So I had the opportunity to listen, front to back to Lil Uzi Vert's album Love Is Rage 2 yesterday. As an artist, an emcee, who's high-key partial to potent, progressive, thought provoking & forwarding lyrical content, I'm also a very open minded listener to music (at least I'd like to think so). I try to give anything a listen at least once, especially if there's an overwhelming consensus of support behind whatever the music is.
So, artists like Uzi, Lil Yachty, Desiigner and "similar" artists (essentially in the 18 yr-24 yr range of life) have been getting a bad rap in Hip Hop/entertainment over the past few years, especially from older listeners of Hip Hop, especially those that have been around to be in direct experience of the majority of Hip Hop's growth since the 70s and/or deem themselves as "experts." Such artists as the above named have been labeled "Mumble Rappers" or just straight trash or terrible or whatever other opinion that comes about basically in expression that, ultimately, their music is contrary to what "Hip Hop" as a genre of music and culture is all about. In turn, with their rising popularity in the mainstream comes rising complaints & criticisms from these, essentially, gatekeepers of "good" Hip Hop or Hip Hop period, not only towards the music but towards the consuming youth (aka the peer group of these artists) for their taste in music and possibly even their mental being/state.
Here's the thing and ultimately the purpose of this post ...
Are "old heads", "pioneers", "gatekeeper" consumerists of Hip Hop/rap culture truly in a position to critique the youth and their musical affinities, especially without any direct and expressed and actionable steps towards being with them and the culture to understand WHY it's popular? To understand WHY they gravitate to such vibes and lyrical content (if they're even listening to the lyrics)? To understand WHY they may not want to listen to Kane, or Rakim or whoever else from the old school and from the crates that's forced down their throats as "Real" Hip Hop (UGH... I really can't stand that phrase. Also to be clear, I greatly appreciate and enjoy Rakim and Kane for all they've done for Hip Hop, Rakim is in my top 5, so let's just get that all cleared on jump street).
Basically, from my perspective, as an artist, as a passionate practitioner of the art of rap and emceeing, I'm clear there has been, in the mainstream, a growing imbalance in the ratio of what's perceived as lyrically good hip hop music versus lyrically bad hip hop music, according to the "old head" mentality, to simplistically frame it. "Mumble rap" and perceived "bad" rap music or representations of "bad" music appear to be taking over the airwaves and getting the recognition many feel more lyrically potent and dope artists should be getting, as far as popular consensus appears to be concerned.
Here's what I take issue with in this whole equation. In my growing experience, old heads aren't as willing to be with new consumer experiences as the youth are. The ~18-24, hell the ~13-24 yr old crowd are of a more technologically competent age of understanding; they're immensely well-versed in using the latest phones and gadgets, and when it comes to music moving more and more into an age of streaming and prevalent online growth, these age groups are more prone to consume their music through such mediums. The young artists coming out are creating the music that resonates with them sonically, even if they can't effectively produce the lyrical content that may push the mental connection to the music in the "right" direction. This, in turn, speaks to their generation and their generation is ready and willing to hit Spotify or iTunes to stream and download the music that, to them, is dope, while to the older crowd may sound like an audio shit show. But in all this, is a very teachable moment for the older crowd that many are refusing to see.
I'll break it down a lil' bit.
- The youth are actually very intelligent. Black youth, contrary to media reports and perpetuated imagery and stereotypes, are brilliant. This is not just cognitive, but emotionally.
What is lacking is a want and will by the older crowd, the capable older crowd, to nurture their brilliance. Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, as outlined and coined by Dr. Joy DeGruy, has essentially created a mental space for black elders to pass down the traumas of ancestry that create this need to put down or stifle the brilliance of black children, in public, essentially yet not realizing, out of fear and perhaps, more dishearteningly, out of some form of jealousy or insecurity (missed opportunity or skipped genetic capability in one's own being). This passed down fear (and this is to examine route cause, because it IS in fact deep enough to assess why even the smallest perceived actions occur, socially, especially in the black community/communities of color) may more than likely stem from the concern of slaves who were made to understand the more brilliant, smarter "good working" slave child would be the one most likely sold off for higher price into a separated space of slavery on the market, separating the child from the family; the dumbing down of the child being a means of "protection" to keep them out of being sold off and close to the family.
This in today's society, as a result, looks like the praise of the child by a teacher or someone of "authority" (especially if they're white) and the parent, in receiving this, dumbing down the child as "oh he's just a knucklehead" "oh, this fool" "oh she's a mess" etc. (and this also lends itself into how even we may treat our peers, not just the youth, but I digress). In this behavior, essentially, the child is being made to believe in a poor self concept, poor sense of self worth and ultimately poor sense of cognitive ability - even if it's completely false, aside from any actual medically diagnosed adverse effect to cognitive processing - because parents or older relatives, traumatically, whether directly or through genetic generational delivery, were prone to more often than not make them believe so. (and may even disguise it as "tough love" which is ... FOH. anyway...)
OK, so in this brief reflection, let me get back to the introductory line of this post: In listening, choosing to actively listen to Uzi's album I can say this...While the regular hip hop old head may listen and say "this is garbage, I can't believe the youth listen to this, it all sounds the same, it's not putting forth anything good for the youth, blah blah blah blah..." .... I get it... Lyrical content wise it leaves much to be desired, in the realm of typical trap music content of "ice in my watch/chain/wrist" "I'll take your bitch/hoe" "I get 80 racks for a show/verse" etc. yeah... ok, that shit gets tiring, granted. However, what I also understood was a re-occurring theme, amidst all that other shit, of "leave me alone" "make the pain go away" "I feel so numb/I want to be numb" "the devil got me" and suicidal or pill popping lyrical expressions ... Coping mechanisms and resulting behaviors of depression, angst and other forms of mental anguish.
