Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Prof Thug's Diggin in the Cassettes

I love hip hop. Loved it since Run DMC smashed through that wall to rock out with Aerosmith. Since Jazzy Jeff rocked the house with the Fresh Prince. Since Tone Loc did the wild thing. I love old school hip hop, I love new school hip hop, I love conscious rap, I love gangster rap, I love underground rap, I love East West Midwest South and Northwest rap. I'm never hesitant to call out what I consider garbage, but I don't label something garbage because it comes from a certain place or time period or subgenre.

Most hip hop fans my age complain that all of today's hip hop is garbage. There's no denying that much of it...could be better. But there is a wide range of artists putting out music that is just as good if not better than anything that came before it.

Many of these complainers came of age in the 90s. In regards to music (and oftentimes movies) nothing will ever compare to what we enjoyed during the formative stages of our lives. Combine that typical glorification of music and entertainment from our youth with the fact that the mid-90s is considered the 2nd Golden Era of hip hop, and it's no surprise that many people refuse to even give today's hip hop a chance.

I completely understand the appeal of that time period in rap. It's a hard era to compete with. There was sooo much good music. Plus, hip hop was just recently breaking through the mainstream; commercials featured (awful) rapping, major movies had soundtracks featuring rappers. Labels were spending big money on production costs and giving all types of experimental artists a chance. The biggest rappers were all over television and radio but they were still edgy.

Image result for drake
Not whatever this is.

Hip hop was quickly dominating the entire music industry but there was still an outsider or underground feel to it. Because of all that, plus the 20 year cycle of nostalgia, 90's hip hop is currently viewed as infallible.

Even though so much of it was just awful.

As DJ Shadow explains here...

I always think of the above song when people talk about how great everything was in the 90s. Here, a legendary DJ calls out hip 1996! Often referred to as the BEST YEAR EVER FOR HIP HOP.

We always seem to forget that KRS-One and A Tribe Called Quest were calling out wack rappers before Lil Yachty Vert's parents even met. We have blocked out the Silkk tha Shockers and Snows and Quos of yesteryear in favor of calling out every Fetty Wap and Tr@vi$ $c0tT we hear today. Wack artists always deserve to get called out, and everybody has a right to their opinion, but the over-generalization of music eras is obnoxious, especially when it comes to hip hop.

It's so funny to see people repeating the same complaints many of our parents had about rap. Literally repeating them word for word: "This isn't music! I can't even understand what they're saying! He's just talking over a beat." Etc. etc.

In a genre like hip hop, which was built off rebellion, off of constantly trying to create something new, it's odd to see so many fans resistant to change. Yet a good portion of hip hop fans are stuck in the 90s. Granted, many of those people are just casual fans and really only like a little Biggie and Wu-Tang mixed in with their heavy metal or Dave Matthews Band, but the "stuck in the 90s rap guy" is so rampant that it has become a trope. It's a damn Complex article subject, and if they're calling something uncool, it's been uncool for a very long time. I understand and share the love for that time period, but I don't see the need for the competition between eras, especially among fans. You didn't make the songs homey! Relax!

All of this animosity discourages discovery of new music and encourages the continued contempt between generations. Hip hop is largely based on competition, and artists should always try to outdo their predecessors and their peers, but there's no need for the hostility between the generations. If older artists supported more young artists, the young artists would probably respect the older artists a lot more and be more receptive to learning from them. Instead, artists, and more annoyingly and loudly, the fans, keep rehashing the same arguments and complaints every generation with every new wave of music. It's tiring.

As  a fan, if you're son or daughter or student or friend is listening to a cover song or a song that samples an older song, tell them that and play the original. Tell them about your favorite artists without shitting all over theirs. Try to encourage their discovery instead of pushing your taste down their throats.

This contempt for the current generation of rap has paid off for some people, though. There is a rather large niche market for rap music that is completely grounded in the past. Same types of beats, same flows, same subjects. They see growth and ingenuity as selling out. Or something. Some artists make entire careers off sounding just like New York rappers of the 90s. I'm not mad at it, and some of it is good, but for the most part, if I want to listen to hip hop from the 90s, I have plenty of cassette tapes for that.

Which brings me to my newest blog series....Prof Thug's Diggin in the Cassettes.

That's a transition, kids!

I owned music exclusively on cassette until December 1998, when I got my first CDs for Christmas (Brand Nubian's The Foundation and Busta Rhyme's Extinction Level Event, for the record). This was far past the time most people switched over to CDs. I stuck it out for no other reason than stubbornness. I had a big collection of tapes and didn't want to start over with a whole new technology. Hey, wasn't I just disparaging people for wanting to avoid ingenuity and refusing to change with the times? Huh.

There has been a cassette renaissance lately, and as a cassette connoisseur, I just don't get it. I love the tapes I have because of the music on them, not for the technology itself. I don't view cassettes through the nostalgia-tinted lenses that many people do. Tapes don't sound better. I know CDs are flimsy, but I've also spent countless hours trying to feed the ribbon back into the cassette with a pencil or picking up shards of plastic from a cracked tape. I spent even more hours fast forwarding to side 2 because side 1 had extra space to "preserve continuity." I listened to some horrible album cuts because it was easier than fast forwarding to the next song and then rewinding when you missed the beginning of your favorite song.

So yeah, I loved the era of music when I was listening to cassettes, and I love the act of listening to a full album, but cassettes are one of the worst ways to store and listen to music.

For posterity's sake, and my own pleasure really, I figured I would listen to then write something about each of my cassettes. When deciding to go through with this, I wanted to do organize the posts in some kind of special order, something more creative than alphabetical. I wanted to pull a Rob Gordon from High Fidelity and order the blog posts based on the emotions I had when I purchased the album or something obscure like that. I thought of going in order of when I bought them but I know that one of the first tapes I bought was Tone Loc's Loced After Dark and I don't have that anymore. Oh yeah. I wasn't playing about Tone Loc before.
Image result for loc'd after dark cassette
Funky cold memories.

Ultimately I decided to freestyle it. That seems fitting. I'll start with A Tribe Called Quest. They were one of the first groups to open my eyes to the beauty of hip hop and I love their music to this day. I have all of their albums on cassette, so I can go through their entire discography and evolution as artists. Plus, they are all enjoyable so I won't become discouraged from continuing. I wouldn't start with my LL Cool J tapes, for example, because I'd quit during 14 Shots to the Dome. Sorry, James.

Also, there was a lot of stuff I cut out of my Phife tribute so I already had something to work with and I always look for any shortcut possible. Laziness wins again!

Stay tuned for Vol. 1 of Prof Thug's Diggin in the Cassettes, coming soon!!!

I Love You All...Class Dismissed.

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