You ever hear a song so tight you have to rewind it back before it gets in too deep. That’s what I feel like when I listen to a bomb ass Hip Hop track. Hip Hop is the core of my foundation. Since my youth, I have been in sync. I’m the weirdo that can picture the artist in the studio, mixing and mastering the track, pressing the album, to hearing the vibrations from my stereo. Hip Hop is an intangible feeling, not even words can describe the passion I feel. Whether its boom bap rap or a bunch of mumbles over a delicate trap beat, nothing gets my pressure up like a smooth Hip Hop cut.
Let’s take it back. If you’re a fellow Hip-Hop historian you probably have watched tons of documentaries, interviews or you lived long enough to witness the birth of the culture. Most can agree that Hip-hop derived in the late 70s with founding fathers such as DJ Kool Herc, Grand Master Flash, and the list goes on. As many documentaries have stated, Hip-Hop was said to be a fad; something that would not stand the test of time. Decades later, this genre is arguably still alive and well. Though hip-hop has been through the trenches, this genre of music originated in New York City. The Bronx to be exact. Cats would go to the park and form ciphers and spit their hottest sixteen. It was fresh and competitive. Back then, Hip Hop was divided into four elements (MCs, DJs, Break-dancing, and Graffiti). This style of rapping was simple; you formed words together that rhymed and what you saw was what you said. Migrating deeply into the 80s, people saw that this Hip Hop thing was progressing, it wasn’t just a fad anymore. Hip-hop started reaching outside of NYC and into different coast across the country. Rapping began to change and the artists progressed into spitting about their reality. It was like you could imagine what those ruthless streets of Compton felt like, you could smell those nooks and crannies of the south. In a sense, the culture became more political, more gangsta, it also became more alternative. Hip Hop was moving at a rapid pace that nobody saw coming. The 90s is where the birth of “boom-bap rap” began, lyricism is what mattered most. In order to even be considered hot, artist’s had to draw all of their attention on the punch lines. The 90s is not only where my journey kicks off but it’s where my love of Hip Hop began.
Hip Hop was embedded in my psyche long before I was even thought of. My earliest introduction to the genre began in the back of my father’s 1996 Pontiac Trans Sport. His self installed stereo system sent radiations throughout my adolescence that I can vividly feel to date. My dad was the core of my love for Hip Hop. I probably was way too young to be listening to half of those records but I have an immense amount of appreciation for the lyrics that have come to shape and mold my conscious. In those times, things seemed normal. I didn’t have much experience with any other genre. Anything outside of Hip Hop I had to discover on my own. My mom was an ultimate R&B head. You know, that typical Mary J. Blige bumping, finger wave popping, round the way girl. Yup, that was her. In our home, we had pillars of CDs and cassettes ranging from The Jungle Brothers Straight out the Jungle all the way to DMX’s Flex of My Flesh, Blood of my Blood (That album cover always rubbed me the wrong way. Fantastic album though.). I knew better not to lay a finger on any of these. One scratch on a CD and that was my ass! All I could do was admire them. And that, I did. Without anyone in sight, I would gaze at the album covers in complete awe. The amount of creativity it took spoke volumes. In the ’90s album covers were vital. It was your introduction to the album without even giving it a thorough listen. A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders really intrigued me. I couldn’t believe these guys incorporated 71 different Hip Hop luminaries on one solid album cover. Don’t even get me started on the Zig Zag inspiration for Dr. Dre’s The Cronic.
One of my favorite past times was gathering in front of the TV with my brother to watch music videos. I was one of those kids that would stare out the window and create my own visual rendition to my favorite jams. So unlike most kids watching cartoons, we would flip through channels and find shows like Rap City and 106th and Park just to be engaged for hours. Visuals to a Hip Hop video speaks volumes to the creativity of an artist. I can recall watching Busta Rhymes music video for Give Me Some More. Though I was slightly freaked out, I was also intrigued by how clever the direction was. Hype Williams in the 90s was on top of it all! He’s the mastermind behind Biggie – One More Chance, Craig Mack Flava in Ya Ear (remix), Missy Elliott – The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly), and the list goes on. The creativity that he pulled out of those artists made everyone in the industry want to work with him. He wrote and directed the film Belly, like c’mon. A true visionary he is! This was the 90’s little did I know, I was living through arguably the most prominent decade for Hip Hop.
