The early 1900’s were defined by the music of Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charlie Patton, Memphis Minnie, Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Bob Wills. But it’s no longer the 1900’s, so do those artists still represent the modern heart of the American people? Their lyrics cut to the visceral soul of the poor to working class person, and while the same socio-economic classes exist, there has been a mass cultural change in America’s population, and it seems that hip hop has become the new heart.
From Public Enemy and Afrika Bambaataa to Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Common, Jay Z, Kanye West, Brother Ali, and even newcomers like Joey Bada$$, Chance the Rapper, and Kendrick Lamar, the landscape is changing – not the message necessarily, but the landscape. These artists are speaking to the new generation about the same politics, the same race issues, class issues, social issues, sexual issues, murder, judgement, economy, and the same “take the power back” type pride that those before them came to preach, but it seems to make more sense.
It’s the difference between reading book like The Odyssey, and something more contemporary like On the Road . Both cover topics of the search to find oneself, but the current generation relates more to the latter than the former. The Odyssey will always be a brilliant and beautiful story, but the newer generation doesn’t always want to read the dictionary while sifting through the pages. On the Road deals with sex, and drugs, and the experience of everything new, including failures and depression, but it can be read, and felt, and most importantly, understood by a newer crowd – obviously it’s still an older book, but the language allows it to feel more comfortable to a newer reader.
No, not everyone will take on hip hop as the new heart of America, but it at least needs to be discussed. I take nothing away from the original masters, but as the cultural landscape of America changes, a new “heart” must be recognized.