Hip hop is a genre that seems to be commonly misperceived. It’s lambasted for being ignorant, misogynistic, for promoting crime and drug use. This certainly isn’t what hip hop is about, just merely a side effect from the self-expression that hip hop excels at when it’s at its best.
It’s still a relatively young genre with a rebellious spirit, and has been a unique component of music for 40 years. In this rebellious sense, comparisons can be drawn from hip hop now to rock during the 1960s. Rock at the time was another new genre with a sense of rebellion. Yet, it seems that rock had it easier gaining acceptance in its pure form than rap has. This begs the question: can rap be considered the new rock? Emerson Brito and Olivia D’Orazio discussed this, why rap has struggled to gain acceptance, and the genre’s relationship with the Grammys.
Emerson Brito (EB): Is rap music today similar to rock in decades prior, where it stood as a symbol for rebellion? Is rap the new rock?
Olivia D’Orazio (OD): I definitely think so. It’s a lot more popular than it was way back in the day, a lot more mainstream, so that kind of message is getting out a lot easier. In terms of what it represents, I do feel like it does represent a bit of rebellion. With the early rock movement, punk comes to mind more specifically, a lot of people had a tough time with marrying the image of these punk rockers with the messaging, [and I feel that’s the same with some of the rappers today.] I feel like it’s a really great connection to make , and I definitely think rap could be the new rock.
EB: Why do you think there’s been confusion with the sound and the message? Is it something specific to the genres, or is it a similarity they both share as to why rock was misunderstood, and why rap is misunderstood now?
OD: I think it’s just because [the genre’s] go/went against the status quo. When rock was coming out, a lot of the genre used electric guitars. Before, it was always acoustic. That’s what was done and that’s what people liked. Then when you started getting the harder sounds like the electric guitar, it kind of threw everybody for a loop. People didn’t really know what to make of it, even though the lyrics were [generally] the same, or in some cases the artists were the same; the sound just kind of threw people off. I think with rap, it’s the same thing. It’s different, it’s a lot heavier on the drums, you’re not actually singing per se, so I think that kind of throws people off as well. But when you really get down to it, it’s just a different form of poetry.
EB: Even though rap has been around for almost 40 years, it still seems to be struggling for full acceptance. There still seems to be a lot of ignorant perceptions around the genre, in a way that didn’t seem to be present in rock and roll this far into the genre’s life. Why do you think rap has been so slow to catch on relative to rock and roll?
OD: I think a lot of it comes down to how different rap is. With rock you had that progression, you had that shift. In that sense, you think of acoustic to electric. You had that sort of easy transition, where in rap, when you compare it to rock songs, it’s very different. You know immediately it’s not the same genre, in most cases anyway. I think with rap it started off a lot more as a niche, there wasn’t really a mainstream rap that we have now. There were instances of it, but I don’t think it really came out on to the scene and everybody loved it. It took a while for people to warm up to it, but its different now. You look at award shows for example, they have best rap album and rap song, those have their own categories now where they didn’t for a long time.
EB: Touching on the award show, there was a lot of controversy with Macklemore winning it over Kendrick Lamar [this year at the Grammy’s.] There were some pieces that were written that claimed that the Grammy’s don’t understand rap and they don’t award the rappers that really deserve it. Do you agree with this, and do you think this [deserving/critically acclaimed rappers that are overlooked] is more common then we think?
OD: I can kind of see both sides. I didn’t listen to the Macklemore album, so I don’t know, but I know a lot of people have said it’s a really great album and a very entertaining album. I’m a big fan of Kendrick Lamar, so I was on the side that thought he got robbed. At the end of the day you have to look at who’s selecting these awards, and that goes for any awards not just music. The people on these committees aren’t as well rounded as they could be, so when you have a whole lot of people who are producers of country music and rock music and classical music, then you ask them to evaluate Macklemore and Kendrick Lamar, they’re not necessarily going to look at the finer details. They’ll pick up on what they found more entertaining.
EB: So you think it’s more of a problem with asking the voters to cover a wide range of categories to the point where they’re going to be missing the finer details then just the particular genre?
OD: Yeah. I have to say I don’t know how the Grammy’s are chosen, but that’s how I would imagine it. Again, I haven’t even looked at Macklemore, so for all I know it could be the best hip-hop alum in the last twenty years. I really liked good kid, m.A.A.d. city, I thought it was a fantastic album.
EB: What do you think rap’s legacy or cultural impact is right now, and how would you compare it to rock’s impact and legacy?
OD: Right now we’re seeing a little bit of a shift in the content of rap music. Before with Biggie and Tupac, the songs were more cultural, they were rapping about what was going on in their lives [before they made it in the music industry.] Then you kind of had this shift, in terms of mainstream rap, to content about making money and braggadocio rap. Then with rappers like Kendrick Lamar, some of these up and coming artists getting a lot more introspective, which I find really refreshing. With rock, I think you have a lot of that same introspection to a point. It’s just so varied, where rock is such a broad genre that you had a lot of that as well. There were a lot of different takes on the genre and the content of the music. There are definitely a lot of similarities between rap and rock, but then there are also a lot of dividing points.
EB: Why do you feel rap is so volatile and fragile, in the sense that everybody seems to be predicting its death, and they’ve been doing this for the past 10 to 15 years. Nas’ Hip Hop is Dead from eight years ago is an example, and there are still a lot of people that seem to think that the genre is on a downward trajectory. Yet, it doesn’t seem like this has happened in any other genre. Why does this seem to be a hip-hop thing?
OD: I think that there are a lot of different takes, you have some purists that might feel that the genre is too mainstream, or that it’s to accessible to people who haven’t experienced the same struggles, which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing. Then there are some people that think it’s just a niche, strictly for young people, strictly for urban kids, and it’s not something that everybody can enjoy, which I also think is wrong. I really don’t see it going anywhere. I really think that there are a lot of great upcoming artists who are really bringing different elements in hip-hop/rap, and I think it’s so refreshing to hear these different takes, and that’s also why I think rock has been kept alive. You have all these different genres of rock now. If nobody had experimented with rock’s sound, maybe that genre wouldn’t be around how we know it today.
EB: Because rap is still a relatively young genre, especially compared to rock, could you just say that what we’re seeing in the genre are just growing pains, since we’re seeing it develop on such a small, day-to-day scale?
OD: Absolutely. I try to think back to some of the earlier rap albums, something that I think of as being distinctly hip-hop, and the earliest one’s I can think of are from the mid to late ’80s. So 20-30 years, that’s nothing. It’s a baby, especially when you compare it to rock or any other genre. Music changes, that’s the beauty of it, there’s this really great fluidity. I don’t think rap is going to disappear entirely, but I can definitely see it evolving, as it should.
What do you think: Is hip hop the new rock?