Last night, I found myself completely and delightfully immersed in nostalgia. This year’s installment of the BET Awards featured some today’s hottest “Hip-Pop” artists, including captivating performances from Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean, Janelle Monae and Jidenna, a not-so-captivating showing from Fetty Wap (although I am a fan of his sound) and the awkwardness that is the trio of K. Michelle, Tamar Braxton and Patti LaBelle. In the shadow of today’s most popular music, it was the voices and sounds of the past that gave us OUR moments of pride, history and legacy.
To attempt to express the feelings, admiration and genuine affection that we should have for Smokey Robinson and the “Motown Sound” is a task in which words simply underwhelm. The significance of the sounds, voices, and figures of that era need not go without mention. But today, I am here for Hip-Hop.
As a Hip-Hop cultural elitist (i.e. an 80’s Baby), nothing rocks my socks like the exaggerated glamour and luster of 90’s fashion, “…having your producer all up in the videos, dancing…” and of course, recognizing that the only Sean Combs we acknowledge is “Puff Daddy”. We never accepted Diddy and we never will. Last night, Puff gave us the Bad Boy Reunion that we never really asked for because we did not know how much we needed it. Reminiscing over twenty years of Bad Boy Records, led me to think about how much the landscape of Hip-Hop has changed and how much it has actually stayed much of the same. Most purists are completely turned off by most mainstream Rap music and criticize both the music and the culture for its lack of depth, consciousness and quality. In the words of Kendrick Lamar, I say to them: “we gon be alright”.
The joy of hearing the sounds and voices of “The Golden Era” will never wan in the minds and hearts of those who experienced them first. The influence of that time will resonate in the sounds, messages and images of the culture forever. As Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam mentioned last night, we are only as tall as the shoulders that we stand on. The gatekeepers of our music still have their finger on the pulse of the culture. Think of today’s most popular Hip-Hop artists and where they draw their inspirations from… Kendrick Lamar is the direct descendant of NWA, more refined and precise. J. Cole is Nas, more thoughtful and insightful. MMG, Rick Ross, Meek Mill, the soon-to-be free agent, Nicki Minaj… folks… that looks an awful lot like the old Bad Boy to me. Nearly all of today’s top artist’s careers are built directly upon the shoulders of their 90’s predecessors. Just as the pioneers of the culture, trusted the next generation, and that generation trusted the next, we must also do the same. It is perfectly fine to relish in the gloriousness of the past (and glorious it indeed was), but not at the sake of disconnecting ourselves from the present. Listen to some of these new artists, get better acquainted with them and I assure you that you will find that the present is in capable hands. No need to worry, “we gon be alright.”