Growing up, I was an 80’s baby by default who, although a toddler, was exposed to each element of Hip-Hop from the breaking, scratching, and emceeing to tagging and having knowledge of the culture. My aunt and uncle were 80’s babies by Jay-Z’s standards (people who weren’t exactly born in the 80’s but came of age during that era) and they worshiped the culture like it was a religion.
I can recall them having weekly discussions with their respective crews about the latest rap beefs, the illest albums out, and the best moves to bust at the skating rink on Friday if the DJ played Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid In Full”.
Although, my aunt and uncle were my babysitters at the time, I saw them as my teachers. They didn’t turn the boombox off to accommodate my Care Bears cartoon addiction. Instead, they turned the music up and showed me how to do the Running Man without losing my breath and the Snake without straining my neck.
And with an iced oatmeal cookie in my left hand and a Hi-C fruit punch juice box in my right, I bobbed my head to Special Ed’s “I Got It Made,” and knew that Hip-hop was something in high-regard that was definitely worth paying attention to…
…so I paid attention.
I watched in curiosity and amazement as my uncle fell countless times trying to spin on his head and clapped with mad enthusiasm when he finally perfected his backspin. He made me feel welcome and even tried to show me how to break in my Rainbow Brite shirt and fake Adidas windbreakers. Even as a youth himself, he knew that I was the future and that I needed to understand, respect, and preserve the genre that he and many others cherished so much.
As time went by, my aunt and uncle became adults, started families, and weren’t able to teach me anymore. However, the culture was now being presented to me in everything I watched, read, and listened to. I was coming of age in the mid-90’s and Hip-Hop as a whole was growing with me. No matter how much the game evolved, though, I remember people still doing their best to preserve the history.
Rap City reserved a spot for authentic early Hip-Hop with their weekly “Old School Wednesday” episodes, which was cool because it brought back memories of my childhood and kept me in tune with the overall culture. The Source Magazine was also good for highlighting the past, present, and future as their original claim of being “The Bible of Hip-Hop” continued to ring true.
Looking back, I’m proud to say that I was apart of a generation who respected the life of Hip-Hop and helped it evolve into the flourishing multi-billion-dollar business that it is today. On the flip-side, I’m also sad to say that I’m apart of a generation who’s not exactly instilling the 40+ year-old culture into the next generation like we should.
Today, as a fully grown woman and mother, I try to teach my daughter about the culture and music I grew up on. It sounds like ancient history to her but I feel that she understands just like I did as a little girl. I feel like how my uncle must of felt when he took me under his wing and explained Hip-Hop to me back in the day. I love Hip-hop so much but I know that one day, my radio dial will be set on the station with the “Smooth R&B & Old School Jams”. We have to teach the next generation about the culture, all 5 elements, and what it means…what it stands for.
We can’t let our youth think that rap is Hip-Hop or vice-versa, and we definitely can’t let the media sell them a warped, money-driven, distorted idea of what Hip-Hop is. It’s time to get real and treat these kids like how the ‘old-heads’ treated us. I’m not trying to start a revolution or blame today’s youth for simply not knowing but like the old African proverb says, “Each one, teach one.”
So the next time you see a teenager turning up to Young Thug and Nicki Minaj, make it a point to tell them about KRS-One and Queen Latifah, or at least Nas and Bahamedia. You may not feel that you’re getting through to them but something may stick. I mean, my uncle’s efforts stuck with me forever and I’m pretty sure he thought I wasn’t listening to one word. Will the next generation preserve Hip-Hop? The answer starts with us.