Up to what point can Hip Hop music transform, change, be remixed and experimented upon until it is no longer Hip Hop music? That’s the question a friend and I were trying to answer during a heated conversation about the state of rap and which new artists claim to have a stake in this art form. While we both came to a satisfactory conclusion which I’ll share later, our discussion raised many interesting points that I felt would be best discussed in a public forum. This is ultimately the purpose of a platform like RapRehab.
However, things tend to get sticky right from the start of the discussion. First of all, is Hip Hop music even the same as rap music? Since the culture’s birth, it is true that Hip Hop has always incorporated elements from all musical genres, whether it’s B-boys breakin’ to R&B breaks or MC’s rhyming over rock beats. Hip Hop has no qualms about its various influences which can be heard in the diversity of samples used in rap music over the years. But purists like myself believe that, technically, anyone can rap if rapping is simply the act of rhythmically speaking in rhymes over a beat. To this point, anyone from the Rappin’ Granny to Dolly Parton has the ability to rap. But does that make them Hip Hop? Absolutely not. Therefore, we can easily dismiss the notion that all “rappers” are automatically Hip Hop artists. So what is that magical ingredient that makes a rapper, Hip Hop?
In a nutshell, not only does one need actual talent and an understanding of the various mechanisms of the art of rap but one must also have invested time in Hip Hop culture as an active participant. This means that they’re either a practitioner of one or more of the elements of the culture or at least a subscriber to the ideals, philosophy, and lifestyle traditionally associated with Hip Hop. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand how someone can rap without being “Hip Hop”.
After all, would you call someone a country singer simply because they’re wearing a cowboy hat and clumsily strumming away on a guitar? Would a vacation to India, a couple of books on Eastern Philosophy, and Saturday yoga classes be enough to call someone a mystic? Should the drunk guy doing bad karaoke with his college friends now be considered a singer because he has the liquid confidence to “perform” in front of a crowd without vomiting on himself? Can Paris Hilton now be called a legitimate DJ because she’s getting paid to play “prerecorded” mixes at clubs around the world? Can a part time opinionated blogger with virtually no followers expect to receive the same level of respect as an award-winning journalist who’s interviewed presidents and international decision makers? No, no, no, no, and no! It takes time, talent, dedication, commitment, and growth to be considered credible, if not a flat out expert, at any given discipline. Why shouldn’t it?
Simply because Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, and other pop celebrities have decided to try their hand at rapping, doesn’t make them “Hip Hop”. Just because someone is speaking a certain way or wearing certain clothes doesn’t automatically give them a pass to claim as theirs something they haven’t dedicated their life to…no matter how many other lame ass rappers co-sign their foolishness.
So, up to what point can Hip Hop music transform, change, and be experimented upon until it no longer qualifies to be called Hip Hop music? Simple – up to the point where the person making the music has no investment in its rich history and cultural preservation.
What do you think?
Sebastien Elkouby is a Hip Hop Culture historian, freelance writer, creative consultant, and award-winning educator. Check out his educational program, Global Awareness Through Hip Hop Culture and his blog, SebIsHipHop.wordpress.