Jun 6, 2008
Hipster Hop
OK I had to pick up on this one. The Chicago Reader, which is the most terminally boring Chicago weekly paper for people who think they're smarter than you (sorry, StreetWise!) for some reason thinks that they should justify the "new media" by writing about what's happening on the blogs. Unfortunately, starting a flame war is usually the realm of xangas, not the fucking Chicago Reader. It should be obvious to all parties involved that because the original poster can't spell "Liberace" or "Douchebag" correctly, THERE AIN'T NO REASON YOU SHOULD EVEN BE GIVING A SHIT CHICAGO READER.

But fucking whatever. At least the Reader has Savage Love.

The flame war was about "Hipster Rap," which is a genre I have been referring to amongst friends as "Hipster Hop" because you know if you really think about it Hip Hop is a pretty stupid genre name anyhow and it's at least as clever as Hip Hopera, Beyonce. It points to the Cool Kids, Kid Sister, Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, Kidz in the Hall, N.E.R.D., Lil Mama, and M.I.A. as prime examples of hipster hop, which the dude apparently categorizes as stylistically douchey hipsters.

Now, I'd describe myself as a fan of most of the aforementioned acts. I don't think M.I.A. counts, because she's from overseas and they're fucking classy or something, and Lil Mama falls more into the Avril Lavigney camp, a little too poppy to be necessarily hip. The rest are pretty good examples of the genre, and indeed, as the reader says, it lacks the "scary black people." No, this genre is full of black people who might be in your theater group, or your workplace. These black people are gentrified.

Nevermind that N.W.A. sold mostly to angry white teenagers in the suburbs.

I've always been disappointed at how many of my peers just dismiss hip hop in one fell swoop - a good friend dismissed R. Kelly - R. Friggin Kelly - as "talking fast." Another only listened to Kanye, because the rest of rap was just "misogyny," obviously taking the Hillary Clinton approach to rap. Look, I don't expect my dad to get it, but seriously, I've known some fairly hip individuals who don't know what they're missing.

Hipster hop tends to appeal to hipsters, as its name suggests. Or indie kids, or anyone who fancies themselves a music enthusiast. Your friend from high school who turned you onto some really good music before you realized she was a huge bitch? That's her. Just about anyone that goes to Columbia College? That's them too. They've got a cutting-edge taste in music that probably syncs fairly well with whatever Pitchfork thinks is hot. There's nothing wrong with that. But their interest in rap doesn't extend beyond these particularly hip acts.

Can it really just be that these acts are fashion-savvy, have a sense of style that is half the appeal? That it's more acceptable to love Kanye's teenager-like introspection, Lupe's affinity for skateboarding or Kid Sister's songs about painting her nails than Common's oldness, De La Soul's outcast sensibilities or ODB's eccentricities? Is that really so important? I mean, shit, De La sampled Schoolhouse Rock, that should at the very least buy them some hipster cred.

Maybe it's just that these are the new class, that all the old guys are, understandably, old. But show me a hipster without a 90s alt-rock band as their first true love, without Radiohead or Weezer at the top of their last.fm charts, and I'll show you a poseur. I'll admit - hip hop in general moves a lot faster, I think, and so it might seem a little more dated. It's a little more subject to trends, a little more of-the-moment. But a classic beat is a classic beat.

Digable Planets were the original "hipsters" of rap - back when it meant "jazz hipsters," like people who smoke cigarettes at jazz clubs. And now the term has taken on a whole different meaning, and Digable Planets are only good for a nostalgia act. Jazz Rap ended up being a flash in the pan - the era of Tribe and De La is long passed (though who the fuck is seeing them at Rock the Bells this summer? I am!). I won't say that it's because hip hop is a young man's game - it is, but if you can find an act that got subsequently higher scores for each album on Pitchfork, you're a ridiculous enthusiast.

Just like someone classy might altogether reject such testosterone-fueled cultural emptiness like the WWF, so is the 90s as an era in hip hop, known more for P. Diddy's extravagant videos and Tupac and Biggie getting shot. It's extravagance, sex, drugs, violence, all the bad things that appeal to the "lower classes," the dumb stuff. There's a lot of gold in there, though - Illmatic (fact: Nas wrote Illmatic when he was younger than I am. I'm past my prime!), Ready 2 Die, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted. There's a lot of nihilism and a lot of it is kind of a bummer if you're used to The Pipettes.

A lot of it is that black people are scary. The 80s are a generation ago, and the 90s are more renowned for gangsta rap and Will Smith. Who really wants to venture that far? There was a festival down in Washington Park last year that featured Rhymefest as headliner. I was going to go, but I decided, in the end, that I didn't know the neighborhood and would be coming home probably around midnight, and was a bit too nervous to really hit the show. Sounds like I wasn't the only one - a friend told me the show was deserted.

Some of it's gotta be white guilt, though. Sure, a lot of hip hop is a bummer, but it's not that universal bummer, like this girl dumped me and my heart is broken. It's "Life's a bitch, and then you die, that's why we get high, cause you never know when you're gonna go." It's that existential nothingness.

In the end, I say that it's half the "world music" phenomenon, where it's so different and foreign that you never really like it but you pretend to like it so that you seem cultured. But the other half is that rap still has such a crass stigma that you'll impress no one by listening to it. That's where hipster hop has succeeded with white folks - it doesn't have that stigma, you can play it for someone and they'll instantly be able to latch on. "This song about cosmetics is so pleasant and non-offensive! I can listen to this!" It's new, it's quality, it's safe, what else could a white person ask for?

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