten up a bit on the Hip-Hop loving youth. Yeah, they say silly things like Lil’ Wayne is the greatest emcee alive and that Jay-Z and Nas are two of the all-time greats, but in all honesty it’s because they don’t know any better, and we need to stop expecting them to. One issue a lot of us older fans who’ve either been involved in the culture from day one, or at least been alive since day one, is that sometimes we get on our high horses too much and preach about “the good old days,” or “the golden era.” It’s no wonder there’s such a disconnect with younger fans, all a lot of us do is preach about how great things used to be, giving no reverence to what’s going on now that’s good.

As older fans we never had anyone preaching to us about how good Hip-Hop used to be because there was no “used to be.” It took twenty years before there was a “used to be” to reference. What we are essentially doing now is telling the next generation they should be listening to their parents’ music. Now, is that very Hip-Hop? I don’t think so.

While I may not like the plethora of young artists that are out there today I can say there are still a handful that represent the culture well and create some really good music. I know Gym Class Heroes can’t be considered young in age, but they qualify as young in the sense that they haven’t been in the public eye for very long, and they’re fantastic.

There are still plenty of reasons to get excited in Hip-Hop, but the first step has to be the realization that as older fans the concept of “old school” has shifted and the party goers of 2008 and beyond have grown up on the Hip-Hop of the new millennium. Love it or hate it, it’s a fact that a lot of our favorite artists, and a lot of the artists we revere as the greatest of all-time (and with good reason), are complete unknowns to the legions of voter-aged listeners now entering college. How we can encourage these young listeners to dive into Hip-Hop’s deep library of fantastic artists and albums is something we need to work on. Clearly the way we’re going about it is all wrong, but if young rock fans can still want to listen to The Doors, there has to be a way to get a Hip-Hop loving teenager to want to check out a Fugees CD.

Any ideas?


posted by Adam Bernard @ 2:19 PM  
  • At 5:28 PM, Blogger kats said…

    It's the way of the world Adam...can't fight the tides.

  • At 1:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I was reading another blog at hiphopdx.com about the state of hip hop's decline. The author blamed it on us: the fans who grew up to the genre since the late 70's and into the new millennium. The way he "bashed" at the fans for running the industry with their high demand for pop-rap styles and less need for spiritual, conscious true-feeding rap heads makes for internal segregation within sub-genres and endless beefs. Basically, a war between generations.

    I'm going to counter than dude. I didn't get into hip hop right away; rather, I started as a Recuerdos/Spanish listener. Dance/house music came along, R&B second, hip hop the third (the death of Biggie being a critical turning point), rock, Pocos Pero Locos, J-Pop, cartoon music, you get the picture. I'm an eclectic person who does more than study music - I study vibes. Is this song a hit or a miss, does it catch my attention? I never attack the song based on:

    1. The year and generation it was made in
    2. The race and ethnicity behind the artist or group

    I never let the newcomers get the best of my idolized veterans, but at the same time, I don't allow the O.G.s to continuously rule over the rookies. I do want balance like the reader stated, but I don't want to be one of those fans who simply keeps his stash of Grandmaster Flash and Sugar Hill Gang vinyls in my closet. I want to hear what the new generation has to say.

    After all, even though I grew up to music in the mid 80's, by entering the rap game in the year 2001, I am immediately labelled as a rapper of the newer generation.

  • At 3:54 AM, Blogger Lina said…

    Funny, during a recent lunch with a few friends ( all in our forties), a similar conversation emerged. We had a hip hop, even a rap, of sorts with players like the last poets ( talk about the N word,LOL), but the focus was more on the artistic skill of the rapper and the fun of the beat. Most importantly you could understand the lyrics no matter how fast they rapped. LOL

    I recently came some hip hop music that took me straight back to the old school days, and from a young man! The lyrics are positive and uplifting talking about the love of life rather than the struggle and the beats are dynamite.

    Didn't think I would be embracing hip hop again, but I had to put CAMIL on my play list! Check it out http://www.myspace.com/camilmusik

  • At 3:26 PM, Blogger Vadim said…

    Is it really controversial to say Nas and Jay-Z are two of the all time greats? They pretty much are. "Reasonable Doubt" and "Illmatic" are as much classics as "Paid in Full."

    Anyways I'm younger than you and I missed out on some of the truly old school and had to work my way backwards. I wasn't even old enough to really take in Yo! MTV Raps which is why I want MTV to release it on DVD so bad.

    Hell I even started a campaign about it: http://www.thepoint.com/campaigns/yo-mtv-bring-us-your-classic-dv-ds

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