Hip-Hop Forever

I just watched the cipher I linked to earlier with my 10-year old son, who loved it of course. At some point, I think, Big Sean notes that he's 22, and it occurred to me then that Common had probably been rhyming for as long as that kid had been alive. I guess that should have made me feel old, but I actually felt the opposite.

The fact of the thing is something that surely those who are younger and/or savvier already know--hip-hop has now left an indelible mark on the American cultural landscape, and whatever happens from here on out, that can't be changed. I am usually not a fan of these sorts of grandiose, self-congratulatory proclamations of which the music's advocates are so fond. But now, more then ever, I say this from the outside looking in.

I date back to something one of the Golden Horde once said--hip-hop doesn't require the approval or sanction of any pundit or opiner. All the insipid blatherers, all the credentialed hand-wringers, all the weak dilettantes fall back in awe of the break-beat. It does not much matter whether my generation is listening, or not. It doesn't much matter if we think the music is poisoning the kids, or not. No amount of unvarnished boosterism or blank-minded moralizing can clean hip-hop or argue it away. It is here, much like the people it speaks for, beautiful and fractured.

I am, it seems, always bidding adieu to the formative music of my youth. I am not bitter, but in the long kiss goodnight I hope to soon understand why and how I came, so powerfully, under the sway of two turntables and a microphone. Now, I am pushing past 35, and I offer these thoughts as a man who almost surely will never buy any of Big Sean's work. And this is as it should be. The music no longer belongs to me. Likely, it never did.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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