There is a battle going on in hip-hop in 2016, a battle between the old and new schools. In August, in an interview, Atlanta rapper Lil Yachty revealed he could not name five songs by 90s hip-hop legends Tupac or the Notorious B.I.G. leading to widespread criticism from fans, critics, and fellow artists. The reaction to this was quite amazing, amazing because this type of old vs new division to my eyes had really only ever been confined to rock music. Well, now, it seems to have spread to hip-hop, and it is ugly.
So who is Lil Yachty? Well, he is a 19-year-old rapper who specialises in what many people call meme-rap. His brand of hip-hop is fun, party-like, and certainly lacks the seriousness of say conscious rap. With this, many in the hip-hop community do not take him seriously and have dismissed his brand of hip-hop. So when he revealed he wasn’t big on Biggie or Tupac, this gave extra motivation for many to further discredit Lil Boat (a name he also goes by) and the younger generation of rappers to whom in the eyes of many old school heads do not come close to the rappers they glorify. It seems we have reached a stage in hip-hop history where a chasm has opened up between the young and old. The golden age of hip-hop between say 1986 and 1997 is seen as the pinnacle. To many, this era cannot be matched, and if you are to be taken seriously in this genre today you have to have been influenced by the greats of this age. Being a popular rapper and not being able to name a Biggie or Tupac song in many ways is now seen as an act of treason, and the media, fan and even artist outcry to Yachty’s revelation kind of proves that. This was almost a punk-like off with their heads moment, although this time it is the younger generation under attack, not the old music elite.
Despite what many old-school hip-hop artists and fans would have you believe in thinking that it is inexcusable for young rappers to not know their KRS-One’s from their LL Cool J’s, the reality is quite different for this new breed of rappers today. The thing is, a majority were born in the early to mid-90s, meaning they would have highly likely been brought up listening to hip-hop that fell outside the revered golden age. I’m talking the likes of Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Jay-Z at his peak. Many of the popular rappers of today such as Lil Yachty weren’t even born when Tupac was hitting it big, therefore, why should it be a surprise that he cannot name five of his songs. In a recent interview, Lil Yachty’s dad Shannon McCollum clarified that his son grew up listening to the likes of Miles Davis and Outkast and that Biggie and Tupac weren’t generally played around the family home. Does this then make him the culprit that Yachty doesn’t know the music of these two legendary rappers? If so, shouldn’t people criticising Yachty be criticising his dad for this great wrongdoing? I mean this accounts as bad parenting does it not?
In his interview, McCollum also made a very good point about Yachty’s music and who it appeals to. The point was that his music is not geared to appeal to hip-hop listeners from older generations, “it’s not for you, it’s for your kids”. This is a very fair point and one that has been largely missing from people’s criticism. New school rap is largely for young hip-hop fans, not old heads raised on Tupac and Biggie. It doesn’t prevent older fans from liking it, but artists like Yachty and Young Thug are not writing it with those people in mind. This I feel is another reason why people should not be too concerned about what hip-hop Yachty was or was not raised on.
In summing up this saga, at the end of the day, music fans and artists alike cannot like everything that has been recorded, or indeed even know about everything. There is so much music in the world both current and from years gone by that, it is impossible to hear it all or to have discovered it all. So what that Lil Yachty missed out on Tupac or Biggie growing up, so what that he can’t name songs by them. This is not the standard that we should be judging musicians by, and to be honest has never really been the standard for judging musicians. Musicians should be judged purely on the merit of their music, and whether you like Lil Yachty’s music or not, he shouldn’t have to be publicly pillared over his musical influences and for “not” having the “right” ones. If anything, the hip-hop community should be getting behind him and other great young rappers such as Vince Staples, Chance The Rapper and YG, and congratulating them on producing some great music recently. Hip-hop is in a very healthy state at the moment and the last thing it needs is a war to break out between the old and the new when there is way too much to celebrate and be thankful for.