Ageism: Why Hip Hop Nostalgia is Understandable, But Not Acceptable

“They don’t make music like it used to be.” “Hip Hop is dead.” “All the music that’s out now is…

“They don’t make music like it used to be.”
“Hip Hop is dead.”
“All the music that’s out now is garbage.”
“We gotta get like back in the day.”

Eye. Roll. We all know of those uncles, aunties, or local OGs that spew these statements out like millennial repellent. And It’s getting tired.

A few weeks ago I naively decided to watch J. Cole’s Forest Hills Drive HBO miniseries “Road to Homecoming” and concert special in the company of my grandmother. As you can imagine, it was a pretty stiff moment when Cole announced his song about “the time [he] got [his] first piece of pussy” and went on to rhyming “Wet Dreamz.” Long story short, I fast-forwarded the song. But throughout the whole viewing, all I heard was my grandmother’s gasps, her OMGs, and “why do these rappers love to cuss so much” every few minutes.

Maybe I was trying to get caught up on shows because, transparency, cable ain’t cheap, and your girl’s not here for it. Or, maybe I was just trying to defeat social isolation of my elder and put my granny on to some fire, I don’t know. What I do know is that instead of brushing her displeasure off and retreating to “she’s old, she doesn’t understand,” I wanted her to get it because this was about more than just J. Cole’s cussing. We then opened up the discussion of, undoubtedly, why these rappers love to cuss so much, why Hip Hop can be so sexual, and how the little kids gon’ be alright despite this. Although the war wasn’t won, I do appreciate the fact that most people don’t even get this far as to having these conversations with their elders.

Ironically, older folks tend to dislike graphic lyrics or cussing in Hip Hop even though we, including them, cuss in our everyday lives and continue to engage in sexual activity, whether it’s expressed in the music or not. This is because a lot of older folks are keen to keeping the obscure things hushed, not necessarily always for their ears, but I believe, for white folks. We all know that music is universal. Once it drops, it can land in anyone’s speakers. Then black music, along with the black community in which it was conceived from, becomes vulnerable. Sure, we may cuss up a storm in our homes/at the function and say some freaky things around our kin, but we’re no longer respectable once those outside of our safe spaces (whites and non-black POC) become keen to our fluidity. Black folks have always been misconceived as hyper-sexual beings without emotions for as far back as slavery. Hearing “he gotta eat the booty like groceries” blast through a pop radio station with white listeners, to our elders, might perpetuate this belief.

It may not be the definitive answer, but generational gaps play a major role here. Many seniors feel disconnected from technology, which is understandable why new concepts and trends may not seem so wise to them. Although it can be redundant to hear, and I wouldn’t apply this to every situation, our seniors were once in their teens to mid-twenties as well. Perhaps the disco era. They, too, may have experiences of loving a particular sound in music that was challenging and stigmatized from the very beginning. Talk about it. Embodying the very ageism that this generation is subjected to ourselves, does more harm than good.

Which leads us to the real problem: many adults from the golden age of Hip Hop (side eye). Yes, y’all. Yes, yes, Y’ALL. And you don’t stop. The ones who say that Hip Hop is dead at least once a day. The ones who pray to Rakim and live by Public Enemy. The ones who name any record made in the 2000s “Hip-Pop”. We hear them say that the music is “soft” or, as Erykah Badu once called it in 2010, “pop techno cornball ass music” and so forth. To keep it simple and quite obvious, the music grows with time. The 2010s has so far been a decade of self-love, liberation, mourning, radicalism and an informal introduction to feminism in the black community. Among these things have also been the destruction of gender institutions and its roles, hyper-masculinity, and much more. We’re the new, new negroes, the care-free black. Some of us may dare to listen to genres that are deemed as “white music” for starters or just a little more freely as our chains come off by the day.

The nostalgia that many adults from the golden age of Hip Hop have is typically problematic in ways more than one. Many aren’t privy to, as stated, “pop techno cornball” Hip Hop, causing them to further perpetuate the policing of blackness. This unhealthy desire for “ruff & tuff” boom-bap beats and dehumanizing lyrics to resurface is usually rooted in a need for hyper-masculinity to consume Hip Hop more than it already has. It’s a need to cling to the golden age’s gender roles of baggy, oversized gun-toting clothing on black men. It’s the recollection of a time when a line was drawn between video vixens and “conscious”, “woke” women instead of the now body-positive hood femmes who own their sexuality and still turn all the way up at the protest today.

This constant proclamation of Hip Hop’s “death” is also just destructive to the many talented artists out now. These are the MCs who dance around the strong black man/woman tropes by being care-free enough to explore other genres and dabble into some of black music’s orphaned children. To accuse a generation of killing a whole culture is the same as telling us we didn’t know it/love it well enough to sustain it. This reeks of ageism and elitism that is so prevalent among many adults from the golden age and blatantly reads “I’m older, so I’m more Hip Hop than you; I’m more passionate than you” which can eventually lead to, when it already hasn’t, “I’m more in tune with blackness than you”.

I do know that not all adults of that era have this approach. Often, the millennial music supporters that I’ve come across are typically community figures, educators, or cultural, social, and youth workers. I also know that these are the ones responsible for checking their “Hip-Hop is dead” peers as a form of alliance. Mending the generational gaps that were mentioned earlier is not predominantly the youth’s fight. One of the many parts of active ageism against youth is this need for us to have an adult representative before other adults can be receptive. Ironically, it’s been effective many times with also reverting this notion. When done correctly, fighting ageism with ageism is useful along with open dialogue and can lead to adults’ trustworthiness of youth in future instances.

To be completely clear, golden age Hip Hop was nothing less than beautiful. We all love the feeling when we hear an oldie playing or a hidden gem that was underrated when it first released. The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with Rakim and Public Enemy, and I’d be lying if I said that I don’t also love golden age. It’s the point where we make it God-like and the standard unreachable. It’s when we constantly compare it to present day music to somehow publicly display the Hip Hop of 2000s and 2010s unworthiness. Hip Hop nostalgia is completely understandable. It’s our history; it’s a part of us. I’d like to think that maybe golden age adults are so engulfed in this nostalgia because they feel that they no longer have control, and this is yet another black thing taken away. But please remember: this is simply inheritance and millennials are not the enemy. As black folks, most of what we have are memories and some old feelings, nothing concrete or set in stone. Again, golden age Hip Hop and adults of the era are respected and admired. Even with all this love in our hearts, accountability must be held.

Makayla is a poet and journalist based in the tri-state area. She was a member of Urban Word NYC’s 2015 slam team for Brave New Voices International Poetry Slam and co-facilitator of Urban Word’s writing workshop BreakBeat Reporting. She has performed/been featured at venues such as the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe, Apollo Theater, New York Live Arts, Monmouth Arts Festival, New York University, The Waiting Room, and more. You can also find Makayla’s writing published in places like ForHarriet and Blavity. She loves hip-hop, all things black, a good debate, and listening to people talk about their dreams.

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