Feb 8, 2008

The Try-Hard Era

My teenage years were drenched in the golden era of hip hop. Before you say, here she goes again with the reminiscing, hear me out first. The hip hop culture and music of the first half of the 90s was my life. To say I was "into it" would be an understatement. Thinking back, I feel there was something crazy vibrant about that particular time. Maybe because this was a time of identity formation for many of us. Maybe because I felt the sounds of this era much deeper than any sound I hear now. But in talking to a friend last night, I realized there was more to it than that. Creatively speaking, this time felt like an explosion. Not just with what known artists were putting out, but by how we were all contributing to that energy. Whether making beats, pause tapes, mixes, or writing rhymes, poetry, stories, or writing graff and painting, or dancing, listening to underground radio shows and geeking out to the latest album or single, there was a particular buzz, and with it a sense of connecting with one another.

There's always been innovators and emulators. I appreciate both equally. But there was a time when both were organically shaping because people were immersed in that energy I'm talking about. Nowadays, everybody's an innovator. When in reality, most of it feels too forced. Too confused. Too try-hard.

I'm writing all this because this shit is important to me. I was never a mere "music listener." Sound has always been an integral part of my being. I create through sound. I live through sound.

As much as I've been keeping up with the sound of the times, I'm not feeling it. And that's because I'm not feeling it on a deeper level: that bigger thing I once felt. But it's ok because that's life and it goes in cycles. Everything is a ripple effect of another time, another energy, as a friend of mine said. And the time I'm talking about was no different.

So what am I really getting at? Hear me out. I'm being haunted by that energy I once felt over a decade ago. It's showing up in different ways in my everyday lately. And it's stirring something inside me. This is not about looking to the past to seek something I'm missing. I am a different person from that time. The journeys I've gone through to get here were rooted in that time, but I am exactly where I want to be. So what’s it all about? I'm taking this haunting as an opportunity to innovate. Innovate by looking within. Because it's all here. It's always been.

A little while ago, someone asked me what I was into other than writing. I told him I was into hip hop. But I quickly corrected myself and said, hip hop of a different time. I did this not to disconnect myself from present day hip hop (which needless to say, I am) or to be pretentious (like that shit was better). I did this because I wanted him to know where I’m rooted. I wanted to see if I could connect with him on a level that only people who felt that explosion connect on. Not people who've done their homework. Or know the lyrics to the most obscure tracks. Or who have encyclopedic knowledge but don't feel shit. Because you can tell who really felt that shit. You can tell they were part of something much bigger. They'd felt that buzz. I told the guy I meant hip hop like DITC and Freestyle Fellowship, and when he got that look in his eye, and said O.C. and Aceyalone, I knew. We needed no preambles. We got each other.

This rant of mine might still sound like a reminiscing of sorts to you. And maybe it is. But I think I’m trying to get at something more. Apparently, I’ve been on a verbal diarrhea tip lately. Fair enough. But I know there's something to be said about forced innovation. And trying too hard without looking within, without really feeling it. Anything forced just doesn't feel real. It doesn't hit deep. It doesn't feel right.


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