Over the last five years or so, hip-hop has been fixated with the aesthetic of the 90s. Although this sound/aesthetic still sounds like what my stuck in the 90s niggers — who’ve decried the culture’s multiple evolutions of hip-hop, from the jiggy era through to the current skrr skrr years— have been waiting for since the turn of the century, it’s actually not a good thing at all.
Right now, it’s as if hip-hop were a successful middle-aged-and-bored-with-life, suit clad businessperson who went back home to find thierself. And while there, nostalgically sitting in their old bedroom, asking “Look at you and look at you, Hip-Hop¸ what has become of you?”, paged through old photo albums and magazines, sifted through and listened to their TDK tapes, had an Ah-Ha moment and decided to start sporting a high-top fade, Hammer-esque pants, Jordans and gold jewellery.
But what’s happening now with the high-top fades, snapbacks, gold chains, denim jackets, Cosby sweaters and shirts-tied-around-the-waist that have infiltrated today’s urban fashion (or what ever the fuck these clothes are called) is something that may be detrimental to the genre and culture as a whole.
And it’s not just the fashion that has gotten into a time machine; the music, most importantly, has also made a stylistic shift to the latter decade.
One of the most distinguished rappers right now, Kendrick Lamar, is probably the most visible new-school pusher and advocate of the 90s aesthetic. On Kendrick’s, he sampled two singles from the late 90s – Aaliyah’s Four Page Letter and Pimp C’s first 8 bars off Jay-Z’s Big Pimping – and later made a thorough throwback west-cost banger on the second half of m.A.A.d City, even featuring MC Eight. Said song along with Big Sean’s Control, as well as most of Nas’ last album (both of which have boombap specialist, No ID, in common) and previous releases from countless other artists have signaled a sort of resurgence of boombap into the mainstream.
Four of 2013’s biggest mainstream releases; Magna Carta Holy Grail, Born Sinner, Nothing Was The Same and The Marshall Mathers LP 2, all contain quite extensively, references and heavy influences from the 90s and early 00’s.
With MMLP2, Eminem gave us a sequel to his monumental 2000 release. A cool but largely unnecessary sequel that features a cool but unnecessary continuation of Stan, among other cool but unnecessary songs and retro sounds.
Jay-Z’s Magna Carta, his weakest since Blueprint, is boombap heavy complete with recycled vocals from B.I.G and J. Cole lazily revisits a sample that was immortalised, famous by and pretty much belongs to A Tribe Called Quest, and even features 90s R&B girl group TLC (more on them later) on his second single.
Drake dropped an album littered with 90s hip-hop references, especially Wu-Tang, all while, in hip-hop’s peripheral, Chris Brown featured Aaliyah and Rihanna ruined Genuwine’s Pony and, and, and…
Although all of that might sound great for 90s hip-hop fans, all it means is that hip-hop is now trying to recapture its best years while sacrificing the immeasurable potential of its future. And that’s only because the current sound and aesthetic have been stagnant since the coming on of Drake & 40’s distinct sound –which was subsequently an offshoot of Kanye’s 808’s — albeit with the modernised alterations of The Weekend and Mike Will.
This is why branch-off hipster artists like the Black Hippy collective, A$AP Rocky and his Mob and more openly, Joey Bad A$$, have looked back to the earlier days for inspiration. But seeing as these late-80s babies are what’s up right now in hip-hop, the kids (their core listenership) will most likely follow what they do stylistically – both in their fashion and rap preferences and styles.
Being that hip-hop is a youthful culture and its consumers are mostly young people, how many of them – especially those who were born after ‘92 – really remember or even understand the throwback style of fashion and the often ironic but now-cool references and samples being used on their favourite rap and R&B songs without resorting to Google? Keep in mind, these are the same listeners that made Soulja Boy one of the biggest rappers at one point, making way for Gucci Mane, Wacka Flocka and the rest of the Brick Squad and the descendent Rich Homey Quan, Chief Keef and similar artists.
The same consumers who started listening to Jay-Z — post-retirement — and vaguely remember the much beleaguered DMX’s breakout albums and singles, are the same ones who probably didn’t get T.I’s nod to Q-Tip – the man who T.I changed his name for- on Why You Wanna?
I actually saw a tweet once that read, and I quote:
“Ok I see this song is kinda huge, I bump it even but who the fuck is Shabba Ranks???”
…and recently I heard an 18 year old independent rapper say on his verse:
“…All eyes on me, like Pac in the 80s…”
…and it just seems like the greater part of the people that are consuming this new and skewed 90s influenced hip-hop just don’t get it.
But like a human being, hip-hop has gone through the necessary phases of growth and growing up. Hip-Hop’s golden era, much like a person’s teenage years, is the age in which it became what it is now. That’s when hip-hop learned what it was and where it was going.
Although it inherited from its parents and consequently outgrew its piercing and sometimes hardcore drums over soulful and heavy head banger samples, it was meant to go through its newly-found wealth and bling-bling phase to get where it is now: at its crossroads. And while many such as myself have several bones to pick with the culture, it still needs to grow and become the greatest culture it can be and overcome its current state of coonery.
Hip-hop was meant to deal with its new found wealth and brag about it. But as hip-hop turns 40 this year, the last thing it needs is to half-heartedly go back to what it was in its youth. And as a person going through a midlife crisis, hip-hop should leave its teenage years (the Golden Era) be and move forward least it ruin them for itself and more importantly us, the fans.