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Guest Column: ‘Face It. Hip Hop Is Grown’ by Kool Kila

Face It. Hip-Hop Is Grown.

Face it. Hip-hop is grown. Hip-hop has BEEN grown. And rap music is a full-fledged genre now. You can see hip-hop’s influence everywhere, fashion, movies, food, toys, etc. with both young artists and veterans alike. Grandparents can recite Run DMC, T.I., Public Enemy and Snoop Dogg. A few select radio stations across the country now play classic rap songs lightly in their rotation. XM/Sirius satellite radio has a channel dedicated to “old school.” And artists like Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick, Whodini, Sugarhill Gang constantly tour. As a matter of fact, Public Enemy tours abroad in Africa and Europe more than they do in the US.

For the past four to five years, I’ve found myself recognizing and enjoying the aging of hip-hop culture. Although I’ve been in the music business for nearly sixteen years, sometimes I veer from being with the “VIPs” and go to concerts just to stand amongst the crowd. If I’m at a club event, I anticipate hearing a DJ play A Tribe Called Quest, Kanye West, Mary J. Blige, New Edition, Missy Elliott, Eric B. & Rakim and Drake. If I’m at a live concert, I love looking around to see if there are any twenty-somethings watching the legends do their thing. Examples of grown-up hip-hop I’ve noticed:

1. Essence Music Festival in New Orleans—every summer they invited one hip-hop artist, and Run DMC, LL Cool J, even the Fugees had everyone in the Superdome, 35yrs old and above, rhyming along with them.
2. Heineken’s summer concert series—in the past, it consisted of up-and-coming soul music stars like Chrisette Michele, Teedra Moses, Musiq Soulchild. Ludacris and Bun B were featured stars last year.
3. Ebony Magazine’s “Black Family Reunion” Tour—brought back R&B stars from the 80s, Klymaxx, Lisa Lisa, Atlantic Starr, but also hosted rappers like Big Daddy Kane, MC Lyte, Kool Moe Dee.
4. The Glastonbury music festival in England—the largest in the world had Jay-Z as the first headlining rap artist.
5. Branding and marketing firsts—Snoop Dogg’s “Snoop De Ville” Cadillac, E-40 owning “Fatburger” chain stores, Big Boi collaborated with the Atlanta Ballet, The Roots are house band on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” Queen Latifah and Ice Cube executive producers in film and television, etc.

I’ve realized that the average American between 32-40yrs old was a pre-teen when hip-hop started and rap music began. Pioneers of the culture are now in their mid-to-late 50s. To put it in layman’s terms, fans and forefathers are GROWN. It’s the same as when jazz music started. My grandma may have been close to ten years old when jazz was recorded and pressed on vinyl for people to buy. She got older, and so did the music. Just because my grandma grew up, started working and had a family, didn’t mean she stopped loving or listening to the music. Nor should a 30- or 40yr old feel that way about rap music. The “machine” will tell you that the culture is for the kids. I disagree. I don’t have statistics from any purported industry marketing study, but I do know that my friends in their mid-to-late-30s purchase Bun B, Ludacris, Talib Kweli, Wu-Tang members, and the likes. My mom is in her 50s and bought Common’s last CD before I did. Last year when Sade was interviewed by Tom Joyner (legendary radio personality), she mentioned she had Raekwon’s CD in her personal rotation. (Imagine that—one of the most sultry artists ever would be at home blasting “Catalina” ha!) The biggest consuming demographic in America is women between the ages of 25-44yrs old. So are we to believe that somewhere in that age range, a woman wouldn’t purchase at least one rap album in a year?

Last weekend I attended Ice Cube’s concert here in Atlanta. I saw my buddy Jayforce (Beatz & Lyrics show, WRFG) as I was walking out and we started talking about which songs we enjoyed Ice Cube performing. We were standing at the door and I mentioned to him, “look at the age range of people here. Look at how grown-up this crowd is. This is the same crowd I’d expect to see at the Civic Center for a Keith Sweat concert, or Babyface, or Boyz II Men. There are grown couples and single people, with just a few that look like they’re in their mid-20s.” Jay was like, “yeah, I see what you mean, not a lot of younger people.” I told him when I first drove up I saw White adults parking, and expected to see some Latino brothers and sisters in the crowd as well. As soon as I got inside I saw that 70% of the crowd was African-American and definitely looked over 30yrs old. Jayforce said, “well you gotta think, we’ve grown up with Cube, since either middle school or high school.” I said, “that’s my point exactly. Hip-hop is grown.”

Me, personally, I love it. Seeing older hip-hop heads at concerts, listening parties, etc., shows how much people still support an artist overall. Younger people are likely to purchase a single, or ringtone, but when it comes to album sales, there’s no denying the “grown” demo helps put sales over the top. And even with the digital shift taking place, making the industry restructure, hip-hop culture continues to grow and rap music fans continue to get older. I guess my point in saying all of this, is to simply ask the world to face it. Stop ignoring it and recognize the facts. Hip-hop is grown.

(Check out Kool Kila’s at & on twitter: @KoolKila )

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