Why You Always Hatin? Confessions Of A Hip Hop Listener

On a lovely drive home from a dinner with my Uncle, my partner Rene’ and I enjoyed some conversation while being serenaded by my Sirius XM radio in the background. However, when one of my favorite Hip Hop songs came on, “Why You Always Hatin,” by YG, I just had to turn it up and send out a quick Snapchat (yes, I know I am not 14 but we shall get back to that issue in the conclusion).

These few brief moments did not go over too well with Rene’ who immediately launched into a diatribe concerning “real music,” as in, Hip Hop slash rap is not real music. I, for perhaps the first time in my entire life, became the defender of all things Hip Hop…not really knowing fully why.

Please understand the context of our conversation; Rene’ is a very well respected voice teacher who really knows not only the inner workings of the voice, but she knows music in general. If she were to offer her opinion upon, say, sports or cars or even a sports car, I would not really care too much for it and would only feign attention. However, she does know music—really knows music—to the point that her opinion matters greatly to me and I want to know, not only what she thinks, but why she thinks it.

And so the conversation ensued.

So let me summarize the basis of both our positions. Hip Hop, in her informed opinion, is essentially not “real” music for five reasons:

  1. It is void of any inkling of artistic integrity.
  2. It, essentially, does not take any talent to be a Hip Hop “artist.”
  3. There are no melodies…it is more like cheerleading.
  4. The loops are repetitious.
  5. It is lewd, crude and derogatory towards women.

The basis of my counter argument essentially rested on the understanding that every generation in the last 100 plus years has uttered similar complaints about the music “the kids are listening to these days” since the invention of the phonograph in the late 1800’s.

Of course, this in and of itself does not counter her arguments, specifically. I suppose this really could be the generation in which the above observation is actually correct—yet I would counter this: Every generation has made this same claim. So let us take each reason and break it down.

It is void of any inkling of artistic integrity and it, essentially, does not take any talent to be a Hip Hop “artist.” This really begs the question, what, then, is art and what makes one art form any more or less valid than another? Of course volumes could be, and have been, written on these questions alone, so, in order to expedite this process, I asked God (google) what is art?

“…it is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Would Hip Hop music fit this definition? Well, whether it is degenerate in nature or not, it does take a certain amount of creative skill and imagination (just deriving the word, “ho” from “whore” does take somewhat of a creative knowing of English lexicon, yes?) and it definitely is appreciated by millions while evoking an emotional response in some way, shape or form, even if the reaction is in the form of disgust. Therefore I like to apply the, “can I do it?” test. Like any art form that is unappreciated, quite often the “haters” believe it is very simple and easy to do. As in, “hey, I could easily do what Jackson Pollock does…he just splashes paint around.”

So what about an “artist” like Pollock who is known for simple splashes of paint on a canvas? I believe such an artist is analogous to the “Hip Hop as art” debate as his critics sound very much like Drake’s, or, hey, even YG.

Rob Woodard writes: One of the things I find most interesting about Pollock’s art is how it continues to be controversial. When his work is discussed many of the old complaints quickly surface – “It’s just the flinging of paint!” and “Hell, anyone could do that!” – while others will passionately defend Pollock with extravagant claims regarding his talent and value. This leads me to believe that Pollock’s detractors, be they of his time or ours, are largely wrong – for it’s hard to see people getting so worked up over an artist, more than 40 years after his death, unless there’s something in his work that truly matters.

Not sure anyone will be debating the merits of “Hotline Bling” in 40 years, but you get the point.

I would contend that such controversies concerning the nature of art will never cease and the “art” of Hip Hop music is no exception. I would argue that, regardless of one’s view on the matter, it is FAR more difficult to create than most would think -and that any good artist makes an artistic creation seem easy and effortless. The fact of the matter is that excellence—in any endeavor in life—is always the product of very hard work and dedication.

I believe to create a song, any song, that millions of people enjoy and pay money for—for whatever reason—is not at all easy and takes a particular skill set. Otherwise, as they say, everyone would be doing it.

There are no melodies…it is more like cheerleading. The loops are repetitious. I cannot find any source that would suggest that something is art based on melodic composition, or lack thereof, and repetition. As I think about it, are not most of the great songs throughout history somewhat repetitious? I have never heard any songs, in any genre, more repetitious then say, Hey Jude or Let It Be, by the Beatles while they are considered one of the greatest bands in the history of music.

So, alas, we tackle her last, and I believe most valid, critique: It is lewd, crude and derogatory towards women. I will not even attempt to defend certain Hip Hop slash rap lyrics…the key word being “certain,” not ALL. However, just like any art form—be it painting, film, sculpture…you name it—there are obscene versions of it. That said, I will concede that unlike these other art forms, obscenity is much more prevalent in the Hip Hop world.

I would go back to my, “can you believe what the kids are listening to these days?” argument. Cutting edge music and youth culture in general has always been about pushing boundaries. It just so happens that pushing boundaries in 2017 takes a whole different strategy than in 1997 (did Madonna really kiss Britney?); 77 (Fonzie could not wear leather on Happy Days); 57 (Elvis shook dem hips); or 27 (face it, flappers are hot). Simply, it takes more and more to be walking that fine line of really pushing the “socially acceptable” envelope.

