The thing about Hip Hop is that it has stood the test of time.
It has established itself as a universal culture. And what’s fascinating about a culture that has seen it all, and virtually done it all – is it’s ability to adapt. I reckon that’s why Hip Hop is the most sought out and appreciated genre across generations.
Introduced in the late 1970s, no one knew about it. It gained traction in the poorest districts of New York City. A simple story of DJ meets Master of Ceremonies. Groups of friends organised as official crews and would hustle gigs at underground clubs in the projects, or in our case, townships.
The objective was always to entertain – to make the party, a par-tay. But although at first, rapping was mainly for entertainment – hip hop artists like Common, Kanye West, Talib Kweli, and other such, introduced what is widely known as ‘conscious rap’. The kind of lyricism that responds to personal struggles in relation to space and time. A prominent artist who has been able to fuse a hardcore writing style, conscious raps and entertainment is Kendrick Lamar – whose approach has taken a bit of getting used to.
Hip Hop found its way into Africa in the early 1980s – heavily influenced by American Raps.
Proverb: One of South Africa’s best MCs
Now I’m sure hip hop enthusiasts all the world over have, on more than one occasion, found themselves embroiled in heavy discussions about MCs versus Rappers. Where MCs are always seen as the more authentic agents of real hip hop and Rappers , as ‘one hit wonders’ who aren’t real game changers.
The title MC, is what initially introduced the basic idea of rapping and was an inherent gateway to various delivery styles. Those who (in their careers as rappers) have been recognised as MCs, are the rappers who opted to take on a more lyrical focused and social issue conscious approach in Hip Hop. And seemingly, the rappers who’ve leaned more to the ‘groovey’, and laid back style, have always been viewed as rappers – the title an equivalent to mediocrity.
South Africa has had a host of creative lyricists over the years – artists like Proverb, Amu, Pro Kid, Tumi, and many others who focused on their writing abilities in relation to delivery. These artists have, even after some bowed out of the Hip Hop scene as rappers, had fruitful careers seen as the ‘Godfathers’ of rap music.
Cassper Nyovest: South Africa’s hottest Rapper
And then you find the more recent artists like Cassper Nyovest, AKA, Anatii, Kwesta and other ‘new skool’ rappers who, even with clearly blossoming careers in the industry, have not received the kind of recognition one would expect – all because their lyricism doesn’t particularly fall under ‘conscious rap’ style.
I have concluded that Hip Hop has always been trying to say to us that it’s not what it is, or what it has been – but rather what it can be. And so in this music space – we should applaud the artists that are able to realistically find their voices within this huge and engulfing sound. The conversation about MC’s and Rappers should improve the music scene instead of pinning musicians against each other.
So actually, what is hip hop and who is hip hop?