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Spin: Decoding Hip-Hop’s Retro Impulse

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This week’s column is based on Simon Reynolds’ excellent book Retromania and attempting to apply some of those same principles and old-man biases to hip-hop. Includes a discussion of UGK’s “Pregnant Pussy.

In Simon Reynolds’ latest tome Retromania, a sprawling response to why everything new sounds like everything old, hip-hop is often used to challenge all the music dorks who are hopelessly caught up in the past. The first time this happens is when Reynolds, frustrated with what he calls “time-warp cultists,” observes, “fans of hot jazz and rural blues have no time for ‘Dirty South’ hip-hop styles like crunk and New Orleans bounce.” About a hundred pages later, while talking to rockabilly fanatic Miriam Linna, Reynolds connects the rowdy impulses in obscure, juvenile-delinquent rock to the “vast quantities of cheaply produced rap on shoestring independent labels.” Linna rather defensively explains that “it’s really not the same thing,” even though, you know, it totally is.

But hip-hop isn’t immune to the kind of stagnant, pitch-perfect recreation of days gone by that Reynolds loathes. Last weekend, the Rock The Bells tour kicked off in Los Angeles, and, as usual, the bill consists of acts hitting the 20-year nostalgia cycle (Nas, Cypress Hill, Black Moon, Mobb Deep), performing their classic albums in full, along with some contemporary acts who sound a lot like they’re from the early ’90s (Big K.R.I.T., Blu, Roc Marciano). What immediately sticks out about the lineup is the way that it muddles history, conflating different eras of hip-hop. Acts like Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Black Star, and Common, all associated with the “conscious” scene of the later ’90s, are also included. To complicate matters even further, Common’s latest single, “Ghetto Dreams,” features Nas and conjures up the uncouth aggression of boom-bap from the late ’80s and early ’90s…

Written by Brandon

August 29th, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Posted in Spin, Spin column

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