Soulja Boy Tell’em: The Myth of “Real” Hip-Hop

As a very observant 29.5 year old black man from a black community…I’ve heard just about every classic rap song/album, and seen just about every movement from 1987 through today. Do I collect classic rap albums (or iPod catalog them)? Nope. Do I follow less-than-mainstream to “underground” artists? ehhh…Not really. I pretty much listen to what I like and observe the rest: always have.

You should note that I’m not posting this blog out of sarcasm, but to actually find some answers and generate thought. Over the past 10 years or so, I’ve been in many a debate (mostly in barbershops, often over drinks, usually with people within 5 years of my age) regarding rap music; more specifically hip-hop, and even more pointed “real” hip-hop.

I don’t personally think rap music and hip-hop are synonymous…nor have they ever been. The latter, is a culture, who’s primary mode of communication is rap music: but also consists of art, literature, fashion, dance, and dare I say…a school of thought. But I digress: hip-hop is bigger than rap in my book. However, for the sake of this blog, I’ll presume hip-hop and rap music are interchangeable.

So, after countless confusing and often liquored-up debates I’m led to this conclusion: there is no such thing as “real” hip-hop; if there is, all rap music is “real” hip-hop and some of it is just obviously better than others. [Note: by “better” I mean, more skillfully crafted, more entertaining, more thought provoking, more creative, etc.]

Here’s why:

1- Subjectivity: Let’s get some obvious shit out the way first. Judging music is a matter of opinion and taste. So any concrete “criteria” set up would almost certainly be based on one’s opinion of what he/she thought was important. For example: I like dope production. But not every dope beat makes a classic rap song, or even get’s solid lyrics…it’s just a dope beat. Is there room in real hip-hop for lackluster lyrics, but dope beats? Who knows? I have yet to hear a concise definition of what “real” hip-hop is. Most people just list a bunch of artists/albums that they like, or a particular trend, or a particular era (most commonly late 80’s thru mid 90’s) and roll with that.

2- Underground rappers and niggas who just don’t sell records: I’ve talked to people who swear up and down that by naming a bunch of rappers that nobody but them has heard of that validates the existence of real hip-hop. No it doesn’t, that just means you’re way more into the music than everybody else. That’s cool, but that doesn’t make that underground cats you like “good” or “real”…it just means they probably don’t earn that much (it doesn’t make them less than talented either…everybody has to start somewhere). Now I’m not stupid, I know the terms of a record deal are negotiable and a savvy business-rapper can have a deal where he’s earning a lot of not that many sales. That being said, if you’re really that good…people should be consuming your shit. Even if you’re just getting downloaded a lot, or doing a lot of small venues…somebody has to like your shit and be willing to at least click “download” to hear it. And a lot of downloading is free…so if you can’t get people to listen to your music for FREE, we have to question its quality.

3- Hypocrisy: This ties into point one…but it’s a point that makes people defensive. Most people who I’ve talked to that claim to be hip-hop heads are heavily in favor of some movement/era in rap, and dead-set against another movement/era. That’s cool, but their justification for opposing one almost automatically makes them a hypocrite in supporting another. Example: I know more than a couple cats that believe all “real” hiphop comes from the east coast, specifically New York; and if it ain’t east coast…they won’t fu*k with it. This is usually the same type of cat that will defend a weak album/artist from NY, and ignore dope albums from the south and west coast. Same goes for cats who like lyrics. Ok cool, they have a right to oppose artists like Soulja Boy, Wacka Flacka, etc…problem is, these are the FIRST muthafu*kas on the wedding reception dance floor when the Kid ‘n Play come on. I wanna trip these niggas every time I see ’em dance.

4- Substance vs. Greatness: I’ll presume that an MC that becomes a legend automatically is “real”. If that’s the case, how do we determine who the great MC’s are? A lot of the detractors of newer rap artists complain that, quite simply, they ain’t tombout shit. And, I kind of agree. That being said, since when does not having a message disqualify one from greatness?? Exibit A: The Notorious B.I.G- legend. period. On everybody’s short list of greatest evers, and on many people’s list at the top. Let’s take a look at the substance in his body of work. Big rapped about: rags to riches (initially with dope…then rap), moving weight (after he blew up from rap), homicide, banging heaux (despite is unattractive appearance), tricking money (because he can), suicide (not sure why when it’s so dope to be him), and more heaux and money (and how those can create problems)….hmmmmm. Let’s be honest:: just about every whack rapper raps about the exact same thing as Big, just not as well/creatively. Which kind of makes substance a non-factor…especially when you factor in Jay Z, who picked up the torch of guns, dope, massive amounts of money, and heaux. (…and he’s also a legend).

Let’s re-cap: We’ll never be on the same page as far as what “real” means because it’s so subjective and quite frankly I could’ve ended my blog right there. There’s a bias in favor of less-than-mainstream artists that exists, that doesn’t equal them being real…only harder to find in record stores and on the internet. Everybody’s got their favorite type of rap, and shit they flat out hate…but within their favorite, there’s something, that by their own definition, they should hate…but don’t. And lastly, newer “whack” MC’s get accused of a lack of substance but there are great MC’s who rapped about the same shit and became legends….ummm ok. Bottom line, you just like what you like.

I’m sure there will be plenty of input about this blog, feel free to comment.

~El Jugo

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4 Responses to “Soulja Boy Tell’em: The Myth of “Real” Hip-Hop”

  1. klkenned Says:

    you get a slow clap followed by riotous applause. *clap clap clap* I found this argument to be a well thought out assault against hip hop officianados and music snobs alike. and it’s universal! the same can be said about r&b (ask my momma, who thinks Marvin’s version of telling me he’d like to have sex with me is FAR classier than anyone born after 1975). Im sure it even applies to rap…
    So at what point does “classic” rap like big and jay-z, turn into jiggaboo cooning like soldja boi and wacka flac – i will not type that bullshit… < – See! I hate him and i've never even heard a song…
    Bravo, El Jugo…

  2. Danielle Says:

    I’ve already admitted that you’d be trippin’ the hell outta me at said wedding, and I have no problem being a hypocrite. I agree totally with this blog, with Hip-Hop and Rap being two different things, and I agree that people need to accept the fact that everything is based on preference and you may not like what I like. But please know that I (and most people for that matter) tend to surround myself with like minded people. I hate Soulja Boy with the fire of three suns, and if you love his music, (I mean really really like it, not that “I mean this song has a hot beat so I’m gonna ignore the fact that he’s melting my brain cells away” kinda like) just know that we probably won’t be chillin anytime soon, we don’t need to debate about what “real” hip-hop is, we probably don’t need to talk at all.

  3. I think that the problem with rap music now is that there’s no room in commercial rap for everyone. What made the golden era of rap so great was that there was room for everyone to get paid, become a legend in their own right, and most importantly express themselves.Now everything is seperated into factions and can’t show love for one another. We’ve seen Soulja Boy before, old heads just liked him better when he was called Kid N Play or MC Hammer. Same thing with Justus League aka the new Native Tongues.

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