June 5, 2006
There's No Such Thing as "Real Hip-Hop"
People, in general, tend to overestimate the relevance of their own personal taste. It's a common mistake both on and off the internet. But we hip-hoppers may be the worst offenders of all.
According to recent testing, 4 out of 5 hip-hoppers believe that "my personal taste in hip-hop should be used as a universal standard for what constitutes 'real hip-hop,' and that anyone who doesn't do (or like) the particular hip-hop I like should not be considered 'hip-hop' at all."
If the flows are too simple, if the flows are too complex, if the beat is too dance-friendly, if the beat is not dance-friendly enough. if the subject matter is too positive, if the subject matter is too negative... I've heard each one of these offered as proof that some record is not "real hip-hop, " and anyone who likes it must not be "real hip-hop heads." This is not sound reasoning. It makes us look stupid and elitist.
There's no such thing as "real hip-hop" or "fake hip-hop." There's only hip-hop you like, and hip-hop you don't like.*
That doesn't mean there's no place for blunt, honest critique of our artists/industry/culture. If Thug Life Clone #228 spends his whole album glorifying stupidity and self-destruction, he (and whoever's running the clone factory) needs to get called out for that. But framing our critique in the language of "fake" and "real" hip-hop will always be self-defeating. It does nothing but alienate and insult the intelligence of everyone we hope to reach.
If you have such little respect for your peers or your children that you believe millions of them buy a record due solely to media brainwashing, and there's no independent thought involved, your battle is already lost. We need to take a step back and recognize that if Thug Life Clone #228 has millions of people checking for his record, he must be doing something right.
We need to approach his music with an open mind, figure out how he is capturing people's imagination better than we are, and learn from that. Then we can engage that artist and his fans with respect, acknowledging and understanding what they find valuable in the music and framing our critiques within that context. Until we get smart enough to do that, we're always gonna be the self-righteous underground backpackers that nobody listens to.