Hip-hop culture, and especially it’s musical exponent rap, is far from the fledgling movement it once was. With the genre well over 30 years old now, a whole generation of rap listeners has come for who the struggle towards mainstream recognition isn’t even a distant memory, it’s not a memory at all. To them, rap has always been a part of pop culture, and rap being perceived as a ‘dangerous’ counter-culture is something they probably and understandably have trouble with imagining.
Though rap came up in the 80s as party music at first, coming from poorer backgrounds and developing completely outside of the sights of the music industry, it had the air of a counter-culture wholly its own from the start. Add to that a penchant for social commentary, often taking a strong stand against the status quo and reigning elite, and many people enjoying that status quo saw it as a potential threat to their way of life. And even if they didn’t all see it that way themselves, most of the gatekeepers of radio and TV still had no frame of reference whatsoever for the emergent culture and ultimately treated it as a fad, something disposable, and certainly not an artform.
It seems hard to believe now that the cleancut boys from Liverpool calling themselves ‘The Beatles,’ the all-American icon Elvis ‘The King’ Presley and one of the most-valued poets of the 20th century, Bob Dylan, were once seen as a corrupting influence on the youth, same as rap during its earlier stages. The kids listening to that devilish rock & roll rackit grew up though, became parents, and their music was no longer perceived as dangerous by the generation in charge, because they were increasingly becoming that generation themselves. It wasn’t until disaffected youths, who saw no future for themselves, crawled up from the bottom to create punk music, that rock music started to get dangerous again. It was during that same era that from the remnants of disco a more aggressive and hardcore music emerged from black neighbourhoods as well, a strange phenomenon called rap music, that would go on to grow into a multimillion dollar business and reach the far corners of the world. Like rock before it though, it would turn into pop music along the way, and its sense of danger eroded rapidly during the last decade. Enter OFWGKTA.
Odd Future makes a lot of people uncomfortable, with the language they use, the violent themes they depict, and their aggressively non-conformity in the face of even well-reasoned criticism. People being uneasy with their work is understandable, but also very welcome. It keeps the culture as a whole fresh and on its toes. You may not like their music or object to their lyrics, but once in a while, every genre needs a dose of angry kids with an appropriate lack of respect. The Wolf Gang will probably inspire more young emcees to stop trying to conform to standards raised before them, but to step over boundaries and set their own standards. Until they eventually become mainstream, and another generation has to step in to stop things from becoming stale. The greatest way to neutralize a counter-culture is to envelope it into mainstream culture, so it’s comforting to see that despite winning an MTV award, Wolf Gang frontman Tyler, The Creator still maintains his attitude of simply not giving a f*ck.
It doesn’t mean all young rappers should be like him, nor should everyone adopt such an attitude. If all rock records ascribed to a punk aesthetic it would become equally stale, but if Odd Future can inject a level of venom into hip-hop’s blood stream in the same way The Ramones and Sex Pistols did to rock, it may serve as a welcome shot of adrenaline revitalizing the culture.
Besides, Bruno Mars really does suck harder than a black hole, somebody needed to say it.