I never thought I'd be considered old school ("Old Skool") before 30.
During a recent lecture on The Coldest Winter Ever in my African American Literature course I cross-referenced Notorious B.I.G.'s "The Ten Crack Commandments." Overly confident, I expected my students to light up with familiarity of the song and its creator. I got nothin'.
Exasperated (and dumbstruck) by their unknowing, I pulled up a video tribute on Youtube (good ol' You Tube) and hoped they would catch the beat (you know Diddy recycle) and STILL....nothin'. As if reading my thoughts, one of students quickly piped up: "C'mon, Ms. B! That's back in the day!"
Does black music and its agency have an expiration date?
Music has always provided the blueprint for culture within the African American community. During many points throughout the trajectory of black culture, music has often been considered the only form of expression used to relay an often uncensored account of the struggle of establishing identity, culture, and presence in an often domineering Eurocentric society. The Negro spirituals, perceived by whites to be songs of praise and worship, often shrouded messages of anger and struggle, escape and freedom, and a continuation of the oral tradition from ancestors past. The agency in these songs represented a need to establish a voice that spoke to their experiences from within the cipher instead of relying on the interpretation of their lives by outsiders. Early African American music forms/genres suggested that music exists within a space of purpose. DuBois' essay "Criteria for Negro Art" outlines the characteristics essential (in its literal form) to the production of culture within the black American community. Poetic license, if not used for the advancement and progression of the culture and its people, is worthless.
Fast forward to today. Poetic license has returned to freedom of artistic expression for black culture. Hyper-commodified, underdeveloped, and thirsty to retain itself within a restrictive lens, something is lacking in African American music. A far cry from the sense of urgency of genres past, today's music is laid back in the sense that materialism trumps social consciousness (with a very rare shoutout to Hip Hop Socialism by the neo-activist Lil' Wayne *smirk*). There is a quick two step to the left by today's artists when it comes to music being worth something more than just entertainment. A very vocal David Banner has repeatedly stated he's not captain Save-a-Culture yet waxes freely about the lack of activism and responsibility within the black community. Where they do that at? Why is there a need to disconnect personal life from music when music itself is supposedly mimetic (an imitation of life?) This is supposedly the point of the push for realness in rap music, right? Que Young Jeezy, who has returned back to the trap after speaking about The Recession because that's what he wants to be perceived as and hold true to his image.
Back to my student's exclamation of me and Biggie being back in the day. What constitutes the boundaries of throwback-dom? On the one hand, the 1990s was a phenomenal time in black music - a great blend of social consciousness and love and a hearty sprinkling of rap's pioneers and new bloods. New Jack Swing, Gangsta Rap, Hood Rap, and Conscious Rap collided into a spicy and satisfying dish that consisted of a multitude of black experiences that updated themselves from their Black Liberation Era predecessors. While many of the struggles still remained intact, music reshaped their delivery in order to resuscitate those concerns to a newer, younger, and racially diverse audience. On the other hand, the 1990s was only twenty years ago, whereas the Soul and Funk nation of the 1960s and 1970s have matured into their 30s and 40s (no shots fired at the people making their appearances during these eras lol).
What, exactly, is Old Skool? And if the 1990s are now Old Skool, do they join ranks or push earlier Soul and Funk genres back to Classic? If, indeed, we are approaching the last twenty years as, well, old (lol!), how does the sense of agency relayed in a large part of that catalog differ or is reinterpreted in today's music?