Forgetting the ‘Old School’ and Making the Case For ‘Classic Hip-Hop’

By Stereo Williams 10/10/2019 The BET Hip-Hop Awards are still the rap game’s glitziest affair -- a highlight of the early fall, and an overall chance for hip-hop culture to flash and floss. At this year's awards, which took place on Tuesday (Oct. 8), “Queen Bee” Lil Kim was the recipient of the “I AM HIP-HOP” Award, an honor [...]
By Stereo Williams
10/10/2019

The BET Hip-Hop Awards are still the rap game’s glitziest affair — a highlight of the early fall, and an overall chance for hip-hop culture to flash and floss. At this year’s awards, which took place on Tuesday (Oct. 8), “Queen Bee” Lil Kim was the recipient of the “I AM HIP-HOP” Award, an honor given to some of the genre’s most accomplished legends. Other 2000s greats like Lil Jon, Rick Ross and singer T-Pain were on-hand, alongside more contemporary stars like Megan Thee Stallion, Chance the Rapper, Offset, Lil Baby, Dababy, Rapsody, YBN Cordae and Anderson .Paak. It was a grand show, to be sure.

It’s interesting that you don’t find much celebration of anything earlier than the late 1990s on what ostensibly has become hip-hop’s biggest night, as far as awards shows. Of course, you can’t expect an audience that now consists largely of fans born after 1999 to be all that invested in music that was made in 1989, but with there presently being no proverbial Hip-Hop Hall of Fame induction ceremony to celebrate legends from across various eras, and no “Grammys Salute to Def Jam” on the slate, one has to wonder where does the culture (and industry) go to these days to honor its lineage? How are we preserving classic hip-hop?

Lil’ Kim Runs Through an Array Of Hits For BET Hip-Hop Awards Performance: Watch

It’s telling that “classic hip-hop” isn’t a term that one hears as regularly as “classic rock” or even “classic soul.” Given where the genre is both in terms of current status and historical significance, hip-hop’s classic period should be much more elevated. And that classic period can’t just include the mainstream hyper-visibility of the post-Death Row landscape; it must also recognize that the six years prior to The Chronic are just as essential to how we would come to view hip-hop as a genre of music. It’s time to fully recognize classic hip-hop as an era and elevate that stretch from 1986 to 1998 that shapes so much of the genre. And it’s time to dump “old-school hip-hop” as a catch-all term for anything that happened before 2Pac and Biggie rose to prominence.

It’s been 40 years since “Rapper’s Delight” announced hip-hop’s transition from Bronx block parties to the pop charts. Even the most casual rap fan can give you the cliff’s notes version of why that single is important, but so much hip-hop from those early days has been left to languish in obscurity. Even “Rapper’s Delight” was the culmination of almost a decade of hip-hop gestation as a live artform performed at uptown block parties and eventually downtown nightclubs. Those who created this art before it was put on records — names like DJ Kool Herc, Coke La Rock, Lovebug Starski, Grandmaster Flowers and DJ Hollywood — have practically been written out of that history altogether. Our affection for “old-school hip-hop” is often arbitrary or connected to nostalgia, and the term itself evokes something antiquated and novelty. After decades of marginalizing hip-hop’s early days and “golden age,” maybe it’s time to rethink — and perhaps outright discard — the idea of “old-school hip-hop.”

Content retrieved from: https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/8532659/classic-hip-hop-not-old-school.

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