Once upon a time, hip hop music and culture was not welcome in its own home. Frowned on by society, it persevered and ascended to a venerable position of influence and became a global commodity. While there are a small handful of icons at the top of the hip hop food chain, the influence they have over diverse groups of people is giving way to a shift in the look and sound of it. At best, this shift promises to diversify it; at worse, this shift promises to disrespect it.
Society is changing in large part, because people look to cultural icons for ques on how to think and behave. To understand something you have to look to it’s source. Here, the predecessors of our icons offer insight in to what these changes mean for all of us.
Hakim Green: Rap music was considered mainstream in ’91 – ’92 after MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice gained commercial recognition with their albums going gold and platinum. By ’94 – ’95 hip hop gained commercial acceptance, but we still had a way to go in terms of record sales… and it was still a “black thing” and a fad. Rock ‘n roll, pop and country music dominated the charts at the time.
MzHanaG: What is the distinction between rap and hip hop?
Hakim Green: Look at rock ‘n roll for example: there’s heavy metal, grunge and something that’s more like pop. Genesis/Phil Collins was rock ‘n roll, but he was more on the pop side, so he wasn’t really rock ‘n roll. Vanilla Ice was hip hop – yeah – but not really. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch was pop music that was influenced by hip hop. Rap is a sub-genre of hip hop.
MzHanaG: Give an example of an artist who’s hip hop and one who’s pop.
Hakim Green: Real hip hop is Joey Badass. Pop, is Drake.
MzHanag: Do you think that hip hop is becoming somewhat of a standard in our society?
Hakim Green: Yes, black culture has always been dominant in America: from the clothing, music, food, television – to the music – blues, country western, jazz, bebop, rhythm and blues, rock ‘n roll. You know, everyone wants to know what the niggers are doing. Everything that black people bring to the table is always shunned in the beginning and undervalued, but then, what used to be considered as just a ‘black thing’ is suddenly what the country is doing, and eventually excludes black people from what they created. I remember going to camp in the ’80s and I used to want to play Marly Marl, Rakim, and Rappers Delight (what I was into) and, I couldn’t really play it. A couple white kids would try to get with it, but for the most part, I couldn’t play my music. They called it ‘jungle music’ and degraded it. They wanted to hear Ozzy Ozbourne, ACDC, and whatever they were in to. But, by the time Run DMC and Aerosmith came out with ‘Walk This Way,’ it became less of a ‘black thing’ and more of an ‘American thing.’ I can really see that play out 25 years later when I’m standing in front of a club with predominantly white patrons inside and I can’t get in, but they’re playing my music.
MzHanaG: Is there room for real hip hop to continue to exist, or will it just bite the dust?
Hakeem Green: Yes, it’s just another one of those things to bite the dust. I remember going to a lecture by KRS 1 in ’92 at William Patterson college in New Jersey and I asked KRS the same question: ‘Will there come a time that black folks aren’t involved in hip hop?’ and he said ‘that’s definitely gona happen and when it does, we’ll just have to create something else like we always do.’
Mzhanag: What’s your opinion of the impact that hip hop is having in other parts of the world?
Lord Jamar: It’s a good thing that hip hop has proliferated all over the world and been a voice for the voiceless – of course that’s a good thing. But, the fact that it is straying so far from its roots – to the point that people are debating who the architects of it are – is where I have the problem.
MzHanaG: What is hip hop?
Lord Jamar: Hip hop is rooted in building self esteem for a people who were downtrodden by society. It was a raw voice – it wasn’t necessarily politically correct. It was originally the voice of people from the hood, and that didn’t mean that you couldn’t be from the country and have a hip hop attitude. But, integrity: there were certain codes and certain rules that existed in original hip hop that don’t exist anymore. Terms like ‘biting:’ this simple term is lost in hip hop right now, and that’s why we have artists out who sound and look alike. When we came up, you couldn’t sound or look like nobody – or you’d be called a ‘biter’ and that wasn’t good, because you were copying. People have taken terms like ‘sellout’ out of the lexicon of hip hop, because all these motherfuckers are sellouts. People have decided not to highlight what they’re doing (selling out), and allow it to go on (selling out), and when anyone speaks up or disagrees with something, they are called a ‘hater.’ So taking out certain codes and morals from hip hop, is what is leading to the degeneration of it. There are some people out there, who are mad at me for certain things I said. These young motherfuckers come up to me and say, ‘Who are you? I never even heard of you!’ The fact that they could even say that and claim to be hip hop shows that there is something missing in hip hop: when we came up, we knew who laid it down before us. I knew about Kingdom the 3rd, and dudes like Gary Byrd, who made a rap record in the ’60s and ’70s. If you’re gona come to this, you’re supposed to know the culture. If you want to be a citizen in America, the government makes you take a test on your knowledge of American history, and if you don’t pass you don’t get the privileges or the say so. You have people come in to hip hop, who don’t know the history and want the privileges and the say so.
Mzhanag: Is hip hop the same as rap?
Lord Jamar: No. Hip hop is more a culture and rap is the act of mechanically laying words over a beat.
MzHanaG: So, it’s possible then for people to not necessarily know the history, but be rappers?
Lord Jamar: Yes. Originally, if you were a rapper you were an emcee. Emcees were for the have-nots; These rappers today are not necessarily emcees; they rap about the haves.
MzHanaG: What is your opinion of international hip hop, such as Japanese and French hip hop?
Buckshot: Its a beautiful thing that we have international hip hop. We gave birth to it and we can’t hold it back. We can only nurture it and watch it sprout in to what its gona be. Now that we have the internet, there’s no excuse for artists not to be successful in other places. The old saying that, ‘If you’re not dope in NY, you won’t be dope overseas’ is b.s.. I do great overseas, but that’s only because of the way I set it up – over here. I’m someone who constantly keeps it moving. The world want’s the shit. I’m a business man and bring business to the game; there’s no shadow of a doubt that that’s my position. Before Duck Down Records, in making the decision to become an entity, there was no one else doing that. Artists got on labels like Loud and Death Row. Even Jay Z wasn’t born yet; he used to open up shows and perform with us, but Jay himself would tell you he didn’t come out before us. I did things my way: I’d rather go about getting money my way, and do whatever I have to do to keep my position – own a company that could be here for 20 years – instead of do things anyone else’s way. Some artists do crazy shit just to be relevant.
MzHanaG: Did Jay Z compromise his integrity?
Buckshot: No. In business, you don’t get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate. If you say you deserve $10, but you settle for $5, that’s your fault. Anyone who fell victim to Jay’s system – that’s their fault. I can’t blame Jay for creating a system that others failed at. Jay could say to me at any time, you have a lot of integrity, but you’re still on the block my nigga. At any point, you could be me.
MzHanaG: So you’re saying that you made the choice to do what you’re doing, and Jay Z for example, made the choice to do what he’s doing?
Buckshot: Certainly. And nothing that he did was not apart of how to reach a goal. He’s doing music his way. People have to decide who they are. What might be important to Jay, might not be important to John.
We’re coming along, but still have a ways to go socially and morally: some don’t trouble themselves to learn about a culture they want to affect; some have become possessive – their desire to win overriding the humility they ought to have; some are giving us a new way to hear music. Through it all, the essence of hip hop is ensconced in history and cannot be circumvented. Those who know real hip hop know the truth, and the truth needs no defenders of it, as it can defend it self.
You know that hip hop has transformed the world when Caucasian priests lip sing to hip hop video, The Devil is a Lie, by Rick Ross and Jay Z.