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Following the Young Money Summer Jam debacle last night, wherein Peter Rosenberg and Funkmaster Flex blasted “commercial rappers,” specifically Nicki Minaj, the question everyone wants answered is, just what is “real hip-hop” anyway?

I’m not going to claim I can answer that question for anyone. Sure, Biggie and Tupac were real hip-hop, but things have changed since then. In an era where epic rock icon Mick Jagger will hop on a track with will.i.am and J.Lo, is there even such a thing as separate musical genres anymore?

Regardless of what hip-hop heads count as real rap music, the bigger question remains, is hip-hop allowed to evolve? Can fans of “real hip-hop” music possibly come to accept a world where Nicki Minaj is considered just as hip-hop as Nas?

We all know Nicki catches a lot of heat for her musical evolution. She went from a lollipop-licking badass rapping in hallways, to a multi-personality walking costume party, singing about “Starships,” hocking lipstick, and putting on full scale Vatican-inspired performances during MTV award shows.

Aside from thinking Rosenberg and Funkmaster Flex’s comments at Summer Jam were personally rude and basically uncalled for, I don’t think Wayne should have pulled Young Money from the show. Nicki should have used that sharp tongue of hers to get onstage and blast the dudes who were talking shit about her – then proceed to shut it down and give fans what they came for. After all, success is the best revenge.

Yes, we can all agree that “Starships” is pop music – not real rap. I don’t think Nicki would refute that either. But what’s so wrong with that? It’s all over the radio, it’s damn catchy and I’ll be the first to admit it’s on my gym and pre-game playlists.

People seem pretty disdainful over Nicki’s musical evolution and for most, the reason seems to be because Nicki can really rap. And she’s not delivering on that.

However, I disagree. Roman Reloaded is half rap/half pop and the rap half is still all metaphor and dope wordplay and the second half? Well, people want pop music these days and the classically trained Nicki delivers that too. They want something they can listen to in the car, sing along with and get drunk to. Our economy is crap, the news tells us that people are eating people’s faces and our student loans are downright oppressive. We need a good form of escapism these days.

And let’s face it, if you don’t evolve with the times, you won’t succeed on a commercial level, and if you can’t succeed on a commercial level, you can’t keep making music. Usher is teaming up with David Guetta for dance R&B, 2 Chainz and Mac Miller hopped on a Justin Bieber track and Snoop Dogg lends bars to pop princesses Katy Perry and Robyn. Where’s 50 Cent these days? Marketing energy drinks and headphones, but when’s the last time you’ve heard his shit (minus some featured bars) on the radio? Lil Kim? She pops up every once in awhile to talk shit, but the songs just aren’t there.

Rosenberg referred to A$AP Rocky and Schoolboy Q as “real” rap, but to be fair, they’ve just started out. Neither has been faced with the decision to change up their sound or stick to the streets and fizzle out. And with his street style and alternative appeal, A$AP has already been embraced by the indie rock scene. They post his stuff on indie mecca Pitchfork for Pete’s sake. Again, genre cross-over appeal is what keeps you relevant.

If you’re cool in the streets but no one’s heard of you, what does it really matter? It’s about the music, sure, but as much as we need old school, classic hip-hop, we crave change, because the same thing over and over again just gets boring. Even Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest and Jay and ‘Ye had/have mass appeal. We’ve even built GlobalGrind on the very basis of a new genre called hip-pop!

I think the real issue has to do with hip-hop being so culturally defining. For many in the Black community, hip-hop has always been so intrinsically linked to societal and cultural norms. It’s music that started on street corners and gave a voice to the voiceless, and now Nicki’s singing about “Starships” while claiming to be a rapper. It all might seem like a slap in the face.

I get that, but at the same time I believe we need to open up our minds and ears a little more. Hip-hop music has been changing for a long time, and like it or not, it’s going to continue to transform. Let’s embrace the evolution of hip-hop, because as much as our society needs political awareness like “F*ck the Police,” hell, we need a little “Starships” time in our lives too. It’s all music, it’s all love, so let’s stop throwing shots and start taking them together – whether your track of choice is “Purple Swag” or “Super Bass.”

Kelsey Paine

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