Thirty-somethings in Biggie and Tupac t-shirts might try and tell you that hip-hop is dead. It’s just not the same, they’ll say. They’ll degrade the likes of Lil Pump and 21 Savage – deservedly so – but they might also try and tell you that the genre as a whole is irrevocably changed for the worse.
The truth is that modern hip-hop – at least in its most popular form – is undeniably different from its old-school incarnation, but there’s still plenty of good music out there if you know where to look. This playlist is proof: it has 12 songs from the 1990’s, hip-hop’s so-called “golden age,” and 12 contemporary songs, all from different artists, that both validate and expand the meaning of hip-hop today.
From Sugarhill Gang to N.W.A to Eminem to Kendrick Lamar, the legacy of hip-hop has always been evolution. It never has been and never will be one thing, no matter what old-school purists might say. In its first iteration, the term “hip-hop” referred not just to music, but to graffiti, street dance, and fashion, and has since encompassed everything from flashy jewelry and material goods to powerful social awareness and meditations on what it means to be Black in America.
In all of hip-hop’s forms, perhaps the only common denominator is a person behind the mic, which is exactly the concept of my playlist. There are songs influenced by jazz, pop, rock, R&B and soul; songs that are self-effacing, boastful, slow, uptempo, lyrical and rhythmic. The songs are nominally rap-centric, but can never collectively be defined as one thing -- to me, that’s the spirit of hip-hop.