What Is the Future of Hip-Hop?

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In October last year, Sasha Frere-Jones of The New Yorker wrote a column titled “Wrapping Up: A genre ages out.” Using a review of Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3 to comment more generally about the state of hip-hop, Frere-Jones said he’d choose 2009 as the demise of hip-hop. In his view, this is exemplified in how hip-hop’s beats have transitioned from a “blues-based swing” to a more European, disco-like pulse, as well as how hip-hop’s recent “mass-market successes” create “hip-hop by virtue of rapping more than sound.” Roughly a month later, Simon Reynolds, in an article titled “When will hip-hop hurry up and die?,” echoes and expands upon Frere-Jones’ points, even suggesting that the demise of hip-hop could be traced back to 2004. (You can read TMT writer Keith Kawaii’s response here, as well as Judy Berman’s response on this topic and other “death of” articles in The Quietus here.)

While both Frere-Jones and Reynolds focused on mainstream hip-hop, the “death” of underground hip-hop has been receiving attention lately too, mainly due to two rather symbolic events: Earlier this month, El-P, the co-founder of seminal independent hip-hop label Definitive Jux, announced that the label “will effectively be put on hiatus” (at least as a “traditional” label). A week later, Tim “Sole” Holland, founder of Anticon (another influential independent hip-hop label), announced his full departure from the label. While the announcements do not directly underscore Frere-Jones and Reynolds’ arguments, they have certainly shaken up the hip-hop underground.

So, is hip-hop dead (or dying)? Or is hip-hop as alive as ever? And if that weren’t enough, Reynolds writes “The refusal to admit that a genre can die is a denial of the possibility of change, renewal, the unexpected. The very vitality of a form of music implies the possibility of its eventual death.” Following this, are proponents of hip-hop’s vitality in “denial”? Do you believe hip-hop needs to die for a new form to take its place? And would that even be desirable?

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