Hipster Boogie

Damn, it feels good to hear a hipster

They are modern society’s coiffed pariahs, the poseurs you love to hate. They are vultures of culture—the personification of style’s suffocation of substance, snark’s snuff of sincerity, jaded irony’s preemptive strike on perspective. They are the vacuous trend-chasing children of privilege, the young and the soulless. They are walking, talking empty T-shirt slogans. They are the scourge of 21st-century humanity, fakers of funk in form-fitting jeans and Nike Dunks. They are hipsters. And they now officially possess their own lane in the rap game. Ladies and gentleman, the hip-hop gods mercilessly present to you “hipster rap.”

This, to paraphrase the illustrious words of Ricky Walters, was the moment many of us longtime hip-hop watchers feared. The culture we love gone kitsch. Faux-hawked fools in dookie rope chains sipping nutcracker from plastic cups, tongue rings planted firmly in cheeks. Sure, we’d seen it coming for years. The blueprint had been drafted as far back as 1986, when the Beastie Boys, well-bred downtown hardcore kids slumming for new styles, channeled Schoolly D’s reverb-soaked gun chatter into a classic rapsploitation joyride called Licensed to Ill. But the Beasties were actually musically gifted (a ginormous detail no one bothered to tell ’90s proto-hipster outfits like the insufferable Northern State). And the more recent outcroppings of their descendants had, for the most part, resigned themselves to hip-hop’s margins. Couldn’t they have stayed there? Couldn’t they have been content in their contemporary roles as voyeuristic Dipset fanboys and -girls? Was it really necessary for them to try to rap?

But a funny thing happened on my way toward categorical condemnation of hip-hop’s latest subgenre: I learned that hipster rap wasn’t a threat to my cherished traditional hip-hop value system. It was, in fact, not what I had even initially perceived it to be. Hipster rap deserved some reconsideration.

Re: Definition

It’s telling that, when you Google the words “hipster rap,” the top two results are Yahoo Answers posts that pose questions: First, “What is hipster rap?” And then the decidedly more confused and desperate sounding, “Does anyone know what hipster rap is?” (Okay… Calm down and come in off the ledge, Yahoo Answers.)

The correct answer to the latter is, of course, not really. Hip-hop subgenres have historically been subject to oversimplified labeling from both within and without (see: “gangsta rap,” “conscious rap,” “jazz rap,” “backpacker rap,” “emo rap,” etc.). But hipster rap, or, as it shall now and forever be more accurately known, so-called hipster rap (SCHR) may actually be the most contentious misnomer of them all. No rapper wants to be known as a hipster. (Really, nobody wants to be known as a hipster.) Besides the distasteful connotations of the term popularized by the 1957 Norman Mailer essay “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster” (for all you literary types), the reasons have been well enough demonstrated by a late-May poll on boom-bap-centric hip-hop blog unkut.com, infamously titled “Who Is the Biggest Douchebag in Hipster Rap?”

There’s a set of usual suspects typically mentioned in discussions of SCHR. For anyone who may have misplaced their scorecard, the unofficial roll call is as follows. The Cool Kids: Midwestern-suburbs-raised bicycle enthusiasts and ’80s revivalists Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish. Kid Sister: club-friendly Chi-Town femcee who enjoyed SCHR’s biggest hit to date, last year, with her catchy duet with Kanye West, “Pro Nails.” Kidz in the Hall: Ivy League–edumacated post-backpacker duo that earned steady burn on MTV’s TRL earlier this year with the used-car-salesman-spoofing video for “Drivin’ Down the Block (Low End Theory).” The Knux: proudly abstract New Orleanian rhyming/producing siblings and Interscope Records signees known for their playful retro single “Cappuccino.” Mickey Factz: prodigious, prolific Bronx-bred renegade of funk who’s released three separate mixtapes within the last year, culminating in the acclaimed, artsy Heaven’s Fallout. Wale: Washington, D.C., rhyme sensation and recent Roots collaborator signed to big-shot producer Mark Ronson’s Allido imprint. Pacific Division: L.A.’s modern-day “F.A.T. Boys” (that’s “fashionable artistic trendsetters”) recently signed to Universal Records. And, of course, SCHR’s perpetually budding “Superstar,” Mr. “Kick Push” himself, Lupe Fiasco.

