Hip Hop Legends -- Has Their Time Come And Gone?
In the ranks of the illustrious hip hop hall of fame are the names of living legends that basically made the music what it is today; Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaata, Melle Mel Kool Mo Dee, Slick Rick, Rakim, KRS-One, LL Cool J, Ice T, Run DMC, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Public Enemy, NWA and on and on and on. Thanks to their pioneering beats and rhymes the world of rap and hip hop became what it is today. But have their sounds and style been supplanted by the Jay-Z’s and the Eminem’s of today? Or was their influence so great that its effect continues on?
Once Upon A Time …
True greatness, at least in the world of music, is not about how many records you sell today but rather how long your music will last past tomorrow when you’re no longer making records. Additionally, how did that music make an impact and affect those who followed. Pop in Run DMC’s first self-titled record and what you’ll hear is not just a great rap record but songs and music that changed the face of hip hop and music forever. That album was made in 1983. Will anything made by 50 Cent, Lil’ Jon or the like stand the test of time 20 years from now? Time will tell. Conversely has the hip hop world changed so much in style and sound that those 2-decade old pioneers no longer matter? It depends on who you ask. Some will tell you that hip hop today, financially and stylistically, would not exist today if it weren’t for the pioneers, That one style was just built upon the style that came before and so forth. For this, pioneers should be respected and revered. Others who are more callous simply think history is history and legends should be left in the past when they were relevant.
Old School Perspectives
Afrika Bambaataa, one of the godfathers of rap and hip hop is cognizant of what the newcomers like Pharrell and MS Dynamite are doing as well as some of the popular global sounds like Bangrha music. But he’s also respectful of many of his pioneering colleagues.
"I love Pharrell, he sounds just like Curtis Mayfield, when he sings the high notes he's bringing back that feeling that we're missing today. I've still gotta' give it to the first King of Rap, Grandmaster Melle Mel, then one of the greatest teachers in Hip Hop, KRS-ONE. Gotta' give it to the lyrics and intelligence of the great Ice Cube, and 2Pac, and the powerful political lyrics that was coming from Chuck D and Public Enemy. I like Ms Dynamite, she's definitely hot. I wouldn't mind collaborating with some of the Punjabi Hindi mixes. I've been playing that for years before everybody started jumping on the Indian tip.” (Bambaata In Brum by Nick Midha)
Meanwhile another well revered legend, Slick Rick, realizes that there is a “passing of the torch” which makes room for the new artists but is disappointed with the lack of respect for the groundbreaking old school stars particlulary when it comes to showmanship. Gone he believes are the rap shows that didn’t just deliver good music but delivered a well crafted image and style that made folks like himself and other performers like Run DMC and Big Daddy Kane so popular on the stage. (A few Things to Ponder About Slick Rick the Ruler by Davey D)
As with many things of value that are older, many people yearn for the simpler days of hip hop when it wasn’t all about the bling, the thug posturing and the overt sexual and violent content of most of the popular records today. Add to that there is an increasing a lack of unity in the industry among artists, creating feuds, rifts and people looking out more for themselves and not for each other. Chuck D, whose Public Enemy didn’t just make hit records but tried to deliver powerful messages likens the current state of the industry to a chaotic Thanksgiving feast where people aren’t eating together but rather just fending for themselves.
“We've got to break out of that," the Public Enemy rapper said. "It's this scavenger effect of guys just going for broke.”
Have the legends been put out to pasture? Clearly the answer is still up for debate. Perhaps the best solution is a continued pioneering spirit moving forward while respecting the values and simplicity of the older generation thus keeping a link to the past. Other genres like rock’n’roll, R&B and jazz hold their legends in the highest of regards, why can’t hip hop?
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