During a generational gap debate at ComplexCon last November, the always outspoken Vince Staples shared his opinion on hip-hop's domination of modern day popular music—and culture at large:
“It ain’t no more pop music, it ain’t no more pop culture. It’s just us. It’s rappers and then nothing else. Taylor Swift needed a Kendrick Lamar beat. Katy Perry called Juicy J. They callin’ the rappers and can’t nobody in this room name who the popping rock stars is. We don’t know who the niggas are. If hip-hop has became the pinnacle and has became the driving force behind the music, of course it can’t all sound the same; it’s too many people listening to it.”
Even if rap hasn’t taken over the pop landscape entirely, it’s hard to deny the impact when Hillary Clinton is dabbing for votes on national TV and Ed Sheeran is beelining for dancehall on his latest single immediately after Drake bogarted the movement to record-breaking streams last year.
As I watched the clip a few more times, Vince's words—“It ain’t no more pop culture. It’s just us.”—burrowed further into my head. I thought about how Drake’s “Energy” is currently being used to sell a subpar Jamie Foxx movie. I thought about how a placement on a Spotify rap playlist can make or break a career. I thought about how everyone from Black Sheep to E-40 has been on the business end of a car commercial. I thought about the fact that Danny Brown wrote the theme song to an ABC sitcom and that I didn’t have to dream that sentence up.
It’s hard to argue against Vince's logic in a world where OutKast almost played the Super Bowl and Donald Glover can pull three million people into a story about struggle rappers and their managers coasting through Atlanta. Rap supplanted rock long ago, and it's the current face of pop music and pop culture.
Of course, the crux of the generational gap argument doesn’t come from popularity but a sense of respect. Elders like Pete Rock and others feel that popping artists like Yachty aren’t doing enough to show their respect for the history of the craft. (“I want to give it back in the correct manner, even to the younger generation who don’t seem to understand what’s going on with what we did,” says Pete in the discussion.)
l agree that reverence is important, but Vince brought things back around once again: “Is respect liking or loving or having a lot of things to say about the music or is respect appreciating the fact that someone contributed?” Even more importantly, though, does respect have to be a two-way street? Yachty, King of the Teens, doesn’t need his own Ready To Die, but boning up on B.I.G.'s music and freestyling to “Flava In Ya Ear” is at least a start. So is Rock lending a hand to Yachty.
A couple weeks into the new year and hip-hop’s generational gap remains wide as ever, even as the genre slowly closes its death grip on pop culture at large. But why?
The genre is diverse enough that both J. Cole and Migos are capable of catching fans’ ears at the same time, and if that’s not your bag, modern-day rap flavors are endless. I wouldn’t be the rap fan I am today if I hadn’t embraced the Ying Yang Twins in middle school as readily as Nas and A Tribe Called Quest in high school, so I find condemning the pop sensibilities of Lil Yachty is counter-productive, especially when he’s capable of dropping bars of his own. And thanks to streaming playlists overtaking radio as the new way to make tastes, rap has even more ways to wedge its foot into the front door.
In 2017, I think it should not only be possible for Yachty's Summer Songs 2 and Smoke DZA and Pete Rock's Don’t Smoke Rock to exist in the same space, but fans should be able to hop between one, both, or neither and not care about which is more popular.
Rap has expanded to the point where artists can find success in any niche and where Chance The Rapper is inspiring the rock stars of generations past. Whether or not the genre’s headed in the right direction, we’re still on top of the world.