Several of these folks are on record as saying there’s no legitimate basis for their genre’s unflattering, unsolicited handle. (Not the ebullient Kid Sister, who, thanks to her association with both Kanyeezy and her brother Josh’s celebrated Flosstradamus DJ crew, simultaneously enjoys the most mainstream hip-hop and hipster-crowd credentials of anyone in the SCHR bunch. “I’m not complaining,” she says about the hipster tag. “You can call me whatever you want to call me. Just don’t call me bitch!”) The consensus, though, is that the term is a convenient media/blogosphere invention that puts a pretty diverse collection of artists in a box simply because they eschew today’s rap’s swagger-by-numbers conventions—either musically, in appearance, or both.

“The hipster rap term came from the bloggers,” Kidz in the Hall’s Naledge told video-grapher Mikey Fresh last April. “And it’s odd enough that the bloggers actually were the hipsters that was looking for that music. So now that it’s picking up steam, they had to have a phrase [for] it.”

Former signees to the revived Rawkus Records (backpacker central of the late ’90s) and currently on the roster at Duck Down Records, where they are label mates of ’90s keep-it-real refugees Sean Price, Buckshot and Smif-N-Wessun, Naledge and partner Double O view SCHR artists as just the new “backpackers,” with a bigger clothing budget.

Naledge: “Everybody who was considered backpacker, now they getting a little more fitted in they jeans, they belts is name brand, they backpacks is name brand. It’s a little bit different… But it’s the music is what’s important.”

Agreed. Thus, when shovel comes to shit, SCHR is a genre whose meaning cuts no deeper than the silk-screened print on your designer hoodie—a subtle changing of the guard’s wardrobe. This new music is not the domain of regular hipsters—contrived, self-styled outsiders—but of actual musical outsiders, in some respects even purists, riding the periphery of hip-hop’s still-narrow definitions of acceptability. “OutKasts,” two dope boys in a Cadillac once termed it, I believe. Hip-hop misfits? Maybe. Straight-up hipsters? Eh, not really buying it.

Tight jeans > Tight rhymes?

SCHR hating enjoyed its most visible moment this past April, when Jersey City rapper Mazzi, of the underground group S.O.U.L. Purpose, dropped “Lesson A,” an admittedly entertaining diss rhyme and accompanying music video that chastised SCHR artists (specifically The Cool Kids and heralded vagabond producer/MC Jay Electronica) for cultural interloping and watering down hip-hop by dressing like trendoid bastards. (Sample lyric: “The Cool Kids are wack/The Pack want their style back… Get the hell back on your bike and cycle on/With those tight-ass jeans/And probably even tighter thongs.”) In response, the Kids played it cool, appropriately enough, refusing to engage in any real back-and-forth. Blog commentators (sa’prize!) did not. Some concluded that the Cool Kids were phonies, inevitably gay, and the Antichrist, or maybe worse (phony, gay Antichrists?). Others baited Mazzi for being permanently stuck in 1994 and, in an amusing bit of table-turnism, wondered if perhaps he himself was paying a little too much attention to what other dudes were wearing.

The dust eventually, kind of, sort of settled. In the subsequent “Lesson B” video, Mazzi declared that “The Cool Kids are hip-hop.” (Aww, group hug.) But debate points lingered. Isn’t there something wrong, if not somehow culturally dangerous, when the Internet and the industry lavish copious amounts of hype on material like The Cool Kids’ single “’88”—a tune with a chorus that borrows the Nas lyric, “Do the Wop, do the Smurf, Baseball Bat/Rooftop like I’m bringing ’88 back.” Mikey Rocks was but a gleam in his mom’s eye in 1988; Chuck Inglish was all of three years old. Were they even aware that the Rooftop was a legendary NYC hip-hop club? Had they ever even done the Wop?!? And if the tune was recorded with a hipster faux-stalgia nod and wink, didn’t that make it even worse?

