These sorts of clashes, often of the Real Hip Hop(TM) variety, remind me that I stumbled into the genre amidst its own growing pains. Nas, Method Man, Ice Cube, and Jay-Z were some of the first artists to grace my Walkman, but I graduated to Nelly, Young Chris, Cam’ron, Trick Daddy, and the Hot Boys in my late teens, largely due to my reliance on the radio in those years.
Those two rosters of hip hop talent aren’t entirely incompatible, but I wonder why I’m so easily able and ready to draft playlists featuring Biggie and Juvenile. Are my tastes half-polluted? Could I ever call myself a hip hop head if, deep down in my music library, I prefer Dipset to Tribe?
From my corner, observing the genre, I savor these competing styles, even in a single instant and from the same mood. It’s like being a fan of the Bond films: it’s less about the players, more about franchise and its definitive qualities and traditions.
I can’t find the comment now, but I remember about a year ago @RealTalibKweli tweeted that he knew Flo Rida was going to be blow up when he saw him shut a club down in Miami. Steam that envelope for a moment: Talib Kweli, Flo Rida. They co-exist somehow, and the one respects the other. It’s like Democrats and Republicans, except the opposite of that. I don’t care much for Flo or Kweli, but they’re clearly on the same team — and yes, Rakim is the captain.
For hip hop heads, in contrast, the club is often more exclusive; we’re often made to discuss who’s killing the genre, which artists are too dumb or base or ignorant to warrant respect, or whether the last era of great hip hop was, conveniently enough, whenever your interlocutor graduated from high school or college. For me, that strain of nihilism is simply unappealing. It’s also pointless; you can easily step back to appreciate that every generation adopts the same pose: You guys are killing the music. But if radio/DJs/MTV/BET/everyone has been strafing hip hop for the past two decades, you think we’d have embalmed, buried, dissed, forgotten the genre by now and moved on to this shit.