You’ve heard the little Grover Norquist nugget about making government small enough to drown it in a bathtub. That is starting to feel like the perfect metaphor for what the current “throwback” thing is doing to rap music.
2015 has become the year where the future of rap’s past has become more interesting that the future of its present. I cannot even keep track of how many old school rap tours are coming through the Bay this year. It didn’t seem like a big deal at first. Too $hort and E-40 have been touring hard for awhile now, adding a couple more names to a bill with them isn’t conspicuous. I coulda swore those sweet freestyle/electro festivals had been happening for a long time, but no, apparently those are a fairly recent development. And then they’ve just kept coming, and coming... pretty sure we’ll host at least five “throwback” festivals by the end of summer.
Which of course, is a good thing! Rap is a young man’s game. And if you’re an old man in it, you were probably putting in work before too many people were making real money. Rapper retirement never sounded like it was going to be great. But now everybody can get real work, doing their thing for paying customers in stadiums if they’re so inclined? Beautiful.
But the “throwback” trend has now hit the radio hard too. And that’s where things have gotten complicated. And lame.
“Old rap.” It’s obviously an idea who’s time had come awhile ago in terms of a viable radio format. And I say “obviously” because we’ve had one station here in the Bay go to it entirely, 102.1, and I can’t imagine it’s not working out for them after the big older soul/R&B channel, 98.1, woke up one morning about a month ago and switched over to the exact same shit. They’d had the Salt N Pepa and Grandmaster Flash creeping more and more into the rotation over the last year, but one day at work there was no Tupac, and then the next day, oh, there was Tupac.
But you know, the way 98.1 is doing it, I can’t complain about anything other than it not necessarily being programmed to my taste. They’ve kept the uptempo R&B and basically swapped out the rap for the slow shit, and aren’t trying to pass themselves off as “rap,” just “throwback.” I can dig it.
102.1, however... we got some issues. I would love to hear your input on how this is going down where you’re at. Because, between me and you, I am not omnipresent, and would prefer to not go off on a broad rant based off one radio station. But please believe this topic has been bubblin within me for a couple months now, and in
my research shooting the shit with people about it, it’s sounding like this “throwback rap” thing is happening everywhere on syndicated radio in a big way right now, and 102.1 is a the best illustration of it in my neck of the woods.
Now, what would your expectation of a “throwback rap” radio station be? Death Row and Bad Boy, fine, sure. But then, the 80’s and early 90’s classics, and the mid-90s “true school,” for lack of better words, shit right? I mean, that’s old school rap. Yeah, I know I’m gonna get stuck with some Jay-Z, and I can deal with Kanye, and a splash of the 21st century jiggy shit. But even the people who like that bullshit call it the Silver Age for a reason- it’s second-rate at best. So if we’re pulling from everything, we can take it light on the 50 Cent, right?
Ha ha, of course not.
Death Row and Bad Boy up the wazoo. Three, four times an hour or more, each. I have heard fucking Mase on the radio three times in an hour. That shit ain’t right. Very rarely do you hear anything older than that. But then, incredibly, they don’t really play any of the mid-90’s East Coast shit. I seriously don’t think I have heard a single song produced by DJ Premier in maybe about 50 hours worth of listening. That shit ain’t right. We actually, mercifully, don’t get as much Jay-Z as one would expect from somebody with such a generous Mase quota. No, “throwback rap” on the radio is Death Row, Bad Boy, the jiggy years, and more recent Top 40 bullshit. Basically, it’s the fucking club, straight up.
That shit really, really ain’t right.
Now my problem with this is not that this music isn’t “underground” enough, or whatever else accusations insecure wannabe-rap authority kids like to make when people who know better shit on the terrible music they listened to in elementary school and want to insist is “good.” My first problem is that, objectively, that definition of “throwback rap” is horseshit.
My second problem is that rap is not all about the fucking club. It was born as a conscious FUCK YOU to the club, of course. As much value and validity as there is in people with different experiences than mine being proud to be a racial epithets in Paris (twelve times consecutively as an encore, even), pretending like there is absolutely no yin to that yang is fucked up on a few levels. It’s revisionist history, and it’s completely unnecessary because I have no idea why anybody would want the radio to sound like the club 24/7 in the first place.
This bullshit is basically the butchering of the 90’s movement we were supposedly getting five years ago, accelerated. We’ve talked about this before. It was too good to be true, having non-misleading sub-genres of rap like “90’s,” “Top 40,” and “club classics.” God, do I ever miss those heady, non-frontin days of 2011 when DJs were content to cash checks and not pretend to be leaders instead of followers.
But now 2015 is feeling like the late 90’s, with the self-proclaimed rap powers-that-be cramming bullshit down our throats and telling us to like it. “Club classics” fucking ate “90’s” and shitted out a 175 lb. pile of bones in the DJ booth. I blame sucker, frontin-ass DJs for a lot of this. Of course there’s a top of the entertainment food chain that wants to go lowest common denominator to cash in, and said demographic at the bottom of the food chain to eat it up. Nobody makes the middle men sign on though. I totally understand the backlash against “90s” DJs, because so many of them play the same safe shit all the time and then act like they’re saving the world because it’s not Lil Wayne. Fuck that. These are the idiots that have messed shit up more for me personally than anybody in a suit at a label. These fakes are the reason I spent all last summer telling people I’m playing all 90’s rap with no Tupac and getting blank stares in return. Listen to what you want, play what you want. But don’t fucking play a set straight off a frat br0’s iPod and tell me you’re “keeping it real.” You’re frontin. Get back to me when you have the heart to work off-nights and not play the hitz, Fuckboi Flex...
It was one thing when heads were just ruining the present, but now they’ve come for the past, and it sucks. Of course old school is going to become hot as soon as only Clear Channel is left to curate it, throw it in the trash compacter and pull out the same fucking eight hours’ worth of crap daily and tell us they’re speaking for 30+ years of music and culture. All the people who would never even listen to rap unless they wanted to get drunk and act stupid on the weekend? They’re the experts now.
It’s nice to be able to turn on the radio and hear the music you grew up on. It is not nice to hear the radio espousing an alternate reality that spits in the face of the music you grew up on.