All hail hip-hop's ageing parents
April 11, 2008 8:00 AM
Approaching hero status ... Public Enemy's Chuck D (pictured right, with Flavor Flav) circa 1990. Photograph: Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis
Thirty-one years on from its origins in the South Bronx, New York, hip-hop has metamorphosed into a billion-dollar industry; a cut-throat, fast-turnover
model of capitalism. It's a wonder that some artists have evolved with hip-hop, not fallen by the wayside, to prosper as vanguards of the original culture.
These are hip-hop's elder statesmen and women, those who bring light when hip-hop threatens to fall into a darkened abyss.
Chuck D is the elder statesman's elder statesman. Though Public Enemy mightn't seem relevant in a commercial sense, in every other way the Long Island crew are giants. Chuck D, as the unit's leader, has been almost militaristic in his dedication to touring the globe, and exploiting new technologies - especially the internet - for the greater benefit of hip-hop. He remains revolutionary and evolutionary.
Ice Cube is the former angry firebrand young man turned elder statesman. He still sees life through the prism of lessons learned in south central Los Angeles' ghetto. He never fails to give young whippersnappers a lyrical ass-whipping. And he's taken rap deep into Hollywood, green-lighting films, and TV shows, with heavy hip-hop undercurrents.
Scarface, sometimes one third of Geto Boys, is another statesman. His grim, morbid, explicit, and yet devoutly religious worldview transcends any questions of relevancy. As a product of the deep south, he's dedicated to ensuring ghetto dwellers never forget slavery, lynchings, or any other injustices of the past. And he's been a major player in the renaissance of southern hip-hop, from his former industry position as head of Def Jam Records (South).
We can consider the contrasting styles of Lil' Kim and MC Lyte as higher examples of hip-hop femininity, and whether they are bankrolled by corporations or not, their previous work cannot be erased. And when you chart Jay-Z's well-documented evolution, from a hustler in Brooklyn's Marcy Projects, to a veritable captain of industry, he has stayed in the frame by being both intelligent and ruthless - something he shares with Dr Dre, a producer who has changed the sound of hip-hop at least three distinctive times.
KRS-One stays relevant by adhering to the guiding principles of hip-hop from day one. He has actually become a living embodiment of hip-hop. The day he becomes irrelevant is the day hip-hop dies. Same also for the Wu-Tang Clan, the nine-strong, hydra-headed entity whose records define exactly what hip-hop can or cannot be. Their dedication to the truth is paramount - and who can argue with the truth?
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