My goal ever since I began creating Hip Hop material in the 1990’s was to increase the status and acceptance of the culture that we were developing. Embedded in the First Generation of Hiphoppas was the universal desire to be recognized and respected. Each generation has that. However, at that time, Hip Hop was not yet respected or integrated into American society and the World like it is today. At that time, the desire to be respected was even more important than the desire for money on some levels. Groups that represented Hip Hop were not so much seeking popularity among mainstream audiences, than they were, respect, for the genre itself and respect among their own peers.
Respect was a key factor and, of course, the origin of the slang word ‘diss’, which is short for disrespect. The idea of dissin’ someone became so connected to Hip Hop culture, that mainstream outsiders took notice and adopted the word themselves. Today, everyone knows what it means to diss someone, whereas the concept was new at one time. Although the concept of being respected is not new, Hip Hop, not necessarily from the beginning, but after a certain amount of maturity in the late 1980’s, began to become responsible.
Instilled in the youth first attending college like myself in 1987, was a respect for what came before us. The youth of that time recognized the rich history that made up a culture, like Black culture for example. We also recognized that Hip Hop borrowed from “Black” culture and “Latino” culture, “urban” culture, pop culture, comic books, kung-fu movies, funk music, punk rock, the 5% Nation, Rastas and old-school Hippie educational systems in order to exist. My generation of youth acknowledged and accepted where Hip Hop came from by developing the art of sampling records on a new level. The pioneers of this form also paid a heavy fee for the practice in copyright lawsuits too. Even though groups from X-Clan to Wu-Tang, to Public Enemy and De La Soul, showed disdain for mainstream America, they did not discount the realities of where we borrowed our source material from. We were also steeped in the era of ‘Keep It Real’, ‘Stop frontin’, ‘True to the Game’ and rhetoric that reminded us to keep our feet on the ground and not pretend. Back then, to be grounded, you had to be underground.
Meanwhile, there were other forces in hip-hop music that represented the regular mainstream desires for money and recognition (fame) over respect. The mainstream is built on industries developed to perpetuate its existence. Therefore, it uses tested methods to generate a predetermined rate of return on investment (ROI). One method used is to target highly impressionable youth with stimulating trends that boom and bust at predictable cycles. These cycles are maximized for ROI in the music industry by pop music. The tried and true formulas for what teens consider groovy, hip, fresh, dope, hot, swagged out, or even ‘on fleek’ have used the same principles since the 1960’s.
Although True School Hiphoppas or those who preferred respect for Hip Hop over money, were aware of the mainstream formulas, we instead created new formulas that allowed our preferred style of expression to gain acceptance. To us, cursing was acceptable. Raw subject matter that covered off-color topics from an urban perspective was acceptable. Unrefined, formally-untrained artists were acceptable. Still, one of the most important aspects was a concept called ‘biting’ that spilled over from the early days of Hip Hop.
Hiphoppas subliminally and sometimes overtly demanded originality. Hip Hop demanded that its practitioners define the culture with expression that was different from the mainstream formula. That was a big part in what it made it Hip Hop; the fact that it wasn’t mainstream. But, because of the success of the gangsta rap trend and the playa era of rap music, record companies reasserted their influence on what was considered hip-hop music. At first, the purist of Hip Hop, railed against the promotion of gangsta rap and the elevation of ‘shiny’ rap labels like Badboy Records. But the lyrical skill of artists like Biggie Smalls overshadowed the flaws in their approach. People in Hip Hop ignored the promotion of negativity in favor of Worldwide recognition and money. Even in the classic hip-hip song by Lil Kim featuring the Lox and Biggie, respect comes last in the title, “Money, Power, Respect.”
Fast-forward to today and the mainstream ideology has completely infiltrated rap music to the point that it’s akin more to pop music than hip-hop. In the new trendy rap, there are no references to what caused Hip Hop Kulture and where it came from. There’s no desire to accumulate respect for the music genre or the culture. There’s mainly the desire for fame and money; two pillars of mainstream music. Some of today’s rappers don’t seem to care if they’re respected. They don’t mind if they’re ridiculed and disrespected in public. To them it translates into publicity. Some are willing to become buffoons and mock themselves or the audience to gain infamy and notoriety. YouTube hits are counted the same if a person is laughing with you or laughing at you as far they’re concerned. It’s all about clicks and ad revenue like the ‘Jack-ass’ version of rap music.
The simple point of all of this is to help people realize that there’s a big difference between hip-hop music and popular rap music. In one sense its all about Respect.