Blast That Box: Too cool for old school

March 22, 2012

The words “hipster” and “rapper” have pretty disparate connotations—keffiyehs and boxy glasses versus platinum grills and blunts. But hipster rappers exist, and their influence is altering the crowd that follows and enjoys rap music. Acts like Das Racist, The Cool Kids, and Chiddy Bang have changed the formula for successful hip-hop, infusing their music with wide streaks of irony or influences from disparate genres.

While the concept of a hipster is ill-defined in nature, ever since the term was coined its definition has been a hot topic of debate. Attempts at characterizing hipsters are considered narrow-minded, and the typical response of someone identifying with the culture would be that “you just don’t get it.” Within hip-hop, hipster rap is criticized severely by stalwarts of the industry for its shift away from the traditional format. However, it seems extremely contradictory that the revolutionaries of hip-hop, who remixed samples and borrowed lines, question the repurposing of a genre that has always been one of reinvention.

For many of hipster rap’s critics, it is a question of authenticity and aesthetics. Rappers like Drake and Childish Gambino are lumped into this hipster group for their choice in fashion style, and are often panned by rap traditionalists for their “softness.” But though they’re not tough in the way rappers used to be, they’re still wildly successful, commercially and critically. This shift, like most within hip-hop, will never be permanent, but it has helped move the rap paradigm away from the gangsterism that defined the ‘90s and towards a sound more palatable to more groups. While this shift may be a part of a culture embraced by the 20-something crowd, within rap, the economic success that has followed some of these artists has certainly strengthened the movement.

With this transformation, accusations of racism and discrimination abound. Many of these rappers have adapted a formerly frightening and unknown counter-culture and made it their own. But it isn’t just white kids removing the scary from rap. Within this subgenre, young black artists have taken up the mantle of nerdy cool as well, including The Cool Kids and Chiddy Bang. Although the critics of the movement claim that hipster rappers only attract the culture they represent to their shows, they have managed to entice a truly diverse array of listeners.

From my own experience attending a Chiddy Bang concert in Philadelphia, I couldn’t accurately judge what group defined the crowd—most racial and socioeconomic groups seemed equally represented at the performance. The ages of concertgoers spanned generations, including an odd white-haired couple chilling at the bar. It is a persuasive narrative when a concert is able to appeal to so many different types of people. But if the youthful hipster movement, considered counter-culture, can have such widespread charm, it speaks to the progressive nature of their beliefs.

To criticize hipster rap as illegitimate or fake is offensive to hip-hop and the impact rap has made as a form of artistic expression and musical culture. Hipster artists have seemingly invaded a genre that was distinct to urban communities in the ‘90s and taken it to a group of people who define themselves as “different.” Successfully marketing to such a hazy crowd is impressive, and it speaks to the popularity of the movement among the masses. Ironically, hipster rap has made the larger genre of hip-hop more agreeable to many different cultural groups. Whether the hipster movement within rap will remain has yet to be determined, but at the very least, it has certainly expanded the number and type of people that have been affected by the genre.

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