Vulgar, abrasive, and rebellious, music that spoke to the youth and put fear in the hearts of those too old to understand. Like rock n' roll in the '50s, that's hip-hop's legacy. ODB said Wu-Tang was for the children, but he never said anything about their grandmas.
Danny Brown is cut from that same piece of rugged cloth, a rapper that would rather be disruptive than accepted. Growing up, he attached himself to that aspect of hip-hop. The unruly defiance, the more foul and filthy the better. It wasn’t meant to be liked by everyone, it wasn’t supposed to be clean, something born in the streets, that came up from the gutter, is supposed to be coated with dirt and grime, a subject he touched on in a new, wide-ranging Noisey interview:
"..that’s what rap music is. This ain’t fucking folk, this ain’t country, this ain’t jazz, it’s rap. It’s supposed to be abrasive, it’s supposed to be some shit you supposed to not listen to around your fucking mom and your grandma. They don’t supposed to like it. So I want to keep that because now if you don’t look at it, rap is starting to become that way where you can listen to it with your mom or your grandma might fucking like it. But me, I want to keep that element of it to where it’s like no, you don’t supposed to play this in public. This is real bad. It’s a lot of dirty language. That’s what rap music is to me." - Noisey
Danny feels that part of rap’s essence is the shock value of hearing something that your parents would run from. When Danny started to smoke and drink it was because his favorite rapper Nas rapped about fifths of Hennessy and blowing down ganja. These were more than just lyrics, they were the door to a lifestyle he wanted to be apart of. Music has that kind of influence, especially coming from rappers. They weren’t accepted but criticized by the mainstream. NWA and Ice-T, Eminem and Ludacris, no matter what a rapper said or did there was a way for the media to turn it into a firestorm of controversy. Part of being a rapper was the attitude, Pac wasn’t the only one who felt it was him against the world.
Rappers are more accepted by mainstream society than ever before. Some have even ascended to being pop darlings, adored by Americans in the middle and all the corporate companies that cater to them. The days of rappers being perceived as pirates have receded with the dawn of a new era. A song about trap queens was a worldwide smash that even pop divas couldn’t help but sing during live performances. Rap isn’t completely in the commercial realm, there are still countless rappers upsetting the status quo, but the times have changed, rap music rarely now disrupts the peace. It’s the coolest genre on the planet, dictator of all the trends, but not a force of fear.
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Hip-Hop didn’t lose its edge, the world just started to care less. Maybe both. When you’re able to power on your phone or computer and see kids being gunned down by police officers, watch the horrors of the world on LiveLeak, there’s little rap can do to overwhelm that stirring feeling of shock. Pac may have rapped about the Thug Life but we’ve watched thugs live out that life time and time again, from the streets to the U.S. government.
I also think it comes down to rappers moving into more commercial spaces. That’s where the money is. So Kendrick Lamar might perform on Ellen, doing “These Walls,” and J. Cole can do a powerful song like “Be Free” on Letterman. Chance The Rapper might see backlash from trolls, but has mostly received praise for teaming up with his hometown Chicago White Sox. Even Ice Cube and Common squashed a beef from way back in the book of Genesis to pair up for a new blockbuster movie.
Rap can still give a voice to the voiceless, those the world tried to mute. Lives have been changed thanks to the doors the genre has opened. Danny is one of those lives. I was surprised to also read that he encourages his daughter to play Macklemore over the Migos, but truth be told thanks to her father's rap success she’s more likely to see more mopeds than bandos.
Rap and hip-hop culture will continue to change, what’s most important is that it never loses its sense of self. Rap makes you feel. It punches you in your soul, allows us to hear stories and perspectives from artists who can capture their life and change yours with their words. Danny said hip-hop helped him escape reality. I can say the same. Even if a few more rappers are hugging grandmothers instead of hugging the block, as long as there’s room for everyone to tell their story, it will never lose the essence that made us fall in love with hip-hop all those years ago.