Maybe stuff like that would’ve mattered if the music sucked. But it’s hard to be mad at “’88,” or the rest of the Kids’ recent The Bake Sale EP—an enjoyable, spot-on update of Rick Rubin’s early Def Jam drum-machine minimalism (with the occasional now-fashionable chopped-and-screwed-style chorus) that shows that they actually have done (and continue to do) their hip-hop homework. (Chuck has said that his pops made him memorize the lyrics to “Paid in Full” at age three. Talk about homeschooling.) And I may be showing my ancient-ass-ness here, but, seriously, can it really be damaging to hip-hop culture to have two young kids rhyming about being broke but still pulling chicks and looking fly on their bikes? If hip-hop culture (or what’s left of it) is really that weak in the knees, then it deserves to be damaged.

As for the tight pants, well, that’s as much a recurring part of hip-hop tradition as shitty recording contracts and lyrics that glorify violence and selling drugs. Some of our greatest MCs have rocked snug trousers. See Melle Mel circa ’82, LL circa ’86, Chuck D circa ’89 and, of course, Kanye West.

I’d like to think that it’s the fact that SCHR artists are actually paying some attention to their craft and deviating from the antiart “rap is my hustle” routine so prevalent in recent years that’s made their peers (at least ones not named Mazzi) look past their fashion choices and recognize their creative credibility. UGK’s Bun B and the Clipse’s Pusha T have shown their support via features, alongside The Cool Kids, on remixes of Kidz in the Hall’s “Drivin’ Down the Block (Low End Theory),” as well as on Wale’s “The Feature Heavy Song,” while unofficial SCHR figurehead Kanye facilitated Kid Sister’s breakthrough in an attempt to stay up on current trends, after famously losing out to hipster-approved dance artist Justice vs. Simian at the MTV Europe Music Awards two years ago.

As for how far SCHR’s finest can take their fare beyond the initial spark of inspiration (some would argue novelty) and the hipster label they’ve been saddled with? That probably depends most on whether they can definitively and consistently show something of themselves deeper than their street-wear affiliation—say, something along the lines of Wale’s “Cuz I’m African,” which improves upon his usual impressive wordplay by detailing his experiences as a second-generation Nigerian-American (“The pain of an immigrant/I know ’cause I been in there… And the bitches used to laugh/The darkest in the classroom/Pops drove a cab/That’s African”). Or the strangely affecting emo-meets-smooth-jazz swag of Mickey Factz’s dedication to his beloved craft, “Something About Us.” Or maybe Pac Divison’s appetizing “Taste,” which reaches past conventional introductory braggadocio and finds an unexpected fistful of revolutionary rage (“This shit hit harder than the time you found out that your girl was cheatin’/Or maybe even that fateful evening/You turned on the TV screen and seen Rodney King take that beating”).

All promising. None transcendent. SCHR still lacks its unofficial anthem: a song that uniquely conveys the joys of the fly life with a simple statement of purpose or identity—its “Me Myself & I,” its “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang,” its “All About the Benjamins.”

Or maybe it was “Pro Nails” all along. But even Kid Sister, whose repertoire thus far has leaned heavily on the fun and frivolous, acknowledges her own desire to bridge her percolating Chi-Town club rhythms with something just a little more meaningful than paeans to mean manicures and beeper booty calls.

“It’s not easy giving up personal information and doing it in a way that’s not trite,” she says. “But at some point, ass shaking is just not enough… There was a certain point that I came to where I was like, I gotta step it up a little bit and show people I’m not just some party girl. I’m a normal girl.”

[Editor's Note: This article appears in the September 2008 issue of XXL, along with features on Young Jeezy, Foxy Brown, and Nas.]

  • bo

    first..fuck a hipster

    • giantstepp

      co mutha fcukin sign!

      *turns up the ‘Pac*

      • patkilpat

        Pac wore a leather gurdle, look it up

  • Mali Ahmad

    1st!!! Lol but yea homie gotta point people need to look past the clothes n realize every era had its dress code. . . . Shit Melle Mel n dem was on some rockstar shit wit they wardrobe I mean damn have any of u niggas seen breakin?!? Ozone wit da spike bracelets n tight leather pants nigga! So as the people change the music changes. Hip-hop is gettin global now we got people comin outta different places like the suburbs and along wit dat comes a different kind of culture as long as the music still strikes ya soul tha same way who gives a flyin FUCK!!!!!

