Why ’80s Hip Hop Still Rules!May 8th, 2013
By Jake Rohn
In barbershops across the country, the multi-generational argument persists with no end in sight: ’80s vs. ’90s. It’s one of those agree to disagree situations where, depending on your age, your opinion is likely to hold firm. But when it comes to finding success beyond hip hop, the MCs of the ’80s seem to be way ahead.
Mr. “Cop Killer” Ice-T is ironically making serious bank as a cop on television’s Law & Order: SVU. The other Ice (Cube) has gone from “F–k Tha Police” to becoming known to adults as “Craig” from the Friday movies and to kids as “Terrence” from the Are We There Yet? movies, and by the way, as an executive producer, Cube is making serious dough as well. LL Cool J has enjoyed great success as an actor, author and fitness icon, while Will Smith is making a run at the title of “biggest movie star on the planet.” Queen Latifah has gone from one of the first successful female femcees to being a CoverGirl and an Oscar nominee. There are some who probably didn’t even know these people used to be rappers. Even Flava Flav has found his niche as a reality TV superstar, as has Rev Run.
But when you look at the biggest stars from the 1990s, their careers off the mic didn’t bring them the lasting stardom that those icons of the 1980s enjoyed. How is that possible? In the ’80’s, hip hop was still new to most of the record-buying audience. Therefore it garnered a lot of attention (not all good). As a result, the stars of the era were more than just rappers, they were icons, soldiers, reporters and rebels. Also, because hip hop was still thought of by some as just a fad, there were less stars and the brightest ones stood out even more.
In the ’90s, hip hop exploded in popularity, but it also reached its apex of violence with the murders of Tupac and Biggie. The number of rappers in the game was 10 times what it had been a decade earlier. It produced some incredible music, but most of these new emcees were known for being just that. In an ironic twist of fate, the ’80s may have subliminally done a better job of establishing artists as a “brand,” which happens to be the school of thought instilled in today’s artists by corporations and record labels. The only difference is that, in the ’80s, the artists did it because they were rebels, whereas now they do it because corporate America breeds them that way.
In between, however, the ’90s saw new and different things from rappers. Hip hop had gone from “Fight the Power” to now being the power itself. Yet somehow many MCs of the ’90s have not enjoyed the success beyond hip hop that their predecessors from the ’80s have. Method Man and Redman had a minute and a couple of members from Onyx did some movies, but overall, the ’90s was more about the art of rap than the 2000s. Which decade was better for hip hop will have to remain the subject of heated debate, but which generation graduated the most of its players onto other things? The ’80s!
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