50 Cent touches on a sensitive area in hip-hop culture:

I think you miss the things when they’re gone. When you look around, and see it’s turned into this little hipster thing — the culture’s not even what it was, initially — you start to look for something that’s [a] representation of what it was in the past that you actually loved about it or what you actually enjoyed. It turned into a fashion show for a little while.

Artists are writing about fashion, and that part’s, like, it’s crazy. That part was never a core of the actual art. It was so many different… You had to offer different walks, different perspectives. Your album was supposed to be better than the other guy’s album — the competitive portion. That’s why so often you got involved in battling -— they called it beefing. They changed the terminology to beefing after Biggie and Tupac, but these guys aren’t Biggie and Tupac.

Controversy has surrounded the hipsterization of hip hop since it first gained the attention of a few peeved music critics around five years ago.

In May 2008 Unkut.com launched “The Search for the Biggest Douchebag in Hipster Rap,” asking its viewers to vote for biggest hipster MCs. Five of the eight choices were from Chicago: Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, the Cool Kids, Kid Sister and Kidz in the Hall.

The state of the genre at the time led Chicago Reader music columnist Miles Raymer to write, “there’s no question that Chicago is the capital of hipster rap.”

Chicago’s a big hipster town. I don’t mean that in a good or bad way. I’m just stating a fact, period.

There’s something about dilapidated sections of a city that simply breed hipsters, and Chicago’s got plenty of old, neglected neighborhoods for hipsters to spawn in: Wicker Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Uptown, you name it.

Again, I’m not saying hipsters are like cockroaches. They’re more like strange birds that migrate to your neighborhood, sometimes making a pretty sound (renovating an abandoned building) and sometimes crapping all over your car (turning the local greasy spoon into an eco-friendly tea lounge).

Hip hop is a means of expression. So there’s plenty of room in hip-hop music for hipsters to do their thing.

But again — and I don’t mean to sound like a self-loathing hipster — hip hop sprung from a specific group of people with a specific purpose. Namely, it originated in the poorer communities of the Bronx, who found a way to express themselves and depict their experiences through art, whether by rapping, DJing, dancing, tagging or whatever.

For that reason, the gulf between hip hop and hipsterism is really a wide one.

Hipsters wear old coats, worn shoes and nerdy glasses to be ironic. Hip hop wears old coats, worn shoes and nerdy glasses because they can’t afford better.

Hipsters live in run-down parts of the city to be outside the mainstream. Hip hop was born outside the mainstream.

Hipsterism views much of life and the world as trivial. Life and the world deem much of hip hop unimportant.

Hipsterism likes everything counter-culture. Hip hop is everything counter-culture.

That their roots and motives are different is why hipsterism cannot be allowed to take over hip hop, because while hipsterism is mostly about amusement, hip hop is supposed to be about calling attention to life in the forgotten crevices of America’s cities.

And Pac knows a city like Chicago could use some calling attention to.

That’s why, for all my lambasting of Chief Keef, I much prefer his music to anything by Drake because one’s telling the listener to smoke, drink, fuck, shoot and make money, while the other’s Chief Keef, who’s merely rapping about what he knows as a boy forced to grow up in one of the roughest areas of a rough city. (I still wish Keef did it more thoughtfully, though.)

For the true fan of hip hop, hipsterism presents a dangerous diversion. Sure, it’s fun to dress in silly couture and eat at a chill sushi bar, but there are serious issues facing the inner-city some of us come from. And the people who live there don’t just need to be entertained: they need to know how to get out, or at least improve their surroundings.

So let hipsters wear stringless sneakers and hang old bicycles on their walls, but that’s never been what hip hop is about.

 

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