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Weekly updates

With the inevitable passage of time, every music genre spawns its contingent of grumpy old men, who insist that ‘back in my day’ everything was better. Recently, pioneering MC Melle Mel has been going all Gran Torino on folks following his cameo with Macklemore, shouting at the young kids to stay off his cot darn lawn. He has every right to do that, even though it’s not going to win him many friends. A quick glance at Old Man Rap Facebook will reveal that some people who came up in the eighties and nineties seem to either have selective memory loss or are just bold faced liars, based on some of the popular misconceptions of the ‘good ol’ days’ of hip-hop. Let’s run through some of the most common occurrences:

“It used to be all about skills!”

Lyrical ability was certainly a major drawcard in the early days of rap, but let’s not fool ourselves and act like eighties rap fans were immune to cheap gimmicks. Or have you forgotten the seemingly endless string of hit novelty records based around the latest dance fad? ‘The Wop,’ ‘The Smurf’ and the ‘Pee-Wee Herman’ are just three examples. And let’s not forget the ludicrous answer record craze that saw UTFO’s ‘Roxanne, Roxanne’ spawn songs such as ‘Roxanne Was A Man,’ ‘Roxanne’s Doctor’ and ‘The Parents of Roxanne.’

“It was just about peace and having fun!”

As KRS-One’s brother, DJ Kenny Parker once explained to me: “A lot of people think rap was just like, ‘Yo, we’ll battle, and that’s it. Nothing’s ever gonna jump off. That’s the code!’ That was not the code! The code was dudes was getting robbed and beat up! If you ran up on somebody tryin’ to battle them, chances are their entourage is probably gonna kick your ass!”

“Drugs are ruining hip-hop!”

Anyone complaining about all these kids on pills and syrup might want to think back to the days when Russell ‘Rush’ Simmons was selling bags of dust at parties, before he began managing a rapper by the name of Kurtis Blow. I asked Paradise Grey, manager of the Latin Quarter club, about how people used to get high there: “The Golden Era drug of choice was weed and alcohol, but the Foundation Era? Their drug of choice is coke. Dust was more the lower-class hip-hop aficionado. The rap stars didn’t do dust, they sniffed coke – heavy.”

“Rappers used to dress like real men!”

Before the ‘street style’ of Run-DMC and LL Cool J became popular, rappers were under the impression that they had to follow in the footsteps of Parliament-Funkadelic and dress-up in crazy costumes to perform on stage. This meant that eye-wateringly tight leather pants, cowboy tassels and Native American headdresses were a common sight during a live rap show, resulting in some outfits that even the Village People would have rejected for being ‘too flamboyant’.

“Hip-hop was all about a strong message!”

There has been a long tradition of social commentary rap records, from Kurtis Blow’s ‘Hard Times’ in 1980 to Captain Rapp’s ‘Bad Times (I Can’t Stand It)’ and Duke Bootee and Melle Mel with ‘The Message,’ but these were usually the exception rather than the rule. Hip-hop began as music to make you dance – anything outside of that primary objective is just a bonus. As it developed, it became a vital tool in spreading the strong messages that groups such as X-Clan and Public Enemy brought to the table, but the reason why they had a captive audience is because their records worked just as well on the dancefloor as they did on your headphones.

“The new guys are too materialistic!”

Media Assassin Harry Allen once quoted this bewildering line from a New York Times piece about Eminem from October, 2002: “Many say he is the salvation of an art form that they say has been corrupted by a focus on Bentleys, yachts and Cristal-Champagne.” This not only speaks of the pedestal that white rappers are placed upon by the American media, but also the idea that hip-hop has somehow been tainted by an obsession with chasing riches. This is the same mistake that Lorde made with her patronising worldwide smash, ‘Royals’. The very idea that rapping about aspirational possessions is some kind of poison within the culture signals a very limited understanding about the music on a number of levels.

“Puffy ruined rap with obvious samples!”

I would counter that the entire Sugar Hill/Enjoy Records era was based on this theory, as their house bands were instructed to replay whatever the hot groove of the week was at the clubs and parties, whether it be Chic’s ‘Good Times’, 7th Wonder’s ‘Daisy Lady’, or Tom Tom Club’s ‘Genius of Love’. By the time that the Bad Boy Records era, crate digging snobbery had reached the point where anybody who wasn’t using rare drums from a $200 Brazilian record was ‘faking the funk.’ Heaven forbid the crowd might want to dance to a familiar groove!

Keep up with Robbie’s weekly ‘No Country for Old (Rap) Men’ here.