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Every couple of months, there seems to be another instance of a young, promising rapper coming under fire for their opinion of a now-legendary figure. This kind of controversy is exemplified by last year’s spotlight beef between Joe Budden and Lil Yachty, specifically in regards to the nautical rapper’s comments on Tupac and Biggie. Since then, the latest artists to get stuck in this situation, Lil Xan and 03 Greedo, have been mobbed by faithful Tupac fans.

This recurring controversy has some very blatant similarities every time it’s stirred back up. Not only is the media targeting young rappers with questions about artists who peaked decades before them, but they are also zeroing in on “mumble rappers” with their opinions on lyrical rap icons. Normally, it would seem like a fair question to ask a rapper about the influence of Tupac — it’s widely known that Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Logic are all heavily influenced by the likes of Tupac for reasons beyond their West Coast roots.

However, to ask a young rapper from Atlanta, or even a non-lyrical rapper in general, their opinion of Tupac isn’t as fair of a question to ask as one might think. The most obvious reason being that their styles simply aren’t comparable — you don’t see Pitchfork or Noisey asking the hottest indie band about the influence Minor Threat had on their sound. Yeah, they’re both rock bands, but their styles are simply too varied to warrant comparison. It makes sense that Kendrick or Logic are influenced by Tupac because they followed a similar stylistic path, whereas Lil Xan obviously draws very little direct influence, if any at all, from icons such as Tupac, Rakim, or Big L. Instead, it’s much more likely that he draws inspiration from the likes of Three 6 Mafia, Lil Jon, or Gucci Mane.

Besides the glaring stylistic differences, Tupac at this point is at least four hip-hop generations removed from Lil Xan. His cultural legacy has now been filtered through the early ’90s, the mid-late ’90s after his death, the 2000s, and the early 2010s. There are so many more direct influences that it doesn’t make sense for a trap rapper to make their first priority digging through that many generations of lyrical rap, when they have just as much, if not more, to learn from artists such as Jeezy or Pimp C. That’s not to say Lil Xan can’t learn from Tupac — literally every rapper can — but since he isn’t trying to be lyrical, he shouldn’t be expected to draw any major influence from him. It simply doesn’t make sense.

In a 2015 segment for Time, Vince Staples rubbed old-heads the wrong way by stating that he thought the ’90s were overrated and have nothing on the early 2000s. In the same segment, though, Vince was given the opportunity to clarify his statements: “You can love Lupe Fiasco, hate Gucci Mane, find somebody else with the same IQ who feels the opposite because it’s more relative to their lifestyle.” This chance to explain is often one that is only afforded to young artists after the fire had started raging, with it then too late for them to back-peddle out of the flames.

This trend within the media to ask young artists about icons is something we’ve seen before in previous genres, and it clearly still causes problems. When prompted, Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols infamously quipped that he had no accessible heroes, dismissing the artists of the era as only being relevant to “mums and dads.” Rather than continue in this vein, Lil Xan has now stated he will no longer be doing interviews following the reactions prompted by his answers to this line of questioning.

There really seems to be only two ways to end this trend and subsequently end the hostility between the multiple sides of hip-hop’s ever-growing divide. The first of which, and the ideal answer, rests entirely on the media. This might sound like a “Trump-ism”, but in this situation, responsibility really is on the media. Major publications need to understand this divide and stop asking questions that require artists to cross over from the side they’re comfortable on solely for the sake of entertainment. Instead of leading Lil Xan into a trap about Tupac, ask the question in a larger scope and then follow it up with specifics relating to the artists he actually is influenced by, or why he is influenced by one rapper over another. This would allow Xan to get much more personal while allowing him to explain his reasoning, instead of immediately pushing him into a corner he has to argue his way out of.

The second was said best by Desus Nice in an episode of podcast Desus and Mero: “If you’re a young rapper and you do an interview, just ask them, ‘Do not ask me anything about old rappers.’ Like anyone that asks you about old rappers is not your friend.” This tactic won’t lessen the divide within hip-hop by any means, but it will prevent publications from exploiting younger artists for clickbait headlines.

Asking artists in one sub-genre of hip-hop specific questions about a legend within another simply isn’t fair and only serves the purpose of generating controversy. These interviewers are well aware of the drama it has the potential to spark, and stirring up drama is one of the natural risks artists take on when doing interviews, but it shouldn’t be caused deliberately by interviewers. It needs to be brought up on the artist’s own terms or else it is merely exploiting the conversation.

For more of our opinion pieces, read our take on why Kanye’s Twitter storm is exactly why we shouldn’t idolize celebrities right here.

  • Words: Nate Simmons
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