Last month, I made my DJBooth debut with a PSA to men who fetishize women for liking hip-hop, and to those who believe that women who like hip-hop don't respect themselves. As soon as the article was published and the comments began to flood in, I was quickly reminded that I forgot to mention one sorry dude: The Head Vetter, a.k.a. the hip-hop mansplainer, a.k.a. the guy who gives you pop quizzes like you’re supposed to be a rap encyclopedia.
I’m not sure when this imaginary course was first introduced, but in 2017, kids apparently need to go through some kind of advanced testing to get their Hip-Hop Head Club cards. For younger fans who show love for new artists, this has become a regular occurrence, and a more frequent one if these fans also happen to be young women. No matter what we say, we either don't know enough or our tastes aren't refined enough.
Extreme hip-hop head vetting comes from two distinct individuals: The White Knight and The Old Head.
The White Knight
Mansplainers aren’t exclusive to hip-hop or the world in general, but in my experience, these are typically young, white males who have nothing better to do on the internet. They’ll kick off the conversation by trying to say something nice about one of my articles, then tell me my words aren’t valid because my tastes don’t qualify me to be a hip-hop head—like I need to wait for my card in the mail or earn some kind of Boy Scouts patch. Here’s the best part: White Knights really believe they’re helping you, offering up their knowledge and sending artist recommendations for REAL hip-hop that can be found in some random corner of Spotify nobody else knows exists.
Boys, you can save your breath. I’m not going to listen to your recommendation of “an artist who actually respects women” or whoever you think will help me get on your level. If you think my tastes are trash, that’s fine, but I probably think yours are too. You’re not doing me any favors by sliding into my mentions and trying to bestow some knowledge on me.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see this happening to men my age (21). If you scroll through your Twitter or Facebook feed, you’ll be hard-pressed to find young men giving other young men compliments before gracing them with a list of artists they should really be listening to. White Knights often forget that women, just like men, know how to define their own tastes and find new artists. If you want to make a recommendation because you respect me and think I’d actually like it, I’d love that, but don’t throw playlists and links at me because you think you’re doing me some kind of service.
Also, it’s imperative you know who you’re talking to. In my case, there’s a reason I’m a music writer. I have a journalism degree. I went to Oxford to study hip-hop culture (not to brag). I trashed Drake in an academic journal (definitely meant to brag). Don’t speak to me like I’m some helpless ditz.
The Old Head
To be clear, young women aren’t the only segment of the hip-hop populace who are regularly vetted. Casual and dedicated hip-hop fans alike also encounter The Old Head—typically, a rap fan born before 1987 or who shares the musical mindstate of someone born before 1987. The Old Head will often talk down to younger fans (check out our Facebook page) with some nonsense about how enjoying Lil Yachty or Lil Uzi Vert disqualifies them from being a hip-hop head. I get it. If you’re old enough, you watched rap evolve from an underground sanctuary to undoubtedly the most popular genre in the world. Meme/Joke/Mumble/Troll rap is probably the bane of your existence, and understandably so, but that doesn’t mean you get to metaphorically tell young people to get off your lawn. Assuming a young person doesn’t know hip-hop history because they like a new age rapper is wrong, and in your crotchetiness, you’ve found the need to be disrespectful.
Please, don’t quiz us. I’m really happy for you if you were at Kool Herc’s first party where hip-hop was born, but that doesn’t mean I don’t also respect the artists who helped to birth hip-hop. Our top 5 lists aren’t going to look the same, and that isn’t a crime. For many younger listeners, there are plenty of old school records that sound just as silly as the ridiculous meme rappers of today, but we’re not going to belittle you for still enjoying them. The truth is, if you’re going to be arrogant and rude, instead of a respectable and decent human being, I don’t care how many “legends” you used to hang with or how many crates of vinyl are sitting in your basement.
The Old Head also tends to not acknowledge queer artists. You don’t get a pass for being ignorant just because you’re old. Throwing shade on rap’s progressiveness ignites the homophobia we’re trying to eradicate. I had an Uber driver once tell me, "That girl who sounds like a dude (Young M.A) would make my daughter gender confused. Her lyrics are explicit and my daughter would want to start doing those sexual things.” Sir, I’m really sorry about the wax in your ears that must have stopped you from hearing all the nasty lyrics men have used over the years to lure daughters into a life of sexual sin. The driver then asked me if I had a daughter as if being a daughter doesn’t qualify me to know what I’m talking about. When I mentioned R. Kelly’s rape allegations, he said he’d been on tour once with R. Kelly and the man was “very respectful.” Of course, that makes perfect sense. Must be true.
To be clear, I’m not asking The Old Head to fall in love with Lil Yachty or for The White Knight to stop looking for new artists. People should share music and make recommendations because they genuinely love the artist and want to spread their work, not because of a belief that people need it. As infuriating as it might be for many to watch the times change, we must all keep an open mind. Hip-hop was built on open-mindedness. If we kept listening to people who shut down the new shit, we’d never have the classics.
I’m not asking The White Knight or The Old Head to join hands with youngsters and feminists and sing “Kumbaya, My Lord.” Just check the ego and listen to others. We need to respect the tastes of young people, especially young women, so we can help hip-hop be inclusive for future generations.