Why not Classic Rap?
Amy and I were getting our exercise in the park yesterday evening, and a band was set up on one of the football fields. It’s part of a yearly program set up by one of the banks, and locals were out in force to see them–lawn chairs, coolers, umbrellas, portable gazebos. The ones we could see were my age or older, so early-middle age to boomer, and mostly white, and they were there to hear a classic rock cover band.
Amy noted that the band plays the same songs year after year–“Brown Eyed Girl,” “Your Momma Don’t Dance,” “Pink Houses”–and I was struck by the way those songs had transformed over the decades they’d been around. These are family-friendly songs now, not because they are any less suggestive than their contemporary counterparts, but because they’re old, and because the people who listened to them when they were young (and who scandalized their parents with them) are old too. These songs comfort middle-aged white people, which is who makes up most of the classic rock demographic.
I’m not writing this with a sneer either–I’ve got a lot of that music on my computer, and I’ve got the tabs to more than one of the songs they played in the binder that sits next to my rarely-strummed acoustic. I get where these people are coming from.
But it also got me wondering why the “classic” label doesn’t seem to have jumped genres. Mainstream rap has been around for 25 years now–Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” dropped in 1985, and they were just the first to get airplay on MTV–and yet I don’t see classic rap radio stations or classic rap cover bands. I think there’s some version of this for country music, but I don’t know what the label is, and I also wonder if that has something to do with the slower evolution of the country sound over the last 60 years.
There’s not even much in the way of classic rap for the radio. I did a google search for “classic rap radio” and got links to Pandora and a bunch of internet radio stations, but nothing broadcast. “Old school radio” got me one radio station about halfway down the first page, but even that was for a hybrid station, old school paired with R&B. Shouldn’t there be a market for people who want to hear Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, Salt-n-Pepa, Beastie Boys, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Marley Marl? Or are we resigned to making Pandora playlists or plugging our heads with earbuds?
I think, if I saw a band playing locally that advertised itself as an old school hip-hop cover band, I’d go. I’d go in a heartbeat, just to hear live some different songs from my youth. Hell, I get excited when I hear a cover band stretch itself by playing something as simple as “How Soon Is Now.” What would I do if someone busted out with “I was a fiend before I became a teen. I melted microphones instead of cones of ice cream”? Crap my pants in delight, that’s what I’d do.
And that has to be the case for the people who are slightly younger than I am. I’ll be 42 in November, which means I was in my mid-to-late teens when rap started to blow up. By the early nineties, rap and hip-hop were a real force in contemporary music, right up there with grunge (which is already being folded into the “classic rock” genre). If we really do form the bulk of our musical tastes in our teenage years, then there has to be a group of early-middle-aged adults who were forever affected by that music. Who’s catering to them?
So if there are any middle-aged former MCs out there who are looking to put the band back together, even if the band is just you and a buddy with a couple of turntables, let me know. I’ll come see your show, and I’ll drag along as many of my friends as I can find.