Kimberly's Thoughts and Ramblings: When Hip Hop Comes of Age
A while back, LL Cool J announced his new album, Authentic. Between urban radio and black twitter the raucous laughter and finger pointing immediately emerged. Even though LL Cool J is no longer the standard for cool hip hop, it wasn't just the idea of him attempting an album that brought out the jokes. It was the type of album he was attempting which included cross overs and work that seemed artistically too ambitious for LL at this point in his career that led to laughter. Ironic-since at this point he's probably more of a cross over hit than he's ever been. Without most of us even hearing this album, it is obvious LL is not going to win cool points with this one. And if the immediate reaction to his feature on Brad Paisley's "Accidental Racist" was any suggestion, the eyebrows are still raised. This man seeking permission for his gold chains and forgiving slavery is not the same one that was once hard as hell. Sad, that one man's attempt to portray his true self was met with a resounding question mark and blank stare.
In the midst of all this, hip hop as a culture has remained under just as much scrutiny as ever. Rick Ross was dropped by Reebok for refusing to acknowledge and sincerely apologize for his rape lyrics. Twerking has become a mainstream fad that results in children kicked out of school. And Mr. Cee's nighttime dalliances are coming under scrutiny more for dishonesty than outrage at his personal preferences.
The end of hip hop promoting extremes and extravagance isn't winning, but at the same time LL Cool J's foray into adult contemporary is a laughing stock. But isn't adult contemporary where music ends up after a certain maturation point? In all of this, the question begs- has hip hop matured along with it's exponential growth and international expansion in the last 40 years, and if not- is their hope? The question that's asked too infrequently though, is should it? What would maturation cost the art form?
For some, the issue may be more that hip hop has actually regressed. While early rhymes lacked some of the more sophisticated production elements of songs produced today, there was something present in the lyrics. A song like Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five's "The Message" was fun and even nonsensical at parts, but conveyed a message of revolution and social unease. It addressed the issues of the day in the context of media, family, community and politics. Songs like this helped the ever-reigning strain of conscious hip hop to gain a hold. In that vein, amongst this year's relases is Talib Kweli 's Prisoner of Conscious.
While conscious music was and remains an important part of hip hop's culture, there's always been the fun and entertaining mainstream side. This is where life is enjoyed: dates are had, parties are attended, and vanity is encouraged. This is where the music of LL Cool J once lived, where a variety of people from Mase to Soulja Boy and Special Ed to Bow Wow had their moments, and where Macklemore currently resides. There are in depth sociological studies done on the "flossing" of wealth and hood riches in hip hop, but at its base it is just fun. On the other side of the hip hop pond there is also a strain of violence that refers to both social issues as well as using ill means to gain material wealth. And between it all, you have the people who make it to the top and are hard to categorize- some fun, reflection, and a lot of emo. We call them successful (hi Jay-Z, T.I., Drake, Kanye). At the least, hip hop is varied and wide. And in fact, to try to capture hip hop as one thing is almost as impossible as trying to define any race of people as one thing. However, it is by all means defiant. And defiance isn't only a trademark of the young and fiery, but also of the wise and matured.
In "The Problem of Maturity in Hip Hop," Lewis R. Gordon also provides an interesting perspective on this question, inevitably compounding hip hop and race. If black authenticity is what pushes hip hop forward, then can maturation happen in a place where blackness is often codified in youth and immaturity? It is as if people expect what he refers to as "childish naive banter" instead of actual reflections, maturity, and depth.
It is safe to say hip hop has matured some what. The form has evolved and overall is more sophisticated and wiser than it was in its brash early stages. However, it is and always will remain heavily embedded within youth culture. We have still yet to see the first artist die of old age, and that may have something to do with the genre's maturation. While the travails of life are real, the pain still comes from youthful follies and a legacy of past pain-not a lifetime of its creation.
I'd also dare to say that hip hop will mature even more. Some of its commercial success will be lost, but as the veterans get older, and more of the connoisseurs develop a range of experiences-certain attitudes and behaviors will not hold the same weight they did in the 90s. Additionally, as means of communication spread, the outrage expressed against certain aspects will become more widespread alerting others -both within the community and from the outside- of the inherent problems of remaining in an infantile state for too long.
When it does take place, just remember it's not the end of hip hop, but Mama told you one day this was gonna happen...