  • Pierzy

    Honestly, I didn’t think I would but I love The Cool Kids and, to me, they’re a throwback to classic 80s hip-hop.

  • towndopest

    yall trippin aint no such thing as hipster rap, its just straight up hip hop on mommas. you mean to tell me that shit comin out of the south is hip hop? Southern rap is like disco back in the day, they just killin the funk.

  • Dee

    U kno wat i was never a hipster.. but before i even knew or heard about hipster rap i heard tha cool kids.. i think ppl r jus mad cuz good music is comin bak..

    • Dee

      *N theyre mad cuz they cant make good music

  • moresickaMC

    It seems if you don’t wear a dress length white tee you are labeled hipster. Is Nas hipster too? HipHop shouldnt be so close minded..as long as theres creativity and originality

  • Mac Sleepy

    Dat Shyt Ain’t Cool… But 2 Be Truthful I could Give A fuk About There clothes, I Respect There Music… You’ll Never See Me In Dat Tight Shyt Though, It Doesnt Agree Wit My Lifestyle…lol I cant Be hopping In & Out Of cars On da Block, Swagg thru Da Club, Sweat Bytches, shoot Dice, Stump a Ni66a ass or Go 2 Court wit No jeans tight around the thighs, Shirt Squeezin my chest wit a Trucker hat…lol Fuk Outta Here!

    http://www.myspace.com/macsleepy66

    • Peschola

      Thats wild as shit cuz i did that last saturday wit some tru’s on!!! “Man makes the fit, The fit don’t make the man”

  • kj

    I read the intro and realized you dont know what you talking bout. What is a hipster? Who made that up? Its good music and yaw still complaining! “Hip Hop dead, Hip Hop dead”. Naw bitch yaw just listen to and support the wrong artist!

  • dj nice wit it

    man this is the dumbest shit ive ever read/ heard in my entire life.

    Thats segregation. Its all fuckin rap music weather you like it or not. Thats why the music store sells it all in one genre. it aint hipster, hiphop, crunk, gangster, dance, snap, what ever the fuck you wanna call it. at the end of the day its all rap. Now STFU

  • Manny78d

    There is a really fine line. The line is often blurred because of old heads in thier 30′s who still rock super baggy jeans and big ass throwbacks while they bump old Tupac in thier CD player walkmans. THE 90′s ARE OVER CHAMP!! THEY ARE NOT COMING BACK. There is a hipster style: 1.rediculous retro sunglasses or a variety of stunnas 2. SUPER TIGHT JEANS ( we all can tell the difference between SUPER TIGHT and fitted )3.Shmedium T’s like muscle shirt shmedium. Bammas get me goin like shit when they talk about “hipster this,” “hipster that.” Im from the DC metro and our style to alot of people would be considered hipster, but most of us just wear clothes that fit us. And uhh if you been to tha metro you know DC niggaz be stylin on bammas.

    DMV, WE GOIN HARD !!!

  • Manny78d

    Man I got all sciced up about the style aspect of this post I forgot to speak on “hipster” hip hop. It alot of cases its the best shit out there, especially for you dirty south hatin hip hop purists.

    DMV, WE GOIN HARD !!!

    • http://www.myspace.com/macsleepy66 Mac Sleepy

      keep da south out ya mouth… u ain’t gotta dis a region to get ya point across, fitted clothes wear ass ni66a…lol

      • Manny78d

        Man Im bout to roast you. Do you know how to read ? You sleepy ass bamma. Let me explain what I said since your slow as fuck. “In alot of cases its the best shit out there, especially for you dirty south hatin hip hop purists.” Meaning: People who dont like southern rap ( which I do ) would probably like “hipster” music… Im not talkin down on dirty south rap Im just saying that people who dont like southern shit would like “hipster” shit. Im not going to elabortate any further because your reatard as shit.

        You really are a “sleepy” mac. Wake the fuck up bitch.

        DMV, WE GOIN HARD!!

  • Atlatino

    F**k a hipster. For real which one these cats is getting street (hood) respect? Who’s heavy in the streets with the hipster shit? The cool kids are on Duckdown but damn wouldn’t you wanna make something on par with your labelmates? Sean P, Blackmoon, Smif and Wesson, Cool Kids? GTFOH it don’t go it don’t fit maybe is the jeans lol.

