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Rap puts hipsters in a bind

We sometimes like the music just because it's good

Tipper Gore, thinking of the children
Tipper Gore, thinking of the children

Dear Hipster:

We hear so much about hipsters and the obscure indie rock bands they love, but I want to take that discussion in another direction. Specifically, a direction completely apart from twee indie music featuring bearded dudes in sweaters clutching banjos. Obviously, I mean rap. Are hipsters ambivalent about, hostile to, or favorably disposed towards hip-hop?

— Stanimal

Ooh. Good one. This may take some effort, so stick with me here.

There was a time when rap music was persona non grata in polite society. Of course, this made hipsters love it that much more, because it was perhaps the most counter- of all counter-cultures at the time. Fondly do we hipsters remember the days of Tipper Gore trying to make a public enemy out of Public Enemy. Fast forward a decade or three, and the other Yeezy has long since dropped. Nowadays, anyone who doesn’t realize hip-hop is mainstream culture has undoubtedly been living under a rock since about 2000, which, as far as I can tell, is about the last time anyone really demonized a rapper in the public eye (here’s looking at you, Eminem). Because the fear of hip-hop’s many variants has all but vanished, the plaintive cry of the suburban mom —help, help, rap is corrupting our youth — no longer struggles to be heard above the thunderous bass of a modified car stereo.

These days, the main complaints you hear about various rappers follow along the lines of “Mumble rap is killing hip-hop,” which to my ears sounds more like hipsters complaining about their favorite artists selling out than the raging klaxon of social alarmism.

Put another way, any musical genre subject to a host of quasi-intellectual think-pieces from mainstream media outlets isn’t anybody’s dark horse.

This dichotomy puts hipsters in a bind. On the one hand, we can’t in good faith cop to liking popular rap or R&B artists because half the fan base is composed of comfortable, mainstream suburbanites. On the other hand, we must profess a deep loyalty to the revolutionary, anti-establishment values that so badly scared politicians and our parents back in the day. It doesn’t hurt the cause that, as normal people might do, we sometimes like the music just because it’s good. Shh. Don’t tell.

The ultimate truth is that the hipster relationship with hip-hop mirrors the hipster relationship with pop music generally. The more time passes, the more likely it is any given artist or track has passed gracefully through the gnatlike attention span of mainstream music fandom, and the more likely it is you’ll hear some hipster profess to love it. Ten years ago, I would have rolled my eyes every time that Flo Rida song about the Apple Bottom Jeans came on the radio, or the stereo at a house party. Today? For reasons both ironic and sincere, I think it’s kind of catchy. Furthermore, I think I always thought it was kind of catchy; you just never would have heard me say that out loud when it was dominating the Top 40.

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Tipper Gore, thinking of the children
Tipper Gore, thinking of the children

Dear Hipster:

We hear so much about hipsters and the obscure indie rock bands they love, but I want to take that discussion in another direction. Specifically, a direction completely apart from twee indie music featuring bearded dudes in sweaters clutching banjos. Obviously, I mean rap. Are hipsters ambivalent about, hostile to, or favorably disposed towards hip-hop?

— Stanimal

Ooh. Good one. This may take some effort, so stick with me here.

There was a time when rap music was persona non grata in polite society. Of course, this made hipsters love it that much more, because it was perhaps the most counter- of all counter-cultures at the time. Fondly do we hipsters remember the days of Tipper Gore trying to make a public enemy out of Public Enemy. Fast forward a decade or three, and the other Yeezy has long since dropped. Nowadays, anyone who doesn’t realize hip-hop is mainstream culture has undoubtedly been living under a rock since about 2000, which, as far as I can tell, is about the last time anyone really demonized a rapper in the public eye (here’s looking at you, Eminem). Because the fear of hip-hop’s many variants has all but vanished, the plaintive cry of the suburban mom —help, help, rap is corrupting our youth — no longer struggles to be heard above the thunderous bass of a modified car stereo.

These days, the main complaints you hear about various rappers follow along the lines of “Mumble rap is killing hip-hop,” which to my ears sounds more like hipsters complaining about their favorite artists selling out than the raging klaxon of social alarmism.

Put another way, any musical genre subject to a host of quasi-intellectual think-pieces from mainstream media outlets isn’t anybody’s dark horse.

This dichotomy puts hipsters in a bind. On the one hand, we can’t in good faith cop to liking popular rap or R&B artists because half the fan base is composed of comfortable, mainstream suburbanites. On the other hand, we must profess a deep loyalty to the revolutionary, anti-establishment values that so badly scared politicians and our parents back in the day. It doesn’t hurt the cause that, as normal people might do, we sometimes like the music just because it’s good. Shh. Don’t tell.

The ultimate truth is that the hipster relationship with hip-hop mirrors the hipster relationship with pop music generally. The more time passes, the more likely it is any given artist or track has passed gracefully through the gnatlike attention span of mainstream music fandom, and the more likely it is you’ll hear some hipster profess to love it. Ten years ago, I would have rolled my eyes every time that Flo Rida song about the Apple Bottom Jeans came on the radio, or the stereo at a house party. Today? For reasons both ironic and sincere, I think it’s kind of catchy. Furthermore, I think I always thought it was kind of catchy; you just never would have heard me say that out loud when it was dominating the Top 40.

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