As Hip Hop lovers struggle to maintain control over the culture, a battle between Hip Hop Purists and those who are willing to see Hip Hop take on qualities of other genres persists. But whose right?
What inspired this thought was the year long beef that occurred between Nicki Minaj and DJ Peter Rosenberg of Hot 97. It all began at Summer Jam 2012 when Rosenberg made comments about Nicki’s then single, Starships.
After the comment was made and the word got back to Nicki, she refused to go onstage and abruptly left Summer Jam. For the next year Nicki fans attacked Rosenberg for his comments and both Nicki and Rosenberg, when questioned about the incident, gave harsh critiques of one another.
After about a year, Nicki went on air with Rosenberg and discussed the beef and ultimately put it to rest.
After watching the end of that clip (9:00 – 12:49) something stood out to me. When Ebro questions Nicki about the beef and her making pop rap songs like Starships she comments that,
“Everybody knows my story. I didn’t have anything, I grew up here, I really grew up here [NYC]. This was all I knew. So I tell my story – but, but I still grew up loving Cyndi Lauper an Madonna.”
And Ebro responds,
I think it’s our fault in Hip Hop– and I’m the worst one — where we put these boundaries on Hip Hop: what can be, what it should be, what it could be. And I think I do it — and I cant speak for everyone — I do it from a place of, I know what this music means to the young person who doesn’t have a voice. This was the music of the young person that didn’t have a voice. So all of a sudden when it becomes commoditized and mainstream and all these things that don’t reflect those humble beginnings…I start to be like ‘oh my God, we’re losing it, we’re losing it…”
Hip Hop Purism
Hip Hop purism is all about standards. It is the an undying loyalty to the original elements of the culture and to the traditional styles of rap music. Hip Hop purism maintains the subculture mentality: glorifying the underground and despising the mainstream. Hip Hop purists, critique, criticize, analyze, and critically think and evaluate the culture and the work it produces.
The beautiful thing about Hip Hop Purism is the fact, like Ebro stated, more often than not it comes from a love of Hip Hop, a respect for the culture and what it has come to mean to so many people, and the influence that it has had on the world. That is admirable — no, it’s necessary. Hip Hop requires and deserves the kind of reverence that is given to it by Hip Hop purists. If we are going to maintain ownership of the culture we have to be the appropriators and cultivators of it. The other thing about Hip Hop purism that is necessary for Hip Hop is the critical analysis of the culture. All culture needs critique and criticism. In order to critique, one must research, study, evaluate, and then form an opinion. This is what keeps a culture alive and breathing and aware of it’s own evolution and what that evolution means to the culture.
On the flip side, Hip Hop purism has it’s pitfalls or potential drawbacks. One of those pitfalls being the tendency to become so stringent and limiting that the culture is not allowed to grow and evolve. I think Hip Hop purists have good intentions…but you know what they say about good intentions (the road to Hell is paved with them). There has to be some flexibility. While maintaining a standard is great, that standard must evolve as the culture evolves or it will become a stale nostalgia that grinds everybody’s everybody’s nerves and doesn’t benefit the culture.
I think the major problem is that Hip Hop Purists tend to condescend anyone who disagrees with them. I understand why the tendency is there. It’s because all too often the Purists are the only ones who take the time to know the culture’s history, it’s back story, and respect those who have created legacies. Therefore, they come to the conversation more equipped to discuss the culture on an intellectual level. Whereas the average Hip Hop listener (not the Hip Hop Head) tends to only engage the culture and music on a superficial level; therefore, they don’t always have the knowledge or passion to take what happens in the community seriously.
The other problem is that many Hip Hop Purists tend to forget that another essential component of Hip Hop music is innovation. Hip Hop has always been inspired by it’s environment. For many rappers that means the music of their parents or other genres that they have been exposed to. Hence, where sampling comes from. The samples used by Hip Hop producers are usually old school Soul, Blues, and R&B music,which by itself isn’t Hip Hop; however, once chopped, screwed, or looped, it becomes pure Hip Hop. So why then wouldn’t we expect the younger generation of Hip Hoppers to incorporate their influences into their musical creations (even if that influence is Pop music)?
While I think Hip Hop Purists play an essential part in the preservation of Hip Hop culture, they have to be careful not to try to take it upon themselves to dictate the direction and evolution of the culture. The history of Hip Hop has shown us that no matter how many hybrid moments, or how the evolution occurs, Hip Hop always returns to itself. That is what is happening right now in Hip Hop. We h ave spent the last few years going through Rock-Rap and Pop-Rap and all its various incorprations, but Hip Hop is again returning to itself. So I have no fear of us forgetting who we are and to some degree we have the Purists to thank for that.
I’m not sayin: I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man