How is it that in 2016, people are upset at a 19-year-old rapper by the name of Lil Yachty admittedly not being able to name five songs by Pac or Biggie? Seeing as I'm an old who has listened to hip-hop for practically all of his old years, I tried to understand why so many card-carrying members of the hip-hop culture were so tight at Yachty, an artist that I highly doubt they respected before this shocking admission. They're disgusted at this young man for not listening to artists who died before he was born, but they are probably the same people who were posting "this is why mumble rap is trash" videos on their timelines.
As with any situation I'm confused with, I want to run down exactly why these hip-hop heads might be pissed at Yachty. In the words of
Pac Makaveli, "Come with me."
I guess we should begin in The Bronx, which The Get Down told me is the origins of this culture we know as hip-hop. Hip-hop recently celebrated its 43rd birthday. That'd make hip-hop younger than rock, jazz, and dance music.
For the four-plus decades that hip-hop has been a thing that the kids get down to, the history of hip-hop has been beat into the heads of its fans. Maybe that comes from a sense of pride, or from the fact that hip-hop is so closely tied to a culture much bigger than music. As hip-hop transitions into a global phenomenon, fans and members of the community hold on tightly to the origins, guarding it from straying too far from its core. So when someone like Lil Yachty, who probably represents everything they hate with today's hip-hop scene, says that he doesn't know music from two of the scene's biggest luminaries, it's too much.
The genre has grown to a point where someone's point of reference doesn't have to be the four pillars of hip-hop, or Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash.
The traditional definition of hip-hop is getting old and restrictive. With age comes change. The genre has grown to a point where someone's point of reference doesn't have to be the four pillars of hip-hop, or Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash. There are kids who are picking up microphones who are way more influenced by Lil Wayne and Soulja Boy and, honestly, don't even need to have heard Biggie Smalls or 2Pac to write a 16 and become a star. To be astonished that Yachty is openly not a student of the genre, especially when he's gone on record as saying that he considers his music "bubblegum trap," sounds crazy. And pointless.
There's a disconnect on both sides, and it's bigger than one side thinking the other is too young or disconnected. It's about how we consume media and culture these days. For example, because I'm old as fuck, I have a son who's been on this planet for a hair under a decade. He and his friends are learning about music through technology in ways that I couldn't even imagine, like through conversations that gamers have with each other over YouTube livestreams.
It changes the conversation, and is a larger part of how young people find their interests, including new music. You might be a 30 or 40-year-old hip-hop head from NYC who came up hearing music on the radio, in the club, or at the block party, but some kid might be hearing about rap for the first time via a Lil B clip on someone's Vine.
For those who forget, hip-hop (and most forms of new culture) comes directly from the youth. Hip-hop was what the kids in the park were doing when they got tired of all of the other pieces of music. It has been constantly evolving since its birth, from a love of Adidas kicks to a form of social commentary to a place where you could just roast your squad to a beat to a celebration of success. Hip-hop can be all of those things, but no matter how stale you thought hip-hop had become, there was always some young rebel who was ready to show off his take in a completely different light, be it Tyler, the Creator and the Odd Future crew or the Based God or Lil Yachty and his bubblegum trap.
The beauty of this evolution is that, no matter how much you disdain the current state of hip-hop, there's always someone out there making something you should fuck with. Don't want to hear Lil Uzi Vert? Don't trip, De La Soul just put out an album. The folks at the Mello Music Group are always dropping material that's true school. I can guarantee that there's something out there that you'll love...why? Because the same internet that's helping morph the hip-hop culture that you grew to love has a bevy of beatsmiths and lyricists who are just as grounded as you are, and can't wait for you to add their album to your backpack.
Truth be told, what would you do if Lil Yachty could name all of the songs on Biggie and Pac's double albums? Would you be rushing to stream Lil Boat? I doubt it. Why? Because all music isn't made for all people, and if you already feel some type of way about Yachty and whatever you call the group of rappers he's coming up with, no amount of hip-hop knowledge would change that.
Like it or not, the ones who are most likely to push that necessary evolution are the ones who don't follow the rules set by the ones before them.
For any genre to stay healthy, it must evolve. When a genre starts repeating itself and failing to move forward, it is stagnant and dead. Like it or not, the ones who are most likely to push that necessary evolution are the ones who don't follow the rules set by the ones before them. This type of disruption of the establishment doesn't require an ignorance of its history, but that certainly can be a driving factor. And if the young artists who aren't aware of the history bother you, look at it like this: their existence and popularity doesn't mean that other, more well-studied purists can't exist.
There's enough room for the Kendricks and the J. Coles to coexist with the Uzi Verts and the Yachtys. While there's a lot of respect for "real artists" that are "students of the game first," you might be putting artists like Yachty on a pedestal they aren't trying to stand on. That's your bad, not theirs. Let the youth cook.