A lot of discussion lately on hipster rap. People weighing in on its worth, its suckiness, its meaninglessness. It seems they all loosely agree with what a hipster rapper is, but I still get the feeling there is a lot of room for interpretation. Too much actually. Are the Cool Kids hipsters? Cause they wear tight pants? Really? Is Kanye a hipster rapper ’cause middle class liberal kids can relate to and even look up to his image? Should Lil Mama be thrown in there because her marketing execs decided to target certain segments of the population? Is Jay Electronica a hipster because he gets blogged about so much? Is that it?
Where I’m from, my peers think hipsters are well-off grungy looking white folk who live in Williamsburg ’cause rent got too high in the LES. I was on Bedford Ave two weekends ago actually, I took my mom to one of our favorite restaurants. It’s across the street from a Salvation Army, one block from the L train and on that Saturday morning Scion had some kind of exhibition happening where you could test drive their cars. As I was walking down Bedford I started to rap lyrics from one of our upcoming releases. Was I hipstering? I definitely had tight pants on that day. Hmmm.
What I find interesting about the term hipster is that it has been around way before hip-hop. With roots in early Jazz musician groupies and the beat generation, the term has been successfully employed for decades by critics to refer to young liberals and counter culture participants, whatever the counter culture happens to be at the time. In 1988 a writer for the New York Times refers to Al Sharpton’s 1950’s hipster hairstyle and dress. Fifteen years later the NYtimes oks the use of the term to describe recent graduates who intern for entertainment and media companies in artsy brooklyn neighborhoods. It seems hipsters have historically been associated with non-mainstream music and alternative lifestyles. So it’s a bit strange to see this backlash in hip-hop circles, a sub-culture renowned for its anti-corporate stance and its beginnings in anti-wholesome. Or is it?
Could it be that OG hip-hop fans are drowning in purist beliefs to the point of traditionalism? Is the fan so grown up now that he or she just can’t make sense of those young whipper snappers? Um, I would probably venture to say nah, chill. I get this funny feeling that there is a middle child that learned about hip-hop from his older brother and created these idealistic lofty notions of what it is and what it is not. While the older brother is already on to the next thing, the younger, less aware sibling is standing in defense of his interpretation against defiant experimenting youngbucks. Anyway, hipster rap vs non-hipster rap might help some people categorize their tastes but I think a more significant distinction in hip-hop and music in general is between contrivance and authenticity. The ability to distinguish between a fabricated persona and a sincere form of artistic expression, certainly a skill worth mastering. But seriously, quite a difficult task in the face of consumerist institutions and their extended channels of operation. Good luck homies.