The first hip hop in the ’70s and the early ’80s came as the DJ, the B-Boy and the graffiti artist. By the time that the pinnacle of hip-hop had become Def Jam Records, hip-hop culture had become less DJ battling and more about comedy, amongst other things. With the hip-hop generation came a golden age of comedy that included Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, The Original Kings of Comedy, BET Comic View, Bébé’s Kids, and other great classics that shared the same mass cultural language and point of view as hip-hop. There is the very popular and ever-present ratchet humor of this age that shares in blackness, but it seems to not correspond to hip-hop’s language and point of view.
we be on some Adele shit / we be rollin’ deep
– Isaiah Rashad
Today’s hip-hop is about other things. It has much less to do with mass media culture (Fried chicken and Nantucket from “24 Hours to Live by Mase) than it has to do with high bourgeois culture (“N*ggas in Paris” by Kanye West and Jay-Z). It can’t be grouped as one school, but hip-hop has become more about things like bourgeois (its own definition of bourgeois-ie) indifference, very artistic social commitment and the fine arts. The beats are supposed to be both danced to and listened to attentively. It’s as if this is hip-hop’s bebop period. The hip-hop artist today is much more interested in artistic visuals such as artistic videos or photography. Hip-hop artists now wear haute couture. If they are serious about lyrics, the ones they produce will not be as simple as those from the ’90s. The lyrics that Kendrick Lamar and Vic Mensa rap are not simple. Their rhyming asks of an audience to commit to an aesthetic and artistic experience that is often overdone, however immoral. Kanye West epitomizes the generation. So does Jay-Z’s gallery show.
Can there be hip-hop comedy in the age of high-culture hip hop? It’s been so important to this community that it should continue on as part of the tradition.
Emmanuel Adolf Alzuphar is a music critic. He grew up in Haiti. He
attended George Washington University. His Twitter handle is
@alzuphar. He also writes songs.