The year 2022 saw Hip Hop officially turn 49 years old, coincidentally matching my own age. Little did Kool Herc know when he hosted the “Back to School Jam” in 1973, he would make history. As a 70s-baby and a child of the 80s, Hip Hop has been an intricate part of my life. Just as I’ve continued to navigate the everchanging seasons that inevitably progress with the passing of time, Hip Hop also grew; from humble East Coast underground beginnings, into a global force now affecting all forms of media throughout countless cultures and countries. Through the decades, Hip Hop has taken on many different shades as it continues to march through history. Today—as an artistic form of musical expression—Hip Hop endures time’s constant tests, and continues to evolve with the fanatical and, sometimes, fickle tastes of public opinion.
While Hip Hop continues to adapt to change, it has yet to reach a state of true maturation. As the children of the 70s and 80s are now entering the years of silver-haired wisdom and patriarchal roles in society, Hip Hop’s source material never truly left adolescence. Some of the Golden Era artists of the 70s and 80s seemed to have faded away from the music they pioneered. The culture has changed, and they simply do not fit into the box created by mainstream media outlets dictating what is popular and possible to generate revenue. Other Golden Era artists have conformed to the model of doing Old School Review concerts, essentially reliving the glory days by revisiting the music that moved our generation. But there is a remnant of the old guard who continue to champion the Golden Era style of Hip Hop, by creating new music yet remaining true to their own style of cadence, story-telling, beat-production, sampling and rhythm.
These Hip Hop purists refuse to go quietly into the night, and fight to keep the legacy of Hip Hop’s roots alive and well. They refuse to use Autotunes. Trap beats and simple three-note basslines are not a part of their arsenal. Cuts and scratches are still woven into tracks as instrumentation. Lyrics are complexly spit without slurs and mumbles; verses are punched perfectly on beat; and though subjects may seem somewhat familiar and relatable to the everyday struggles of the past, the messages are crafty and clever in delivery. These are still the traits of true emcees and DJs from the old school. They live on today, even though their messages are often lost in the shuffle of the present culture’s definition of Hip Hop.
I love Hip Hop. I always have. I always will. Knocking on the door of my 50s, I long to hear new messages, clever stories and even battle raps spit over boom bap and G-Funk beats by not only those Golden Era artists, DJs and producers still around, but from some of the new Thundercats with true lyrical skills who long to revisit the style that birthed the culture we live and breathe. I don’t particularly need to hear another rap about the latest car, the club atmosphere or how many women are in someone’s bed. As I’ve aged, my interests have changed with life’s progression. Hip Hop has experienced the same type of change. Yet, I’m hard-pressed to find any emcees who will talk about life after 30, 40 or even 50. It is as if Hip Hop has a comic book character immortality. While Spiderman may change with the times, his core character will always exist between the ages of 16 and 26. Any older age calls for a revamp and rehashing of the Superhero. That’s the way mainstream music treats Hip Hop. At some point in time, the beat must go on, but traveled in a new direction dictated by the masses. And those emcees of yesteryear are quietly forgotten.
My Hip Hop needs to grow up with me. There is a place in music for the Hip Hop of my 16 year-old son’s culture, and I’m certainly not bashing the young artists who cater to and make a living off of the popular styles today. But, we Golden Era fans long for new music as well; and we shouldn’t have to be forced to pick from what is the current status quo. Our Hip Hop heroes are still alive and still have something to say. And I’d be willing to bet that they would be excited to create new music that pays homage to their early days on the mic, before the fat contracts; before the agents and lawyers; before the glamor outweighed the fun of the music. When I reach 75 years old, I want to still be excited about hearing new music with an old school flare, by artists who walked through every stage of my life with me, musically. This is my dream. It’s my vision. Hip Hop’s Golden Era revisited anew.
In popular music, current artists are making decent livings by creating new music paying homage to the swing-era of classical jazz music. Artists such as Michael Bublé and Frances Madden not only draw crowds for remakes of classic swing tunes, but also for original works of art mimicking the style of the big band tunes of the 40s and 50s. I think it’s cool that these artists are able to revisit a genre of music that has endured the test of time, and still connect with an audience hungry for that music. Closer to home, The Weeknd produced a brilliant body of work in his album, “Dawn FM”, where the artist revisited the 80s style of Pop and R&B music for the majority of the album. It worked beautifully, attracting Millennials and Gen-Z fans toward a genre of music made popular 40 years before them. It’s time Hip Hop did the same, by giving a voice to our pioneers and arming them with the instrumentals, beats and melodies that will inspire them to draw strength from their beginnings to push through the future. It’s time we give Hip Hop a proper category that focuses on the feel, heart and soul of the old school coupled with new lyrics and tales from our heroes.
The Golden Era needs a resurgence. Personally, I think our pioneers still have gas in the tank and are simply waiting for the right time to pull the car back onto the street and light the tires on fire. And I’m not just talking about a cameo verse here or a single there; a few bars spit over a 2:10-minute beat or an ad-lib over a chorus for another artist. No. I think it’s time we give our beloved Hip Hop its own Golden Era genre; call it G.E. Hip Hop if you will. It needs to be strictly dedicated to new music mimicking that unique sound made popular by rap of the late 70s through the mid 90s. It needs to give space for seasoned emcees to bring new material, or even revised classics, to the table. It needs to provide a space for producers to create instrumentals specifically tailored to artists looking for that era-sound. Scratch DJs should find a home here. Lyrical cyphers should be welcomed. Young emcees with a flair for unique story-telling should be invited. In the classic movie, “Brown Sugar” Dre Ellis said it best, “Real emceeing; that’s the hook”.
I realize that not all folks will agree with my vision. There are a lot of great rappers and producers out there making a way for Hip Hop in today’s culture, and I mean them no disrespect. A return to the Golden Era style of Hip Hop is not for everyone, but it is something that is missing in our musical culture today. I believe there is a fanbase out here craving that genre. And I believe this culture we love (so much) owes our pioneers a debt of gratitude. What better way than to give them space inside the very culture they created, to share what they have to say today.
In truth, I have no idea how to bring the vision of the G.E. Hip Hop genre to fruition. I’m a nobody in the grand machine that is Hip Hop; not even a single small cog. My hope is to share this vision with enough people, until the vision reaches the right people who can help to manifest it. My vision sees legendary emcees like Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, KRS One and Kool Moe Dee (just to name a few) trading verses over Ennis “Bro. E” Smith produced instrumentals; MC Lyte, Salt-N-Peppa, and Roxanne Shanté representing for the Queens of the Era over some of my minimalist beats; LL Cool J, Slick Rick, Ice-T and Ice Cube representing two Coasts, trading verses over one of my throw-back type tracks. This is the music I want to hear from Hip Hop today. There is a fanbase waiting for this genre to appear. If we build it, they will come. So where are my builders? The vision is here. The pioneers stay ready. How do we pull it all together?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Or reach out to me and let’s talk about it.