Hip Hop: A Tale Of Two Demographics

There has been much aflutter in the Hip Hop realm lately concerning younger rappers calling out older heads who earned a modicum of respect from everyone but the newcomers. Granted it's a pissing contest battle royale, nonetheless, but what's really at stake is credibility. Despite the midlife crisis that people within the community want to claim Hip Hop is experiencing, it's less of a crisis and more of a flexing contest. Despite many less seasoned, younger rhymers claiming that Jay-Z was washed up before he seemingly smashed on everyone with his 3rd installment of the Blueprint, the question that kept floating about was if Jay's age and recent experiences had left him fit for consumption by a younger, less loyal public. And have his experiences in the top tax bracket put him out-of-touch with anyone else who isn't flying around in private planes? In other words, can a blockhugger really turn into a street pharmacist?

The key to answering this question really lies in the "less is more" adage. The less we hear about the questionable choices of Jay-Z and the other Hip Hop media darling, Common, the more the record companies can drool over them. The less baggage these artists have, the more marketable and attractive they can be to all, but especially younger, consumers. But controversy does sell, however. I mean, who didn't love Jay-Z a bit more when his rhymes were laced with drug game references? And who didn't love Common a bit more when he was a bit chubbier, grimier, and had a self-proclaimed drinking problem? I know I did. And so did my friends, but then again, we were young, dumb, and turned on by fantasy which Hip Hop has always provided its listeners.

As someone who is proud to say that I am as old as Hip Hop claims to be, fantasy no longer intrigues me. Rhyme to me about taking care of kids, doing dishes, and paying bills, however, and I'm there. See: De La Soul's 'Stakes Is High". Likewise, what 18-25-year-old wants to hear that? To hear any Hip Hop artist dominating the charts tell it, the party is where it's at. And that's where it should be, provided that your Hip Hop requirements are that you need several elements of escapism.

But let's get back to Jay-Z and Common. Their respective forays into youth-centric Hip Hop, Jay's Blueprint 3 and Common's Universal Mind Control, were met with very mixed reviews. If anything, this is to be expected since Hip Hop's fans are not all one age. While I may bemoan their attempts at Pop music, it makes perfect sense. Hip Hop, according to The Root's Andrew Nosnitsky is about "poor kids partying." And that translates into their musical icons dressing, speaking, dressing, and rapping larger than life. What it means for us older heads, more often than not, is extreme annoyance.

So can a blockhugger really become a street pharmacist? Can Superfly really leave "the life"? Can Hip Hop really grow up? Looking at Jay-Z, Common, Andre 3000, LL Cool J, certain Wu-Tang members, and countless others, one can. But not without planning on alienating your fans, young and old, at any given time.

"'Grown Man' Rappers Like Jay-Z or Common Are Mature Only in the Absence of Immaturity" [TR]

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5 Responses

  1. wow, great article. i don't think that could have been said any better.

  2. I like your take on this subject.
    But part of your premise is faulty.
    Logic says that there is more hip hop music now than before. In the beginning you could say that it was New York born and bred. The standard was therefore focused on street life as affected by the culture of the times.
    The late 80's and 90's exploded with like minded artists all over the world. But the culture was changing as were the particulars of each region. Add to that A&R and PD's determining "what we liked" you could assume that hip hop was all NY street based or judged against that high standard. ( The Golden Era birthed the Icons ) Even though New Yorks best came through this period. In the 80's culture affected the art. In the 90's art affected the culture.
    Looking back there was SO MUCH good stuff in the late 90's and early 00's that were ignored because of the "rap game".
    My point is that it is irrational to judge artistic output based on the "current youth culture". If we keep looking for" the good and the relevant" through the eyes of what WAS "good and relevant" in the past you miss out on the current gems from artists of all ages and cultures.
    Let the young compete with the young. Watch them either grow or stagnate. Thats what we did with Jigga and Common.

  3. @ hoodedMonk:
    I never wrote that judging "current youth culture" has to be based upon comparing it to The Golden Era Hip Hop that I grew up on. My assertion is that kids want to party. Adults more so want a song to have a nice beat that they can soothe to. Both age groups want escapism, but the kids want their escapism to have much more of an edge that is on par with their raging hormones. This is what I meant when I brought up the personas that Common & Jay-Z used to have...when they were younger.
    I never have the intent of not being aware of what is going on with Hip Hop. To deny myself of its existence would be to deny the existence of myself.

  4. @hoodedMonk
    I've been telling everybody with a pulse that 1999-2004 produced some of the best hip hop ever. I think becase we (including myself) tend to get stuck on the mid-90s, we can't see what's in front of us. I was luckily able to see. Also think that '99-'04 was one of the best eras ever for pop music overall too.
    ill Mami: Fantastic piece. I appreciate someone bringing this to the table.

  5. Not sure if I agree with the premise that hip hop 'is about poor kids partying'


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