I played back-to-back classic hip-hop parties this past weekend. I teamed up with two of my favorite DJ colleagues in DC, we had a blast and smashed on both nights but the crowds couldn’t have been more different. One crowd was full of serious heads who got more excited the deeper we went in the mix. The other crowd was more diverse, significantly younger, and only really moved by the same hits that everyone knows. One party-goer described my set from that night as “hybrid house jazzy hip hop.” Pete Rock in particular got a thumbs down and I double-checked the track list for house music but couldn’t find any.
I was reminded that when it comes to hip-hop these days, most people have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about.
Not exactly breaking news, I know.
When I was younger and wore hip-hop like a shield of identity, I’d be quick to check you on hip-hop dogma, then I’d strike a b-boy pose. Now that I’m getting older, I’ve started to feel like something was wrong with me. Like I’m the fuddy-duddy who refuses to change with the times. Talking to folks, reading these websites and being in the DJ booth trenches with my comrades are making me realize it’s not me.
This isn’t about people showing up to The Main Ingredient and requesting Gucci Mane with a straight face. The folks in that alternate dimension who think the world revolves around “swag”, tattoos and Patron are a separate discussion and might as well be on another planet. I’m talking about the folks who ride for hip-hop as hard as I used to, except their zeal is fueled by ignorance.
Hip-hop raised me and molded me but on my journey as a DJ and creative soul, I’m always adding new sounds, styles and genres to my portfolio of experience. Ultimately I’m a music person. I always seek to paint from an ever widening palette whether I’m spinning records or making them. I no longer identify myself as hip-hop, pretty much because no matter what I do, it’ll always BE hip-hop. It’s a lens that shapes my perception outside of my conscious awareness. It’s my internal rhythm. It’s not something that I have to proclaim or debate. It’s something I’ve lived so long that it’s like breathing, yet it’s still one dimension among many that I can access when expressing myself musically.
You don’t have to have the same experience in order to love hip-hop. You don’t have to spend 20 years and tens of thousands of dollars collecting records. You don’t have make a pilgrimage to the Bronx or perfect a six-step. I understand being zealous about hip-hop. The difference between my experience and what I’m seeing today is the lack of humility about what you DON’T know.
For instance. I love jazz. I started learning about it in high school. I’ve been to a lot of shows and collected a lot of music. I’ve even performed with jazz musicians. But I’d never critique an expert jazz musician without knowing what I was talking about backwards and forwards. So out of all the assholes that regularly give us grief in the DJ booth, why are the most rabid ones almost always on some hip-hop related bullshit?
These days people have a surface grasp of hip-hop combined with a warped sense of entitlement. And there’s a significant thirst for validation involved too. I don’t know if it’s really about the music or the times we live in. The latter is influential, because there seems to be a correlation between talking loud and saying nothing about hip-hop and the ease with which people feel comfortable spouting off on the internet. But I focus on the music because that’s where I’m most engaged.
What is it about hip-hop makes those with the least to say speak loudest? Why are you too lazy to care about anything beyond the same 20 records that we’ve caning to death for 20 years? Maybe it’s because no one listens to albums anymore. I thought I no longer cared but it still gets to me sometimes.