In the past couple of years, I’ve read about, discussed and encountered the generation gap in rap with an increasing frequency. It’s apparent to both old heads and young cats that it’s there, and many, many respected writers in the blogosphere have published series about the differences between the old and new school. J-Zone’s excellent piece ‘Learning to Accept Rap’s Generation Gap‘ comes to mind, as did my own ‘In Defense of Us Old Heads, Dukes’ ‘Young Man’s Game‘, or our more tongue-in-cheek ‘7 Clues to the Rap Game If You’ve Just Woken Up from the 90s‘. Those are, with the exception of Zone, just taken from our blog, there are plenty more examples around. Rarely, in this myriad of opinion, discussion and evaluation pieces though, have I seen someone tackle the why. Why is their such a generational gap in rap and were did it come from? Most of us old heads won’t remember it always being there, at least not this big a chasm, so when did it happen, and how? Dart Adams has now answered those questions, in an insightful piece titled ‘On Rap’s Ever Growing Generation Chasm‘.
The old school emcees that rocked the park jams, school gyms, CYO’s, PAL’s and even the clubs would meet their match at the hands of younger more dynamic and lyrical emcees. The New School emcees eventually eclipsed the Old School emcees. It was essentially like Darwin’s Theory Of Evolution meets a Shaw Brothers Kung Fu film.
It took from Summer 1973 when Hip Hop culture had it’s beginnings in the Bronx, NY to Fall 1979 before Rap music went national thanks to a record label located in Englewood, NJ called Sugar Hill Records. By 1984, Rap had gone mainstream thanks to several Hollywood films and the success of Run DMC’S debut album. Between Rap’s introduction and it going mainstream there were two distinct Rap generations in that 5 year span split into two factions, the Old School and New School.
It is here where we begin to explore the phenomenon of the generation gap in regards to Rap music. The Old Schoolers that came up performing at block parties, jams, school gyms and moved their way up to clubs resented those that recorded and made LP’s before them since they’d paid their dues. They really resented the New Schoolers that didn’t spend years honing their craft in the same fashion they had to but were eclipsing their popularity.
In turn, you had a generation of kids that were the new Rap audience who didn’t remember a time before records when they had to rely strictly on secondhand tapes from jams. To them the so-called “New School” and “Old School” was indistinguishable, they just preferred some Rap groups and emcees to others for various reasons. Rap had these new “generations” every 3 to 5 years that forced many emcees and groups to tap out because they couldn’t compete with the new breed of rappers, emcees and producers or adapt to the new Rap terrain following the newest innovations, technologies, techniques or style evolutions.
Something changed along the way though, and it happened in what many of us call the golden age (the one that ran ’til around ’96, and ended when the jiggy era began), but you’ll have to hop on over to the full piece ’cause I’m not gonna copy it all here. It’s a lengthy piece, but it’s well argumented and well worth the time of everyone interested in how hip-hop developed and keeps evolving. Go read it.
As a sidenote; while Dart’s assessment is spot-on it got me thinking that the idea of stewardship he describes often isn’t applicable to many European heads like me, despite us coming up in the early ’90 and being fully invested in rap’s “golden era”. Which in turn, could be a reason behind so many American hip-hop artists, especially older ones, seem to believe there’s more respect for the culture as a whole across the pond. But now I’m thinking out loud and realizing I might have to organize these thoughts into a reply article of sorts. You’ll be busy enough with Dart’s one though, so let me put that on hold for now (and grant me time to sort it out).