T.R.O.Y. Reborn (Editorial)

T.R.O.Y. is back and so is your boy Thun. As you can see, our site has a fly new design courtesy of Cenzi. Subscribe to our new feed! We are hopeful that the new look will come to signify a renaissance of sorts and that our readers will reap the reward of our efforts. It has been a long time since I’ve penned a piece for T.R.O.Y., ((In the interim I started a personal blog called Actual Facts that I update every so often. You might enjoy it.)) so I am happy to announce that I’ll be contributing regularly for the foreseeable future. The O.G. team is back. So what happens now?

In the past we billed T.R.O.Y. as a haven for aging heads and a noble preservation project. We asked you to assist us in renewing interest in a musical culture that was forever teetering on the brink of extinction. In reality, old school rap is hardly endangered. Whether inspired by nostalgia, one oneupmanship, o.c.d., hipsterism, or boredom, devoted fans continue to archive, rediscover, and rethink the music of the past. In the time it once took to shoplift an AZ cassingle one can now find rare Outsidaz demos, wallpaper his desktop with scans of Big L promo swag, read King Tee’s tweets, and watch a video of 2Pac freestyling with Grand Puba. What an age we live in!

It is easier than ever to appreciate rap music, from canonized classics on to newly unearthed rarities. If  T.R.O.Y. is to move forward we cannot simply romanticize the past. That project has enough devotees.To correctly curate this culture we must examine why we revisit the music of yesterday. Certainly we are motivated to varying degrees by wistfulness or competitiveness. At some time or another we all strive to be the first kid on the block to appreciate the next big thing (again). I also imagine that most of us continue to dig rap primarily because it is, well, fresh. At its best, the music is new and exciting, boldly expressive, youthful and angry, chaotic and aggressive, imaginative and provocative. Some of it remains this way years after its release. But what happens when the natural process of aging causes us to lose touch with the experience of discovering something fresh for the first time?

I’ve often fallen prey to extreme traditionalism and many of my peers are equally guilty of dismissing rap music that is new and markedly different from their beloved staples. I am not suggesting that we blindly embrace every new trend to make ourselves feel young again or make excuses for younger artists more concerned with marketing themselves than mastering the basics. I am suggesting instead that we extricate ourselves from a critical orthodoxy that labels any rap artist under age thirty who does not make a conscious effort to closely mimic Gang Starr as wack or otherwise inauthentic. I am not quixotically chasing down a straw man: there is a miserable subculture of graying-at-the-temples, self-described hip hop heads who dismiss artists for reasons as silly as their geographic origin, preferred production technique, comportment, influences and affiliations, or even appearance. This is counter-productive to the very act of music appreciation, let alone serious criticism.

I’ll get to the point more directly: you cannot truly appreciate old rap if you aren’t actively seeking out new rap to enjoy. By new rap, I am referring to well-executed rap that is new in spirit and vision, rap that turns the tables on our expectations, and not simply rap that was recently recorded.

In the past we have assumed that younger fans needed to gain expertise on rap’s past to be considered fans at all. That’s not a terribly unreasonable request, but we did the geezer thing and rejected the notion that the perspective of older rap fans could be enriched by keeping up with the present. Out of these assumptions a generational divide emerges and widens. We denounce the younger fans and artists for their rebellion against tradition as if rap was meant to be conservative. We fume at  their supposed ignorance of the past as if the past is not clearly incorporated into their sound and swagger. We judge them harshly for celebrating pussy, weed, liquor, mischief, and money as if we were never sixteen and new to the world. In doing so we promote the laughably fallacious notion that the past is a static entity and not a narrative that is revisited, rethought, and subjectively rewritten. ((I addressed this problematic generational schism as it relates to garish clothes, “swagger,” and social consciousness in this post.))

If we were this uptight and set in our ways  in ’87  our listening habits would be confined to bumping Kurtis Blow, Busy Bee, Run DMC, MC Shan, and Melle Mel ((No disrespect to the brothers, I just don’t want to blog in a world where the likes of BDP, Rakim, and Ultramagnetics never swooped in to topple their thrones.)) and an endless cavalcade of increasingly degraded clones.

Even a cursory glance around the current rap scene, as huge and global as it is, reveals scores of hungry new artists worthy of your time. Some of them are the type of artists you might unfairly dismiss, but their originality makes them iller than the safer choices you’ve begrudgingly tolerated. They subtly honor their musical heritage without resorting to the corny gimmicks of novelty hacks like the Kool Kids or indulging in the type of flavorless underwhelming homages you might associate with  artists like Joell Ortiz. Their music deserves sober critical assessment. In the densely conceptual, allusive verses of a relatively unknown newcomer like Atlanta’s L-Dash I am reminded of certain stylistic traits and poetic techniques that The Future Sound inherited from listening closely to  A Tribe Called Quest’s debut. When I put them all together in a playlist and bump it while sipping on pumpkin ale, I’m having a richer experience than the head whose love for rap extends no farther than ATLiens, whose analysis goes no further than framing everything within the usual wack/dope dichotomy. I know because I’ve worn that hat before.

This does not mean that T.R.O.Y. will become your one-stop blog for Soulja Boy mixtapes. Nor does it mean that we will abandon our in-group obsessions and pretend we aren’t anxiously anticipating Lost Tapes 2. I do expect that we will continue our work bridging the old to the new through such endeavors as STL90s, our sample series, and the like. But I also hope that we will continue to analyze the past from an informed, open-minded, decidedly contemporary perspective. I would like to see writing that intelligently champions distinctive, unfairly ignored artists. I wish to see our staff collaborate with our brethren over at Steady Bloggin’ on pieces that challenge prevailing assumptions regarding newer artists and their connection to the past. I expect that we will uncover and contextualize hidden gems and thus contribute to the body of knowledge related to this genre.

I’ll be doing my part by directly addressing these concerns in a multi-part series titled Fast Forward that focuses on current artists whose idiosyncrasies and creative approaches link them to a richer and deeper musical tradition than you might have guessed. If you’ve been sleeping on the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, SelfSays, Lil’ B, or thekeenone, you’ll get a proper introduction and you may just want to welcome them into your playlists. And of course, the rest of the T.R.O.Y. staff will continue to post daily. You know how we do. — Thun

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