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Hipster Rap: The Latest Hater Battleground

by Jake Mohan 

Tags: arts, music, hip-hop, rap, hipsters, Kayne West, Chicago, Chicago Reader, New York,

spankrockEvery aesthetic movement has its rivalries, its schisms, its heated battles over who’s keeping it real and who’s already sold out. Hip-hop is, famously, no exception: East Coast vs. West Coast, Tupac vs. Biggie, old school vs. new school—we’re all too familiar with these contentions. But now some of the old-school contingent are hating on a new segment of their new-school progeny: hipster rappers (hipster-hop?).

Hipster rap, as loosely defined by the Chicago Reader, consists of the most recent crop of MCs and DJs who flout conventional hip-hop fashions, eschewing baggy clothes and gold chains for tight jeans, big sunglasses, the occasional keffiyeh, and other trappings of the hipster lifestyle. Mainstream rappers like Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco, along with smaller up-and-coming acts like Kid Sister and the Cool Kids, come under fire from the old-school hip-hop website Unkut, and Jersey City rapper Mazzi has recorded diss tracks criticizing, by name, the rappers he sees as poseurs.

The Reader argues that such criticisms don’t hold much water in a genre that has always reinvented itself, borrowing and remixing until the question of authenticity is at best a slippery one. It’s also superficial: much of the derision directed toward hipster rap barely extends beyond clothes and other accoutrements, while the actual substance of the music never really enters the discussion. Furthermore, hip-hop’s notorious homophobia still lingers; much of the backlash takes the form of overt gay panic as rappers call each other fags for copping the metrosexual appearances of hipster fashion.

Race also complicates matters: the latest crop of hipster rap—or new rap, or independent hip-hop, or whatever we’re calling it—is just as likely to be heard at a party full of white kids slamming back Sparks on the Lower East Side as it is in the black community. The Reader notes, however, that the listener base is increasingly diverse, citing multiple firsthand accounts of shows and parties around Chicago where the audience defies racial and socioeconomic categorization—a compelling rebuttal to those still hung up on racial, social, or artistic distinctions.

Image by Nev Brown, licensed by Creative Commons.