Despite what the title may imply, I’m not gonna spend any time or energy speaking about music I don’t like in this piece. I’m sure I’ve done that enough, and it would probably look tacky at this point (it was actually probably always tacky). However, I really don’t like the attitude that I’ve seen some people carry, about the past belonging in the past and being irrelevant. Right now, hip hop is at an “age,” so to speak, where it’s made an incredibly long journey from its roots. There’s very little now that resembles the music that artists like Run-D.M.C. were making when rap music was just first exploding onto the scene.
For this reason, I feel like some “dated” sounding material being released could be constructive. The argument that I’ve seen come up is that we’ve seen certain styles of music done before, so there’s no real reason to see them again. While I understand that point, and even agreed with it to a certain extent until fairly recently, I don’t think it necessarily has to hold true. I’m just barely over half of hip hop’s age and while I don’t have any official figures or statistics, I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that a huge chunk of the audience is in my age group. I also don’t think it would be inaccurate to make the claim that most listeners in my age group really don’t give a shit about what was happening 30 years ago. While I think it’s irresponsible for writers and media personalities — who are theoretically supposed to have respect and knowledge for the history — to approach hip hop with that sort of attitude, I don’t think I can blame a casual listener for feeling that way. There’s so much music being released these days that if you’re not somebody extremely passionate about it, it’s hard to find the time to both keep up and go back in time no matter how accessible everything is now. The pool of music just continues to grow, which makes the task of wading through it all that much more imposing.
This is why I feel like what LL Cool J is doing on his Rock The Bells radio show is so essential. It offers a quick and easy way to take a look back through the history of hip hop and rap music. You get to listen to the hits that came before your time, and build an understanding of where the music been and how it got here. All coming from someone who everybody recognizes for one reason or another, who also happens to be someone who took part in solidifying this music as something more than just a fad.
With where hip hop is now, I strongly believe that there could be some benefit in revisiting styles and sounds without tailoring anything to 2019. It’s clear that there’s room for anything in hip hop. We have seen boom bap, a style that most people consider to be outdated, make a powerful comeback in the last few years. Granted, it isn’t generally the type of boom bap you would see in the ‘90s. It still exhibited a bit of evolution; at this point, boom bap today is far from being “throwback,” and I find it a little annoying when it gets relegated as such (I can’t say for sure, but this more than likely contradicts stuff that I’ve said in the past). It quickly picked up where the ‘90s left off, and is now sonically something very different than it used to be. It feels like a natural progression, but it doesn’t necessarily bring anything from the past back.
I would love to see someone from the ‘80s come out and make something that sounds like what they were making back then, but brought into 2019. Kool G Rap is still around out-rapping people over 30 years into his career, but that’s not necessarily what I’m talking about. I want to hear something like EPMD rapping over funk samples and bringing back the feeling they had on their music before their first breakup, or LL shouting boasts over loud minimalist production. I feel like it could be interesting to see music like that released in this day and age. Such a large portion of today’s rap fanbase has no idea what hip hop sounded like before the ‘00s. I find that gaining an understanding of what happened in the past could add to one’s overall understanding of the music in general — at least that’s how it’s worked for me. Re-examining what’s happened in the past could open up new pathways in the future, possibly to styles that hadn’t happened in the past due to technical limitations and such. In a way, I feel like it would almost be like taking a few steps back stylistically to attempt a net movement forward. At worst, it would end up just end up reinforcing that the past should stay in the past.
You kind of see that with artists, in a way. I’m going to use Cypress Hill as an example. They came onto the scene with a very dark, hazy sound, courtesy of DJ Muggs drawing from psychedelic rock as a source of inspiration and samples. This remained the case, for the most part, through their first four albums; their formula was seldom changed. They essentially just made the same sort of music for four albums (which isn’t a criticism – those are four of my top five Cypress Hill albums). However, by the time Skull & Bones came out they largely abandoned everything that they had built their brand on and moved on to other styles. They messed with the current trends going on in west coast hip hop at the time as well as, regrettably, nu-metal. In the years to come, they would also try out reggae-influenced sounds, and even have an album without any Muggs production at all. Cypress Hill decided that they wanted to try new styles out after spending the better part of a decade using what was essentially the same style, and that’s fair. An artist/group is at full liberty to make whatever creative decisions they want to. Last year though, they decided to go back to their roots for their latest album, Elephants on Acid. This saw them returning straight to their Temples of Boom days of making dark, murky, and psychedelic music. They felt more at-home making this sort of music than they had in 20 years. From here, they can go in whatever direction they want to, but it’s clear revisiting what was familiar revitalized them for the most part.
I feel like this same sort of thing could go for rap music as a whole. The genre has been exploring many different sounds for decades now, and I feel like the time may be right for it to take a second and revisit its roots. While in general, music has become a lot more complex and detailed since the days I’m talking about, I believe it would still be worth exploring.
I don’t know. These are just some stray thoughts and I don’t think I really even said anything here. But I’ve felt like this for a while now. For the first half of January I was listening to almost nothing but ‘80s rap. I wanted to get familiar with the history of rap music and see how it developed. See how regions outside of New York developed their own sounds. Observe how rappers who would be considered vets by the early ‘90s had to adjust to the rapid innovation and change in the landscape, and compare that to how vets do it today. So much has been left in the past with no trace of it around now, which is understandable enough. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that in a time where accessibility is at an all-time high, it seems like the history of hip hop is focused on less than ever; for that reason, I feel like it wouldn’t be the worst idea to try reminding people where things started. I’d like to see some older artists show everyone what gave new artists a platform to begin with.
Final edit: Dustin