The Rise and Hopeful Fall of Hipster Rap
Rap is historically an art form of the disenfranchised. Much like jazz and blues, it is a way for those who have been oppressed to express themselves. The 70s presented the advent of rap music and the like of Grandmaster Flash, King Tim III, and The Sugarhill Gang spitting their bars over looped soul and R&B samples. The 80s featured Run DMC, Slick Rick, and NWA challenging the assumptions that America had about black contribution to culture and pushing the boundaries of profanity in music. The 90s featured Dr. Dre producing beautifully layered tracks and the Wu Tang Clan, Nas, Biggie, and Rakim inventing the modern Hip Hop flow. Each of these people came from nothing and made it out of their respective form of poverty through rapping. Blues and jazz began as the music of the oppressed, but soon enough was commercialized by the white elite and at least partially altered into a more generic and uncontroversial form. For rap, this transformation has taken place recently.
The Hipster Rapper is the new trend in Hip Hop. These white boys come on a scale from, tote toting kombucha sippers, to full on mason jar collecting vegans. Rappers such as Wes Walker, Action Bronson, Watsky, Felly, and Granata, instead of playing off of the classic tropes of misogyny drug use violence, choose not even to try to claim any street cred and portray themselves as hipsters.
Watsky is the most glaring example. On his eponymous debut record, Watsky adds interludes in which an unnamed assailant criticizes each song, at one point saying, “Watsky, you have to like disrespect women and talk about clubs and shit… you didn’t say bitch one time in that record.” While often funny, something rings true about each of these interactions. Watsky frequently broaches topics such as Star Wars, good coffee, and big pharma, sometimes all in the same bar. In the opening to his song “Pink Lemonade” Watsky raps, “Air salad/Sex vinaigrette/Intravenous internet/Jazz cigarettes/Blazé frenzy/Officer friendly/Venti Trappuccino/Gluten free Henny.” While this line primarily works to mock the modern hipster, subtly poking fun at those rich white yuppies that appropriate Hip Hop culture, it also shows him to be fluent in the culture he purports to mock. Watsky is just the right balance of self mocking and earnest, making him a perfect Hipster Rapper.
The classic Brooklyn hipster, Granata, is one-half Nitro-sipping, paleo, crunchy granola man, one half relativist bedroom philosopher contemplating his mortality. Granata’s rapping and crooning hooks come together over a background filled with half-time rock beats and live piano and sax to give the listener an experience filled with whimsy and craft IPAs. Granata fully embraces the hipster within him, in one song rapping, “Wake up have a waffle and a beer/ Put it in a mason jar and keep the bottle for my tears” he goes on to rap, “There’s heaven there’s hell, and then there’s vaudeville/ I listen to Bill Burr, Bukowski, and Bob Dyl.” But finishes with the cool calm and careless line “I’m the last Granata/ gonna rake up a bunch of debt and die.” Fully hipster and proud, Granata stands uncompromisingly over his durag toting white counterparts, laughing at them but not because they are black because he really really loves black people, some of his best friends are black actually… not that that matters or anything.
This movement towards the hipster ideal by white rappers is analogous to the movement of rap from the art form of the disenfranchised poor to that of the wealthy white elite. People listen to music on some level because they identify with it. The White urban teens who are tired of listening to Ab Soul rap about being “raised by the bloods/ paid by the cryps,” finally have a relatable icon to champion their boujee way of life. While of course, all music is valid, this new wave of rap takes something away from the art form in a cultural sense. Songs such as Jordan Belfort by Wes Walker and Dyl are disgustingly unself-aware about the culture that they glorify and willfully ignorant of the art form they use to do it. Historically, rappers are some of the most public figures who have made it out of poverty by their own means making them natural role models for those who share their background. Hipster rap is fun, but it is missing something that is at the core of the art form that it emulates. It is easy for this fad to glorify white semi glutinous culture through a historically black medium resulting in yet another form of subtle cultural white supremacy. At its best, this new fad is witty, self-aware and poignant but at its worst, it has a real potential to damage the way young people view American culture.
Phineas Alexander is a first-year who let the dogs out.