    • Peschola

      Sometimes niggas don’t wanna be hood, did u ever think of that???? It sucks that people to this day think being “ganster” is the end all be all to success in life. There is more out there than being the hardest nigga on the block, there is a whole universe away from that stoop.

  • Atlatino

    OOPS!I meant kids in the hall, but hell they both gaaaaaahbige

  • boss me

    who gives a fuck about what somebody wears GROW UP…they say lupe is a so called hipster and he’s one of the best mainstreem lyricist out right now

  • stobo646

    I dont care how niggas dress but young niggas now a days be lookin gay.

    • Peschola

      Them same niggas is prolly who your girl be lookien at low key!!! You don’t know how many broads i smashed who’s man was a d-boy, and my tru’s fit right!!!!

  • Tony Grand$

    Every facet of culture needs a “nerd” to pick on. That’s a timeless fact. The proverbial underdog that stands up against the challenge and refuses to conform to the traditional way of whatever. In this case, it happens to be these SCHR. Their dress code, their form of speak, even the flavor of the issues they touch upon is a far left from what most would consider digestable. Not really sure if they bothwr me or not, but I will shout out The Cool Kids and Lupe Fiasco. I fux with them dudes. I got put on to The CK’s from NBALive 08 for psp. That was where I first heard “88″. Shits bangin. Now, I’m theoretically an old school head, so I’m not into skinny jeans and too small print tee’s, much less skateboards and purple mohawks. But, too each his/her own. Something tells me that its a lil more than just a fad, becuz it gives the youth another way of xpressing their collective creativity without so much of the negative connotations attached to hip hop as a whole culture. Sure the Kids in the Hall got into a small fracas, but it was an isolated event, as opposed to niggas gettin mobbed @ release parties and clubs gettin shot for nothin. And one thing I learnd in high skool from experience, keep fuckin with a nerdy nigga and don’t get mad when he knock ur ass out and take ya bitch. Ha!

  • nellz

    this article is corn.

  • marc

    I know some guys wear pants to tight but
    niggas be on that little kid shit with tees that look like a dress

    dudes like Lupe and even the cool kids are pretty fresh not the guy with the bottom of his pants getting cut up and dirty on the floor

    i remember my jeans were like that when i was 12

    jeans that fit are cool not those baggy ass pants or those nut huggers either

    P.S.
    pants that fit show the nikes better

    • Tony Grand$

      Cosign^^^! Gotta floss the fresh air force 1. I’m old school tho fa sho, all white. No patend leather and no funny colors. Yall youngstas can have that!

  • J Killer

    I don’t give a fuck what anybody says The Cool Kids are dope n they’re different. Who gives a fuck about their jeans. If that’s the case then 90% of the niggas in NY would be gay. I wear straight fit jeans(no tights for me), but that’s their style. They can rap and at the end of the day that’s all that matters. You’re the gay one if your looking at their jeans.

  • http://www.myspace.com/friscorepresenter ant

    I have no problem wit hipster rap…liven n the “hood” seein shit that you see on day to day basis sometimes niggas wanna escape that hars reality if you only listen to gangsta music ur an idiot!!! Imo

  • http://xxl.mag.com jelani

    yo this hipster rap or whatever its call shows im getting older (33 yrs old)and out of touch with the young cats. you know something i love it. we older cats need to give these young cats their lane to express themselves just like when i was 17-23 yrs old. i will never accept the fitted jean look and the skittle colors. let 16-25 yr olds do what people their age like. plus the big names in all media outlets are over 30 or pushing on 30.but all in all the overall material is lacking regardless of the hipsters or not.the comeback of hip hop started with wayne carter 3 and hopefully (and i say hopefully) the release of detox, blueprint 3 and em joint.

  • http://notrannypants@hotmail.com fuck skinny jeans and jerking

    everybody says baggy jeans are played out hell nah skinny jeans are played out you see every ni99a and they momma wearing skinny jeans these days and i dont give a fuck if a girl think i look good in skinnies yall just on lil wayne and juelz dick if lil wayne wore a skirt i bet half of yall would wear one to half of yall are fake as fuck hahaha

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