Happy Born Day to my beloved Hip Hop! August 11, 1973 (when I was just a little, okay, big tyke of three years old) is the recognized and celebrated date that Hip Hop had its fledgling genesis. 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, just like urban addresses throughout metropolitan areas throughout the nation, housed young, creative souls looking for an outlet to party and bullshit. Clive Campbell, known to the Hip Hop universe at Kool Herc, along with his sister Cindy, set the stage and template for what we are now celebrating, forty years later.
A DJ Kool Herc Party/Back To School Jam is how the nondescript index card and makeshift flyer labeled this West Bronx gathering in the recreation room of the high-rise that Herc and sister Cindy called home. As The Notorious B.I.G. so aptly stated, "never thought that Hip Hop would take it this far". But it did. With DJ Kool Herc taking his Jamaican, dancehall-tinged roots and developing his unique style, the stage was set for DJ culture to flourish and become the backbone of Hip Hop, even today. Herc has been very secretive about his playlist that humid, summer eve in that historic landmark, but you can guesstimate that joints of the day, such as "Give It Up Or Turn It Loose" by the Godfather James Brown, "Bongo Rock" by The Incredible Bongo Band, and "The Mexican" by Babe Ruth made its way through the speakers for that youthful crowd to enjoy.
Fast-forward to 2013, the 21st Century, and we have covered much ground with Hip Hop culture. Introducing the world to a movement that most never imagined would be a worldwide tour-de-force, we pay homage. Around the same time that Herc was blessing ears with his Merry-Go-Round turntable technique, Stevie Wonder released to the world Innervisions. I parallel that title with the path that the forefathers of Hip Hop culture laid. They had the internal vision to bring unity, artistic expression, and a sense of against the grain bravado to those that were often misguided, misinterpreted, misrepresented, but not missing in action. Even though Kool Herc is credited for bringing the culture of Hip Hop to the world, others had weighty contributions. Afrika Bambaatta, Kool DJ Dee, Grandmaster Flash and Grand Wizzard Theodore can all lay claims to fame to creating a culture collectively, from the subterranean streets of the Big Apple to globally.
How does it feel to be middle-aged Hip Hop? How did you get to this point? A few years ago, Nas stated emphatically that Hip Hop Is Dead, but it is making its mark commercially, to say the least. Unfortunately, that commercial footprint has hindered the creativity that sparks the culture. For every Little Brother, you have a Trinidad James, reaping financial benefits without paying any true dues, in my opinion. And there is the rub when it comes to this thing we call Hip Hop, specifically that highly visible part that involves spittin' rhymes, so to speak. Over the years, Hip Hop has always had this issue with sacrificing substance for superficial. Be it MC Hammer or Vanilla Ice, the backpack contingent has looked at the commercial side of "Rap Music" with that ever-present side-eye. "Hip-Hop" versus "Rap" has been in constant rotation on the illusionary cultural turntable since Run-DMC "Walked This Way" into Middle America (pun intended). It's unfortunate that lyricism and musicality has pretty much taken a back seat to fly-by-night Rich Homie Quans and the like. No disrespect to him, because I don't follow his movement or music, but it is very evident that he doesn't possess the lyrical dexterity of a Lupe or Kendrick (two artists that have managed to balance the artistic with the commercial). I feel, however, that the music as a whole can said balance across the boards. Unfortunately, the MTV's and BET's won't pump their machinery in the direction of very talented artists deserving of shine. BET had the audacity a few years ago to even go as far as to state (publicly mind you) that a group like the aforementioned Little Brother was "too intelligent" for its viewers. Such a slap in the face.
So where do we as a culture stand? At a crossroads? I think that there is indeed a market for Hip-Hop At 40. There is going to be a dope lineup performing in Durham, North Carolina at the DPAC to coincide with North Carolina Central University Homecoming. Return Of The Legends will be a two-night affair with some of the icons that have made Hip-Hop culture the cash cow that it is now. Rakim. EPMD. Das EFX. The Pharcyde. Brand Nubian. Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth. Camp Lo. Even BBD is making an appearance, showing that their brand of Hip Hop, even though it was "smoothed-out on the R&B tip" appeals to the masses in this day and time. I am so looking forward to this joint. I don't consider it "old-school", but "true school". I don't want to necessarily place a label on the music at hand, but I want to be very clear that Adult Contemporary Hip Hop can thrive. Truth be told, throw the labels to the side and create dope music.
"Dope beats, dope rhymes what more do y'all want..."
Hip Hop is 40. I will be 44 in January. Jay Z (hyphen removed) will be 44 in December. Eminem is 41 today (October 17th). Black Thought is 42. Snoop Dogg (or Snoop Lion or Snoopzilla) is 41. DJ Jazzy Jeff is I can on and on about the maturity (and sometimes lack thereof) within Hip Hop. I won't, however, because the script is still being written about the real-life and real-time culture that started in the urban Big Apple jungles and has now spread globally. I am glad to be a character is this film (an extra, but in the film nevertheless). I salute Hip Hop for what it was, what it has become, and what it will be in the future. We Are Hip Hop!