“Old school, new school, no school rules…” – Doug E. Fresh, Keep Rising to the Top, 1988
The competitive nature upon which hip-hop was founded continues to get the best of its participants, repeatedly manifesting itself in the form of elder statesman versus newcomer—or, more specifically, the old school pitting itself against the new school—with both sides staking their claim to what they think is best for the genre.
Many iconic rapping legends who came to personify hip-hop in the mid- to late ’80s rarely if ever received the type of resistance and opposition from their pioneering predecessors that today’s newer members of the rap fraternity routinely get from more established acts.
Fast-forward to this week when LL Cool J, referring to the current crop of urban music makers, remarked that “there isn’t really anything that has my attention like that,” an indirect, inflammatory indictment if there ever was one.
However, someone should remind LL that right around the time when Doug E. was kicking the above quoted lyrics, Kool Moe Dee, a founding member of Treacherous Three—a group that was formed seven years prior to the release of LL’s first album in 1985—was waging his own lyrical war against Mr. Smith for, among other perceived offenses, the crime of introducing a softer style of rap music tailor made for women.
The implication was, of course, that hip-hop should only be held to one single musical standard—a standard to be dictated by hip-hop veterans.
And it’s not just limited to the men, either, what with the currently simmering but once boiling-over beef between raunchy rapstress Lil’ Kim (pictured) and her newer, equally racy, rapping counterpart Nicki Minaj; a beef borne out of an apparent fear that Nicki was driving a bit too close to Kim’s lane. And so Kim decided to try to verbally discredit her adversary with some choice lyrics in a last-ditch effort to save her career’s own relevancy.
Soulja Boy also took umbrage at some disparaging comments from Ice-T, and more famously KRS-One launched an anti-Nelly campaign in response to a perceived lyrical slight from the St. Lunatic.
Although contrived and on a much smaller scale, the back-and-forth feud between Roxanne Shante and The Real Roxanne is yet another example of rappers marking their territory through battle rhymes.
In each of the above instances the more established rapper expressed frustration with their younger, newer, more commercially viable counterparts, and their respective, updated versions of hip-hop music.
But is it really up to the veterans and pioneers to decide how and in which direction rap music progresses? Shouldn’t each contributor lead by his or her own example in order to let the genre grow at its own natural rate?
Like a protective father watching over his first born, the concern is understandable, but there is no ownership in hip-hop—it’s an all inclusive club and unlike generations past, membership is now very easy to attain. The rites of passage that were once necessary to be considered a rapper have since been eliminated, replaced by the so-called “ring tone rap” that dominates today.
Music, like life, is cyclical, and what goes around comes around. Both the new and old generations of rappers can co-exist peacefully, as evidenced in the 80s. Like Doug E. said, ultimately it is neither the old nor the new school that reigns supreme, it’s the music. Somewhere along the way rappers have lost sight of that fact, which does the entire genre a gross disservice.
*** BC-TW is a journalist and social and cultural critic, regularly publishing news and opinion pieces regarding the state of Hiphop culture as a means to provide a unique perspective of its present and future.
BC-TW is a journalist and social and cultural critic, regularly publishing news and opinion pieces regarding the state of Hiphop culture as a means to provide a unique perspective of its present and future.
See photos of the Old School vs. New School antagonists below.