Any form of art created to mimic a different epochal style is a sin against itself and an insult to its inspiration. Creation requires inspiration, but inspiration should not result in reproduction, nor should reproduction be the goal of an artist or an artistic endeavor’s audience. So then why is everyone so upset with hip-hop for the way it has evolved?
The high renaissance era of oil painting was a remarkable moment in the history of art spanning generations of visual masters who described centuries with their work; but it ended. It died and birthed a new generation of artists who saw life, and thus portrayed life in a different manner. Naturally this cycle continued and like cycles do, it continues to continue. Centuries after the Renaissance, it would have been inappropriate and non-progressive for the artists of — say — impressionism — to backtrack through artistic eras in order to paint with a style grounded in a time of Florentine aristocracy and Vatican rule. It would be inappropriate and non-progressive for the hip-hop artists of today to backtrack through artistic eras in order to make music with a style grounded in the sounds of 1992.
Through the progression of time, as the world around them changes, artist’s philosophies, inspirations, and visions also change — a change that is reflected in the art. Perhaps Monet and Renoir, due to the world’s condition during their era, held opinion that life was not as clear-cut as the portrayals of da Vinci and Michelangelo. As a result, maybe they decided to portray life with more room for an audience’s interpretation. Maybe their style was simply a backlash against their predecessors. No matter the reason, the world changes and with it — the art . . ..
No matter the reason, the world changes and with it — the architecture . . ..
No matter the reason, the world changes, and with it — the music . . ..
Hip-Hop has changed, it has not died. Hip-Hop is dead is an overused, uneducated remark on the state of an art form that would have died long ago had it never changed. It is used to express nostalgia for music of the 80’s and 90’s, and in a given year or two, for that of the 00’s as well. People long for what they know, and when people decide to stop growing or to stop learning — to stop accepting change — they tend to understandably sing praise for an era they once knew while unnecessarily expressing their dismay with the present state of a reformed style of art they once loved.
This mentality exists in every spectrum of life. Politics, religion, societal norms, art, architecture, music — it does not matter. An older generation will always be dissatisfied with a younger one for not holding the same ideals when in fact the same older generation refused the ideals of their elders when they were young. This is the nature of cultural progression. The youth learn from the older generation and become inspired by the older generation’s culture. Then they adjust it to make it their own — to change the art in order to represent the world that they know — a world that has changed. And so, the new art exists as an organic creation, representing modernity, built upon the styles of past generations. Then, for no reason other than pride and ego, the older generation bashes it and attempts to distant their art from the art of the youth. Cultural gaps between generations will sometimes represent an admiration for the past and sometimes they will instead represent resentment and a desire for greater change. The greater the difference between generations on a political and socioeconomic scale, the greater the difference in the cultural gap between them, resulting in the greater dismay of older generations due to a greater discrepancy in the art produced by the youth.
It is fair, understandable, and natural for one to favor the art of their generation above all others. The art that a generation creates belongs to them and it only makes sense for them to prefer it. But the art of a generation also exists as their gift to the future to learn from, use, and to eventually build upon or deconstruct in a manner seen fit. Every artist of every generation does this in his or her own way to different extents. But no matter the choice of the artists of the youth — to build upon or to deconstruct — it is up to the older generation to understand and take credit for the fact that their cultural decisions inspired the youth and that the only thing that can kill art is for art to become stagnant.
Art does not exist as a single point, nor does it exist as a thread sewing together patches of different styles and periods of time. It is instead a living being, always adjusting and bending in response to its environment and sometimes breaking under its own weight, leaving it to rebuild from the rubble of its past and the promise of its future. Superiority in art exists by opinion, not by fact. Yet this is so often the wish.
It is in this way that hip-hop has not died, merely evolved. Modern hip-hop is a product of its environment and its past. It differs greatly from artist to artist. Some artists of today have been more thoroughly inspired by the artists of the 90’s in a way that has led them to create music more closely associated with that of the 90’s. Others have chosen to break hip-hop down to its foundation and reconstruct something new out of the pieces of its virtues. Both result in hip-hop and neither outcome is superior by any measure other than opinion.
Art is rarely appreciated in its time. People have a tendency to think that art seems so drastic and so disrespectful to its predecessors until the art itself becomes part of the past. Upon this hour, its generation will group it among the rest of the past, disgrace the state of the present, and doom the future while shouting from the rooftops how the art of their generation was best. Hip-Hop too is a victim of this cycle.
Much of the negativity is simply misunderstanding. In the case of hip-hop, so many traditional fans are displeased with its current state because they hear the brash differences between their preferred styling of a past era and the waves of hip-hop currently flooding the scene by way of streams sourced in Atlanta and clouds hung above Toronto. Undoubtedly, it sounds different. But there is also something out there for everyone’s musical taste if searched for hard enough.
There is more to it than meets the eye — or rather — the ear. Music has never been so accessible to listen to or to produce and so there is simply much more music available to the public compared with older eras. More music has naturally expanded the genre, for the better as well as for the worse. Some artists have been inspired by the previous generations and thus make music more strongly rooted in hip-hop’s past. Some artists have been more inspired by electronic music and decide to make music rooted in the experimental theories provided by electronic production. Some artists have been more inspired by pop music and so have expanded the hip-hop genre to reach a larger audience through a more accessible tone and less violent or harsh themes when compared to musical stylings of gangsta rap or that of the golden age. And for those unwilling to expand the reach of their ear even to discover that they may come to like something new, the music of the past will always be available, so there is no reason to listen to new music if it only results in a soul left unfulfilled and full of hate. It is logical to prefer one style to another. It is natural to have opinion based on one’s existing musical preferences. It is however, irrational to stamp an obituary upon an entire genre of music simply because artists of the now sound different than artists of the then.
Imagine if every listener in the 90’s that felt inspired by Pac, Biggie, Nas, and Hov had the ability to create their own music and reach a global audience. Not all of these theoretical artists would have sounded exactly like their predecessors and some would have even produced music in retaliation — purposely breaking away from their inspirers. Hip-Hop would have then, just as hip-hop has since, and just as hip-hop is now, expanded to reach a far greater audience with far more music produced by a far greater number of artists.
Fans of hip-hop have the right to nostalgia and preference for whatever artist, era, or sub-genre they choose. But rather than discount it, fans should celebrate hip-hop’s success and global reach because it has evolved not just to survive, but to thrive and influences and is influenced by a larger audience than ever before. Hip-Hop is very much alive.