Sunday, July 21, 2024

Hopefully, hip-hop’s 50th birthday celebration creates a moment for underappreciated artists

Portrait of members of the American Hip-hop group Whodini as they pose backstage at the UIC Pavilion, Chicago, Illinois, October 20, 1984. Pictured are DJ Drew ‘Grandmaster Dee’ Carter (fore), Jalil Hutchins (rear left) and John Fletcher (aka Ecstasy). (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Back in 2018, Netflix dropped a film about hip-hop pioneer Roxanne Shante’ (Lolita Shante Gooden), former member of the Juice Crew (a legendary crew of MC’s including, but not limited to, MC Shan, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Kool G Rap and producer Marley Marl) and one of the participants in the famous Roxanne Wars of the mid 1980s. The Roxanne Wars were a back-and-forth record beef between Roxanne Shante’ and rapper The Real Roxanne. The film, “Roxanne Roxanne” was a dramatized re-telling of Shante’s life as an up-and-coming female rapper and some of the beefs that entailed and the uphill battles she had to fight. 

I bring this up because I remember, back then, wondering (at first) how or why they decided to create this film. By 2018, Shante’ wasn’t exactly in the public eye, and especially not for this newer generation of rappers. But while I wondered, I was also happy about two things: 1) a film about her life was created; and 2) so many people watched it because that would ensure that a whole crop of folks would learn about her story that might not even know she existed. 

The film being distributed by Netflix meant a ton of folks would watch, and they did and that was amazing for the culture because, let’s be real, hip-hop isn’t necessarily a genre that reveres its pioneers. While I’m sure some rappers today grew up on foundational hip-hop from the 80s and 90s, we’ve all been treated to enough interviews and social media back-and-forths to know that hip-hop is a space where a ton of the originators feel slighted and underappreciated. 

When I read books like Clover Hope’s “The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop” or read books about the early years of hip-hop or listen to podcasts like Open Mike Eagle’s “What Had Happened Was” or Questlove’s “Questlove Supreme” the amount of knowledge I get is insane. And so many artists who contributed so heavily get an opportunity to tell their stories and be heard. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to be a genuine and active participant in a movement that literally changed the world and to feel like less than a footnote as the culture changes with light speed.

To be fair, it’s not all of the new artists’ faults, either. Older, boom-bap style rappers and producers haven’t been the most welcoming of the changing guard. Recently, super-producer and hip-hop legend Dr. Dre sat down with Kevin Hart on his “Hart to Heart” show and pointed out that while he won’t hate on the new music that’s coming out, he pretty much also doesn’t like any of it. But he suggested that there’s no place for the negativity when talking about the current state of hip-hop. And that’s a thing. Again, it isn’t hard to find interviews by older rappers trashing younger rappers’ music and vice versa. 

But it feels like the 50th anniversary of hip-hop is a way to bridge that gap, at least somewhat. It seems like every week there is some concert or show in some city celebrating hip-hop; I would imagine New York City, where a ton of those early pioneers hail from, would be no different. I would hope that the folks who made the music that turned me into a hip-hop head would get some chances to be seen and feel heard. That’s my hope anyway.

I also see a universe where so many artists who paved even the smallest of ways could, unfortunately, continue to live in the shadows of a culture they contributed to early, perhaps ahead of their time, or maybe, only of their time. It’s why, despite some of the production value issues, I enjoy the movies being made by all the networks about music acts like Salt-n-Pepa and TLC.

Because the truth is, for every Tupac, Biggie, Jay-Z, Nas, Nicki Minaj, Ice Cube, Lil Kim, Tyler, the Creator, Kendrick, G Herbo, Meg Thee Stallion, Rakim and on and on, are tons of rappers whose career in rap ended decades ago but whose impact on the culture was cemented because they were there in real time and contributed, from New York City to Los Angeles and every city north, south and in-between. Hopefully, we remember as many of those folks who put on for their cities and our cities as we celebrate the culture as a whole. 

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.


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