When it comes to fans of rap, there’s one surefire way to get a debate started — claim that today’s hip hop is better than those of the previous decades. The fact is, no matter where you stand on the issue, there is a clear and defined difference between classic and modern hip hop, but the real issue comes down to whether or not today’s compositions are a more diluted version of the classic hip hop.
The problem in answering this question, however, is that the two are almost completely different forms of music, which means a direct comparison is difficult to make. For instance, classic rap tracks often used minimal musical elements — the artist’s voice and the beat were the sole focus — whereas modern rap tends to rely more on music and vocal effects. Making this comparison would be like comparing the rock ‘n’ roll of Elvis to the modern death metal band Cannibal Corpse.
Another example of differences between the two can be found in vocal style. Classic rap, for example, was founded on vocal elements that generally matched the beat of the song, whereas modern rap tends to be a bit more experimental when it comes to an artist’s flow. In fact, some modern rappers sound almost as if they are simply talking on top of a beat instead of actually flowing with it. Of course, these examples are not made to prove that one version of hip hop is better than the other, but to point out that these differences can make a direct comparison difficult.
What the argument seems to truly come down to is the attitude of classic hip hop versus modern hip hop. When hip hop first came about in the late 1970s, the attitude found within the music, and its message, were generally aimed at encouraging a listener to remain resolute despite problems in their lives. This approach allowed classic rap to be very genuine and personal. Classic rap was often played or performed at parties, and the stories told within the songs typically revolved around common life themes of love, disappointment, acceptance, and struggle.
Modern hip hop, on the other hand, often focuses its lyrical content on clever rhymes that often don’t have any unified theme. Many modern rappers such as 50 Cent and Lil’Wayne, while talented, generally, do not spend as much time within a song truly tapping into real human emotions or identifying with a listener. In many cases, these rappers actually spend more time on clever quips, boasting, and bragging.
As such, modern hip hop could possibly be considered a diluted version of the classic versions. The modern compositions seem to lack the soul or core of classic hip hop. Once again, this is not to say that one is better than the other, or that any artist is more talented as a result, but the fact is that many modern artists don’t seem to have a sense of grounding or foundation. Today’s rappers can almost be seen as one-off artists who spend the majority of their songs trying to best their last line instead of focusing on the song itself and its connection with the listener.
It should be noted, however, that there are a number of rap artists these days who are locked in a genuine struggle to bring some soul back into rap. Many of these artists speak publicly about their cause to return hip hop to its roots, but so far it seems that they have had limited success. Whether that success grows will be a matter for the listening public to decide, but until then, enjoy your favorite artists and help keep real hip hop alive.