Music, art, is a powerful tool of expression, especially of any internal processes, reactions, reflections & emotions (whether good or bad, positive or negative). In that, it begs for us to be more in the question of "just how in support are we to the mental nourishment and nurturing of our youth, as the elders, as the guides, as the protectors?" when these are conversations they're having in their music, in their artistic expression? To not address when they are in need or when they are crying out for help, through whatever means they have access to (ie: music, or drugs/alcohol and other coping vices and behaviors) AND stand in support of them does a HUGE disservice to their growth. We don't talk about mental health as it is in our community, even for adults & elders, so while it's not surprising that the youth aren't receiving such support from parents/elders, knowing this, it does not mean it is completely impossible to bridge this gap of disconnection. So when Uzi belts out "Xanny make it go away" or "all my friends are dead, push me to the edge" old heads owe it to the younger masses to really be with them around this concerns. It's more than lyrics. It's what's happening. It's their truth. And while there's some they may capitalize on substance abuse and pain as a means for profit in scumbag fashion (*cough* Future *cough* hey, he admitted it *shrug*) for these young folk, it very well is their truth... And very well the crux of why they may go so hard for these artists.
They feel understood.
So they will run to Spotify and click Uzi or 21 Savage or Yachty's latest single and press repeat... And add them to their playlists. They may lash out. They may come off rebellious. They may come off even nonsensical. They may SEEM disrespectful. They may claim, even proudly they "don't give a fuck." What the older generation(s) can look to do, though, is reflect on their come from, in all of it... And, before it's too late, stand with them to be different in how we listen, and how we support them. How we stand as a fair ear to their voice. Who raised them? Where did their guidance come from? Who stood for and is standing for them? All fair things to consider. They're growing up in very different times and having very different conversations than the older generation, and sadly, very different conversations about the same damn issues (see 1960s vs. 2016-17+). If we want things to be different with the future of our youth (a generation truly full of some great, growing leaders, just in need of the necessary guidance) then we get to BE different with our youth, in how we emotionally and mentally connect with and forward them. Condemning them for not "getting it right" won't work because they're no longer listening. Who would want to listen to that, though? We gotta be different with them, and they'll be different with us, and the future of our community and the world at large.
Old heads suck as consumers. Of this I'm keeping it all the way 100. And this is an assessment of old heads standing ignorant in a means to be supportive to what they say they want, yet not standing in a commitment to eradicate such ignorance. This speaks to what I said earlier about the youth being better versed in today's tech over the older generation.
Old dogs committed to old tricks.
In the case of indie/underground artists, there's a severe disconnect, I've seen and experienced, in the same conversation of "man, X artist is so dope/got the illest bars, I dunno why they're not in mainstream over this trash that's out" or "why aren't you famous by now/why are you/they not on the radio more like this mumble rap crap" .... What also exists is the lack of digital support in a digital age (streaming services, often time deliberate defiance which is... just, odd, I dunno what that's about) or readily going to a performance, or sharing more of these artists to their larger networks of families, friends and the like. If anything, more energy is expended in negative criticism of what's popular rather than positive and prevalent sharing and promotion of what's not (and is felts as it should be).
So "hip hop/older heads" if you're wondering why there's no "good" hip hop in the mainstream or why there's a severe imbalance .... *drumroll* it's pretty much because of you.
Older generations stick with what they know and reminisce on yesteryear rather than adapt to evolution and newer times. How much more effective would it be to be with the education of "good" (whatever) music rather than the loud, reactionary and non-committal bashing of what we don't like? Share your vision of exceptional musicality with your children and the youth in your life, and also share it with others. Show why it hits home for you in such a way. Purchase that album. Stream that album. Review that song. Go to a show that isn't always a popular older artist and support what's new that's reminiscent of that style or vibe (because it exists... in droves. Don't let mainstream prove to you otherwise. TONS of "great" hip hop exists. You gotta want to do the research of where to find it, which actually isn't difficult.)
I say all this to say... Let's WANT to bridge the gap. If we expect our musical landscape to change, if we expect the balance to be realigned (or aligned) in hip hop - whether mainstream, independent or underground - we gotta want to BE different about how we consume this music. We gotta be different in how we effectively communicate and stand in support of our youth that support the music that, while may stand in detriment (and a lot of the older hip hop does to, let's not even act like that's still not an issue, but for another day, this about the yout dem) it is their truth, what they know, and what's been proving as a successful formula of escape, ultimately. If we want them having a better conversation artistically - which leads to academically and socially and emotionally - for the future, we gotta actually be open to effectively having the conversation with them. AND with ourselves.
Because we're not doing that EITHER. A story for another day.
"Depression is a real killer... Off the Wall notions from family got life feelin' like Thriller. They don't mean no harm it's just societal constructs painting pictures of the taboo to the point we can't discuss it... Plus mental health care ain't part of the budget...." - PATH P "Flatline", Revolution & Legacy, Vol. I: The Revolution
*Disclaimer* I ain't a psychologist, I just think a lot. I'm also an artist "and I'm sensitive about my shit." Thanks, Erykah.