Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Hip Hop Is Dead, Long Live Hip Hop

A few days ago, someone asked me what music I listen to. Instead of saying "hip hop," I said "rap." I'm not sure why exactly, but it probably had something to do with the fact that I knew the guy worked with middle school kids, who I think as a group are plugged in to different channels than I am. I'm guessing their hip hop is not my hip hop, and so using that term, with him drawing on those students for context, wouldn't communicate my preference accurately.

In my mind, rap is a dated word, and so it has less flexibility for interpretation. It resonates strongest within a set historical period (I'd venture the late 70s through the mid 90s), and refers to a specific style of delivering lyrics. It feels concrete.

The word hip hop is more nebulous, defined by neither time nor form. It can be used to describe any number of different things: a song, a beat, a poem, a piece of visual art, a fashion style, a type of dance, a political philosophy, a community, a way of life. And it's not like within each of those categories there's one standardized type, either.

By now, the word is so wide open that two different people can say, "I love hip hop," and completely hate the actual music the other person listens to. Does this happen anywhere else, like with country music? Classical? Jazz? Maybe, but I doubt at the same frequency or intensity.

It's an interesting predicament. The genre has achieved such a large following and received such incredible exposure that it may have lost its power. It's as if its meaning has become dilluted, to the point where if I say I listen to hip hop, I may not have said anything at all.

Have I?



Anonymous AptCoot said...

You've got an interesting take on all this, but I've got to disagree. If someone tells me they listen to rap, I don't know what they're describing, but if they say they listen to hip hop, I know they're about that true school sounds that's harder and harder to find.

The Blastmaster KRS-One probably said it best, "Rap is something you do, hip hop is something you live." Hip Hop is the whole culture, but much of what's served up on the radio/MTV/charts is disconnected from the culture and the positive/activist undertones it once had. To me, that's rap, and as bad as (c)rap's getting, I'll still always be hip hop at my core.

btw, I'm now at along with the Coot

3:36 PM  

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