The only thing worse than someone putting their music taste in a box is promoting the idea that certain music can only be made in a certain way. In the early beginnings of hip-hop, many people (among the old elites/music tastemakers) didn’t consider it to be music – some still don’t consider it as art. Some of these ‘elites’ still end up voting for which hip-hop songs/albums are awarded the biggest accolades, I still don’t know who else would listen to ‘Hotline Bling’ and think ‘wow, this is the best rap song released this year’. Such misinterpretations and misappropriations hasn’t held back the genre from becoming influential and undeniable. Hip-Hop hasn’t evolved by being stagnant or one-dimensional, every facet has always been represented with occasional domination by a certain sub-section in different eras.
I had a close friend in the university who didn’t like rap music, in fact he didn’t consider rap a form of music at all. I tried to evangelize him by playing him different rap songs and explaining how beautiful the words were arranged to form an expression, but he simply wouldn’t budge. I was browbeating him with my opinion and it was a stupid tactic, I see that now. This guy leaned towards Pop and Rock music largely, stuff that had overwrought big arena hooks and lyrics. The first hip-hop album he collected from me was Lupe Fiasco’s Lasers, an album considered to be Lupe’s worst put together project till date by many. I barely listen to the album, it is Lupe’s most pop leaning project with overwrought big arena hooks that drowned out the essence of his lyricism, which is what I love to hear from Lupe. But my friend did like it; that was the outlook from which he could appreciate hip-hop from.
Just like me, he needed something peculiar to him to pull him into hip-hop music but my ‘elite’ self was barging at him to listen to the music in a certain way. If I had spent those earlier times working the angle that leaned towards his pop sensibilities, I would definitely have made him love and better appreciate hip-hop as an art form. I’m a bull when it comes to expressing my opinion about music but whenever I drop the ball, I admit it without regret – I don’t know everything, no one does and we learn every day.
Everyone is touchy when it comes to airing music opinions or any form of opinion for that matter, myself included, but I’m not afraid to accept that music appreciation is subjective even if I feel music opinions should be objective. You can’t have an opinion on what you don’t try to understand, just as understanding and having an opinion inherently doesn’t make you better if your opinion makes you look down on people. There was a time I’d almost flat-out insult anyone who peddled the idea of Young Thug or Future as hip-hop artists. As far as I was concerned, these guys were cancerous to hip-hop due to their ‘contentless’ brand of lyricism and mumble rap delivery. Nowadays I find myself defending these guys and their musical choices on various social media platforms, what changed? Perception.
Music that is born complex is not inherently better or worse than music that is born simple – Aaron Copland
Listening to Young Thug was based on curiosity. A lot of controversy surrounded him and music critics loved him. I didn’t like him at first, his vocals were not refined enough for my taste and his lyrics were absurd and laughable. I decided to try again by listening to his 2016 mixtape, Jeffrey. I enjoyed the tape thoroughly, it wasn’t Thugger’s lyrical abilities that ultimately reeled me in but the interesting unorthodox flow patterns and the glossy but gritty beats. Future too was based on curiosity, before my first full listen to DS2 any other thing apart from a Future hook on a song was a NO for me. Future has a co-sign from your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper who once proclaimed the genre dead, what more do you need to be open-minded? I listen to Future, Young Thug, Migos, Lil Yatchy and the world hasn’t stopped spinning. If you want to revoke my pass to being a ‘Hip-Hop head’, that’s your business really but I know enough to believe that hip-hop as a form of art has always been inclusive.
He who praises the past blames the present – Finnish Proverb
The ninth rap commandment of poetics in Adam Bradley’s Book of Rhymes – The Poetics of Hip-Hop states that “Rap can be high concept or low concept, but it’s never no concept”. There’s a concept to every rap song or album, whether tactless or intricate there’s a place for it in hip-hop. That’s why a straightforward song like ‘Bad & Boujee’ can be the most streamed song in the world this year, a composite album like J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only can go platinum in just 4 months and everything can be labelled an achievement to hip-hop. There was a time it was the ringtone era and Kanye in the mid 00’s that dominated mainstream hip-hop, before then it was Gangsta rap and Eminem. There are various phases of sub-genre domination with different twists in deliveries and idiosyncrasies but they all innately carry hip-hop DNA.
They complain about what radio plays and insist that nothing good has come out since the 90s, rather than take the responsibility for seeking out music they can relate to – Talib Kweli Greene
Music is a two-way street, artists don’t owe us anything except creating art that is true to themselves and we don’t owe them anything except an open mind which costs very little. I’m comfortable with anyone not liking a piece of music or an artist for whatever reason, what I’m against is looking down on others who support or love these artists with a vindictive cadence. For example, I’ve tried with all my might to listen to Lil Uzi Vert’s music, I just can’t get into his music – his voice leaves scratches in my ear, I always say – but I try my best (I fail sometimes) not to slight whoever likes him or his music. Sometimes emotions can get in the way of an argument, turning a simple exchange of opinions into a tense spat but the best thing to do is debate the art and not the fan.
Opinions are exchanged to expand and mix our perceptions of what music is and not what it should be. There’s nothing like elitism when it comes to music, it is simply you and the art. Everyone has different ways of appreciating music, badgering someone else to the point of being rancorous to buttress a point is both grossly disrespectful and a waste of time.
Words by Peter Dennis Adedotun, aka Mixed Bag, aka @ayo_dennis.