“All these old people talking about how it needs to stay the same. People just need to suck it up and understand that rap ain’t the same no more. I don’t have to spit a cold 16 no more, fuck that shit bro. If I wanna make some turnt shit bro, if I wanna make say ‘yah’ the whole track and it turn up people because the beat turned up, fuck it.
I’m making a song called “Yah.” It’s the not the same no more bro, niggas is not doing spin moves on cardboard no more. Who cares? [DJ: There’s also the Kendricks and the Coles] and I respect them 100% but don’t make everyone be like that!”
Lil Yachty is right. Rap isn’t the same as it was 20 years ago, nor should it be. There’s always been tension between a new generation and the one that came before it. The younger generation usually want to break free and create on their own terms. The older generation usually want their influence to be visible in the younger generation’s work.
A common statement you’ll hear is, “These kids today don’t know real hip-hop!” And, for this person, Real Hip-Hop became crystallized in the mid-’90s. The beat should have a boom and a bap and it needs to be “lyrical.” Never mind that a lot of the lyrical content back then was just long words that vaguely rhymed.
Other issues with ’90s hip-hop include its lengthy and unnecessary sex skits, all those songs that relied on a small set of samples from DeBarge and Isley Brothers and a glut of bad rappers (don’t bring up how Wu-Tang got you into lyricism and then act like U-God wasn’t a prominent Wu member.) So, all in all, it wasn’t the land of milk and honey that the Real Hip-Hop Clan (RHHC) like to make out it was.
But the RHHC tend to think that owning Gangstarr’s discography means they now own hip-hop and can decide what it is and what it isn’t – and, more boringly, lecture you on the good ‘ol days. It’s this crowd that Lil Yachty was likely referring to in the above quote. But Yachty was right in that hip-hop is an ever-evolving art form, not cemented into a certain state.
At the end of the day, music is about moving people. Super lyrical-miracle rapping moved people to think; Lil Yachty’s music moves people to… well, move. One isn’t more valid than the other. After all, didn’t one of the biggest ’90s songs end every line with “like whoa?” The desire of the RHHC to make hip-hop a linear path is counterproductive, as music has always evolved and resisted such linearity.
Punk reacted to the excessive, self-serious noodling of prog rock. Grime reacted to garage. Even the type of hip-hop now known as traditional reacted to what came before it. Music doesn’t move in a clear linear path from simple to complicated. Instead, there’s pushback against what previous generations were doing.
As you get older, they’ll always be music you don’t get, because it wasn’t made for you. It’s the circle of life. Plus, in the age of the internet, there’s something for everyone. There’s no shortage of “traditional” rappers out there to sate your boom-bap tastebuds. Once we go through the likes of Kendrick, J. Cole and Vince Staples, there’s rappers such as Logic, Skyzoo and Action Bronson. So, if there’s still plenty of “traditional” hip-hop out there, what’s the RHHC’s problem?
Furthermore, the revered rappers who the RHHC use to pit against the new school of rappers are actually fans of the latter. Nas fans probably threw away their book of rhymes when he said he was a fan of Future. Andre 3000 is a fan of Young Thug, and Pusha T challenged Hot 97 personality Ebro over Rae Sremmurd. Ebro had been pushing back on Rae Sremmurd over Complex placing them at Number 3 on their year end list. Pusha T went on the radio show and said this:
“They make songs that I can’t make, literally. I wouldn’t make those songs, but I know how to enjoy their music fully… They make records that work on the radio. A lot of times records that work on the radio have a level of corniness to me. I don’t feel like their records are corny.”
The first part of that sentence is important. Pusha T said that he couldn’t make a Rae Sremmurd song. Making songs that work well for turning up is often dismissed as the easy way out, but in fact it takes a different set of skills. There was once a time when RHHC-types used to disparage The Neptunes during their club reign, dismissing them as “too simple” and not like the greats before them. Now, everyone looks back on those Neptunes years fondly, and Pharrell is widely respected in the same circles as a great producer.
In 2015, GZA wrote an article bemoaning the state of lyricism today. In it, he said, “hip-hop started with street poets with great lyrical skills, and that’s what hip-hop has always been about for me.” The key words in that sentence are “for me.”
Music will always evolve in a multi-layered fashion. Let everyone else enjoy hip-hop how they want to, as the world is big enough for all its various permutations and versions. Kendrick Lamar and Lil’ Yachty can exist at the same time, so there’s no need to sweat the technique.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
- Lead Image: Gunner Stahl/The Fader