Well, here we go again.
At least a few times every year, there’s an interview with one of hip-hop’s pioneers in which they openly and unabashedly criticize the current state of hip-hop, and we’re left to address both the accuracy and value of their statements, knowing full well that hip-hop is alive and well.
In a new in-depth exploration of New York hip-hop from Pigeons & Planes, Pete Rock went on the offensive against a generation of artists that he feels have no respect for the history and culture of the genre.
Pete Rock pulls no punches about the state of current hip-hop. “A lot of these kids, they don’t give a fuck about the culture,” he says. “You know what they care about? Money.” Auto-Tune, poor lyrics, mumbled flow, a celebration of drugs and strip club culture—they’re all on Rock’s list of grievances. But topping it all is what he sees as a lack of respect for what came before. “Back in the ‘90s the truth was real,” he asserts. “We had dignity, pride, all of that. Today? That’s totally out the window. I mean, it’s fucked up that this is the way we gotta go out, that we gotta go to our graves with this type of music on the radio.”
Here’s the deal. Pete Rock, just like the countless artists that have conveyed this opinion before, is both right and wrong. As a legend within the culture, there are few with the authority Pete has to speak on what’s happening with hip-hop. His opinions should always be respected and understood, but that doesn’t mean they’re always right.
As much as hip-hop is an important culture and movement, it’s also an art form, and you can never tell someone what their art should be. Hip-hop is a vast and varied musical landscape, and the different expressions of that are part of what make it such an exciting and vital art form.
Pete's argument hinges on a few components: A perceived decline in the representation of positive, “conscious” hip-hop on a mainstream level, a slight romanticizing of hip-hop’s past, and a lack of recognition for those newer artists that respect the culture and are in fact pushing it forward.
As far as comparing the representation of quality hip-hop from then and now, I'm tired of hearing that argument. There was garbage hip-hop being played on the radio in the '90s, and there is garbage hip-hop on the radio now. There is also excellent hip-hop surfacing to the mainstream today, similar to two decades ago, and new artists who are concerned with pushing the artform forward in a positive way.
When Chance The Rapper is up for seven GRAMMY’s and Big K.R.I.T. is performing breathtaking spoken word pieces at the BET Awards, things are going just fine in my humble opinion.
When it comes to romanticizing the past, of course, Pete is going to have preferential memories of his peak during hip-hop’s “golden era,” but I have to give Rock credit for not having the “outside looking in” mentality.
Not only is Pete Rock a legend, but he’s still actively participating in hip-hop both musically and culturally, collaborating with contemporaries like Smoke DZA to make sure his brand of hip-hop is still heard by a new generation.
Opinions like Pete’s are still absolutely necessary, albeit a bit tiresome. Hip-hop is going to be just fine. There is no rulebook for how the genre should sound, there is no council that decides what is and isn’t hip-hop, it’s art.
At the same time, it’s important to have the voices of hip-hop’s founding fathers present in our conscience when creating that art because there absolutely is a respect due to the past and a responsibility to uphold hip-hop’s core values.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.