So, in conclusion, I do listen to Hip Hop music and I do have a the aforementioned Snapchat…mostly for professional reasons while keeping up on the communication channels the younger generation engages with today. I do find it interesting that whether it concerns social media or music, the younger generation is the first to discover it while the older generations eventually do come around and appreciate these things as well. Just ask my kids when I was the oldest dude on Facebook circa 2006…now my parents are the primary generation using this “cutting edge” social media.

Hip Hop music is certainly not for everybody, yet neither is country, jazz, blues or classical. Perhaps one day we can live in world where Hip Hop lovers (say Fetty Wap) and, for example, musical theater lovers (Jason Robert Brown), can drive in the same car in peace and harmony…as long as they listen to talk radio.

But that is an entirely different controversy.

Peace Out.

Snapchat

One of my objectives in life is to NEVER be one of those old farts that casually criticizes the younger generations for their overall lifestyle and choices…be it music, clothing, trends -all of it- as in, “The damn kids today know nothing about respect and hard work,” or something along the lines of, “They call that shit today music? Really? In my day music was music.”

Ugh. I really never want to be that guy…and it is so easy to be.

In order not to fall victim to this “old fart” mentality, it requires that we make proactive choices to seek, experience and understand where the younger generations are coming from and why. If we do not mind becoming old judgmental codgers, we can just sit back and do nothing -as it will happen all on its own- that is just how our brains function. However, as a college educator, it is particularly imperative for me to constantly explore opportunities to engage with youth culture and seek to understand it…perhaps now more than ever in the age of technology.

As a result of this lifestyle choice, both my Sirius and conventional radio preset buttons include both contemporary rap, hip-hop and pop in addition to my “70’s at 7” and class rock choices. It is not all unusual to for me to listen to Van Halen’s “Eruption” one minute and Drake’s “Hotline Bling” the next. I even mix in a little classical and chill music on occasion.

However, perhaps the biggest eye-opening choice I have recently made was securing the app Snapchat, where participants can send videos and pictures to their “friends” that last about 7 seconds and then disappear into the internet ether. If I understand correctly (my youngest son Stevie is my source for this information), Snapchat was at first very much used for “sexting” and carried the nickname, “Dickchat.”

index

Not so much anymore. I have now had Snapchat for about 2 months and have a yet to see, fortunately, a penis nor, unfortunately, a titty or two. What I do see are short snippets of people’s everyday life, including everything from, say, a video of them in the car lip syncing to a song, pictures of their cute kittens, or, perhaps, just everyday boring life stuff like eating or shopping –usually posted in a humorous and lighthearted manner with entertaining and creative captions, not to mention special effects.

I must admit that at first I was very put off by Snapchat. Why? In short, it appeared to be a social media that was incapable of mediating any relevant content. It was all superficial, silly, time wasting, entertainment…it actually even depressed me at first thinking, “This is what today’s generation spends its time doing?” Yet, as one committed to my anti-old codger philosophy, I not only chose to keep it but try to engage with it on a regular basis.

Now, a month or so later, I actually have a lot of fun using it.  It does not take a lot of time or energy to engage with it…you can actually snap several times a day and it probably does not take more than a minute or two of the day, at least for me.

I have come to realize that every generation has its specific form of entertainment. When I was 19 I used to go to my favorite arcade, Pinball Plus, and spend hours playing video games. If people want to spend their recreational time sending pics of, well, really nothing, what is the harm? When I was that age I was electronically trying to maneuver out of the way of falling barrels chucked by a large gorilla called Donkey Kong. In comparison, Snapchat is for Mensa members.

Why was I so judgmental of it at first? Because I, like most humans, have a very difficult time with change and adapting to trends that are not truly understood. At times we have to force ourselves to engage in things that are well outside our comfort zone and previous “normal” experiences –it’s called growth and expansion while our brains crave it.

I am a huge fan of recreation and entertainment. I believe escaping from the monotony of our everyday lives is a good thing. I tend to get critical of entertainment (ala Neal Postman) when areas of culture that demand serious conversations, devolve into entertainment…be it the news, education, religion, or, thank you Donald Trump, politics.

But bullshit entertainment? I love it…we need it.

I hardly think anyone is mistaking Snapchat for serious cultural conversation. It is banal, silly entertainment that is mildly amusing and there is nothing wrong with that and, in fact, there may be something very right about it. Our college Dean, Rick, just recently sent me a study from the University of Michigan that suggests Snapchatting actually makes one happy.

I also believe the vast popularity of Snapchat among youth does point to some deeper, underlying cultural trends that are quite revealing. What does the appeal of vapid content -content that is there one second and is permanently gone the next- say about the hugely transient and quickly evolving nature of our collective cultural experiences due to technology? What does the appeal of sharing flippant experiences of our everyday life say about our need to connect with others -even in our most mundane moments?  What does it say about human nature that we like to peek into the details of others’ lives? The human being needs to be relevant, seen, heard, and valued with the larger community –a basic human need that has never changed. Perhaps Snapchat is a simple, lighthearted way to partially fill this gap in our lives.

So there you have it from by FAR the oldest person on Snapchat. Hit me up people…my screen name is jimmyu…snap with me ya’ll.

And, regardless of your age (old codger philosophy knows no age) dare to take a step away from an old fart mentality -it can actually be kinda fun.