90s Hip Hop hit you like a punch straight to the jaw. Lyrics were gritty and grimy, the whole era was hella ruthless. A simple screwed face or a head nod was enough to say “I’m feeling this shit right here.” Only in this era could you say “When I was twelve, I went to hell for snuffin’ Jesus.” (Nas, 1991 Live at the BBQ) or “Rock you in your face, stab your brain with your nose bone.” (Prodigy, Shook One’sb pt. II). Artists in this decade were hungry. It was a competitive hustle to be the best MC. I only wish I was able to witness platinum hit live from The Tunnel. Or to be in the building and see my favorite artist kill it at The Latin Quarter. Within the span of 10 years, Hip Hop went through several phases. Not only do I agree that this was the true golden era, I know from that point on it would shape myself and the culture forever.
As time progressed so did my love for the Hip Hop. By the early 2000s, I was old enough to understand more and realize what my taste in music was. I was able to request my own CDs and discover what I was sonically into. During this era, my catalog was heavily influenced by my brother. We would put our money together to support our local bootleg man and cop mix tapes, Come Up and Beef DVDs. We didn’t have cable so this was our only form of entertainment. Without even noticing, my love for Hip Hop documentaries developed here. Groups like Ruff Ryders, G-Unit and Dipset were prominent during this era. My personal obsession with Dipset ran deep. You couldn’t tell me that I wasn’t down with the set. I recall writing their names on my middle school backpack and reciting their lyrics. It’s safe to say I was highly invested.
Hip Hop had progressed tremendously throughout the early 2000s. Artist like Ja Rule, Missy Elliot, Jay Z, and Nelly made you want to get up and dance. This was the era of BOPS! Hip Hop wasn’t as grimy as it once was. You still had your few underground artists but times were changing. The genre was locked in and it was now more of a business. Artist and record labels realized this Hip Hop thing was an investment. So artists began to negotiate deals. Fashion with labels like Rocawear and Sean John were emerging. Even liquor and sneaker deals were in the works. My infatuation grew, I saw that I was more into lyrical content at this point, rather than your quick one hit wonder. Of course, a good bop got my hips moving but I found myself deep in thought with songs that carried more substance. Ultimately this developed during the social media era. I mean, what’s a better way to get a point across than to post lyrics from a fire ass song. They’ll get the message.
Social media made Hip Hop easier to access. Instead of anticipating on seeing your favorite artist on TRL or 106 and Park, you can just log online. My high school years were the era of mixtapes. Mac Miller, Kid Cudi, Curren$y, Wiz Khalifa, The Cool Kids, Wale, Big Sean, and Lupe Fiasco took up the bulk of my memory on my 1st generation iPod Touch. The spark of social media was supposed to make life more accessible. But for an old soul like myself, I craved the authenticity of waiting to cop that physical album in the stores or run to my television and watch the premiere of a music video.
There are several debates surrounding the life of Hip-Hop. Is it dead alive? In my opinion, I think Hip Hop is thriving. The genre of Hip Hop has always been a young man’s sport. You will have your veteran that will stand the test of time but listeners are always searching for something new and fresh. With that being said it is always going to evolve and move into phases that previous generations may not understand. The best way to evolve with Hip Hop is for old heads to pass the torch and for upcoming rappers to research and respect the culture that paved the way. Right now mumble rap is saturating the culture, though I don’t particularly love it, I can’t knock it. For every mumble rapper, there is still a fire ass lyricist. That’s what you call balance.
There is beauty in Hip Hop culture and growth is at the core. Hip Hop has traveled through decades of adversity, politics, trials, and tribulations. But as listeners, we must protect the genre. In some form or fashion, we are all students of the game from the spin of a DJ’s record to an Apple Music purchase; we contribute to the expansion. As I have maneuvered through culture I have found that knowledge is power. The more we educate, inform and keep the music alive, we will never forget it.
I want to thank Hip Hop for raising me. I want to thank artists like Jay Z, Nas, Kendrick Lamar, ATCQ, Wu-Tang, Native Tongues, Outkast, Badu, Lauryn Hill, Queen Latifah, Mobb Deep, and so many more. Your lyrics have shaped and molded me into the woman I am today. Even the producers like Large Professor, DJ Premier, Grand Master Flash, and way too many more to name. Your beats and production taught me rhythm. Thank you to the Hip Hop magazines that influenced my creativity and journalistic aspirations. My heart is so full. I can go around in circles about this subject or I can just indulge in my “Boom Bap” playlist. Hip Hop you’re the love of my life.