Big City Philadelphia joins the fray over skinny jeans and homophobia.
What is hipster rap and why does Big City and its other detractors find it so disagreeable?
“That’s the thing about hipster rap—I don’t know if we’ve actually arrived at a definition for it yet,” says hip-hop blogger Byron Crawford over the phone from his home in St. Louis. “It would be difficult to try to identify it as being a certain type of music. It’s a generational thing.”
Undefined though it may be, so-called hipster rap does find itself sharing certain criteria: “A lot of the music that’s less street-oriented and is more fun stuff like getting back to the subject matter that was popular in the ’80s and ’90s,” says Eskay, founder of influential hip-hop blog Nah Right, from his home in New York City.
“Whenever I’m talking about that genre I say it reminds me of the stuff we were getting from the Native Tongues [Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, Black Sheep] in the early ’90s, but a little bit less on the conscious side,” continues Eskay. “I think the hipster rap label comes about mostly because of the way a lot of these artists are dressing with the retro ’80s and ’90s look. They’re using a lot of the musical techniques from back then too, a lot of the heavy drums that were used back then.”
Crawford says an artist’s choice of wardrobe can also see him pigeonholed. “It kind of depends on the image of the artists,” he says. “It basically means anyone of these guys who has tight jeans on.”
Last summer, Crawford, in a blog for XXL magazine, wrote a post explaining the growing conundrum facing the magazine—namely that younger kids coming up in hip-hop don’t wear extra extra-large clothing anymore, opting instead for tighter, form-fitting threads, and therefore they don’t really understand the magazine’s name.
“It had gotten to the point where, when I’m talking to someone who’s never heard of XXL—which is the case more often than you’d think, even among people who listen to rap music—I just tell them it’s a magazine about fat men’s clothes,” Crawford wrote.
A “fan of homophobic humor” who’s been described by Gawker as “one of the most offensive assholes on earth,” Crawford continued, “ … there’s been a movement developing in the streets against ostensibly straight hip-hop kids walking around dressed as if they were fruits.”
Crawford’s XXL post was in response to a Village Voice article about a budding movement out of Brooklyn. The “NO TIGHT CLOTHES” campaign started with Brooklyn-based rap group Thug Slaughter Force, who made videos and took to the streets wearing loose- fitting black tees with the words “TIGHT CLOTHES” written on them with a giant Ghostbusters-style red stripe through them.
The video for Thug Slaughter’s “No Tight Clothes” begins with a warning: “Wearing tight clothes by men may result in feminine tendencies, homosexuality, possible yeast infection, severe hemorrhoids, permanent wedgies and genetically inherited transsexual characteristics in your son.”
The ante was raised by a Chicago-based artist named Japcity, whose song “Operation Purse Snatcher” has him robbing men of their man bags and whose video for the song sees him killing Lil Wayne—who Japcity feels dresses “like a faggot”—by beating him to death with a baseball bat.
“I see you muhfuckas in your sissy-ass hoodies with them pussy-ass colors/ When I come around niggas start to look nervous/ You ain’t duffle bag boys/ You just niggas with purses,” Japcity raps over Kanye’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.”
Eskay says this rampant and undeniably homophobic thread woven into most of the criticism of hipster rap is typical of street-oriented hip-hop.
“I think that type of rhetoric has always been used in hip-hop to undermine someone. You’ve got Rick Ross calling 50 Cent and Lloyd Banks gay and I’m pretty sure everybody doesn’t really believe they’re gay,” he says. “That’s always going to be used as a way to undermine your enemy—which is homophobic in its own right—but I think with the hipster shit it comes from the tight jeans. I’m definitely from an era where that shit didn’t fly. But what a lot of people don’t remember is that in the ’80s people were rockin’ tighter jeans. If you’re my age, I’m 31, or anywhere near my age you’ll remember that the gangsters in the ’80s weren’t wearing baggy jeans. They were wearing tight jeans.”
Eskay says baggy jeans were really a ’90s thing. “So to look at somebody’s jeans and say that tells me something about your character doesn’t really make sense to me,” he says. “At the same time I understand it. [Tight jeans aren’t] something I would ever rock and I can’t really understand why anyone would want to. But to each his own, you know? That’s where I think the gay shit comes from. People feel if you wear tight jeans, you must be gay. Same thing with bright colors. There’s a lot of bright colors shit that’s reminiscent of the ’80s. People think that’s gay.”
Big City insists his beef with hipster rap has nothing to do with choice of attire or sexual orientation; this is a battle about hip-hop’s soul, not its dress code.
“I think Cool Kids and the Asher Roths and a lot of these rappers, the Kid Cudis, it’s almost like an artificial insemination to the rap game,” he says. “It’s not a normal pregnancy. These aren’t real dudes.”
Eskay understands where Big City is coming from.
“Street rappers have the impression that these artists are trying to recreate a period that they’re not familiar with,” he says. “A lot of these [hipster rappers] are 18, 19, 20 or in their early 20s and weren’t around for that. I barely remember it, and I was young during the ’80s.”
Eskay says some of the criticism is tied to a perceived lack of authenticity. “A lot of people from my era and older feel like, ‘What do these kids know about Pumas with fat laces?’ and shit like that. I think if you’re influenced by music from that period and it’s authentic, and that’s something that you’re trying not to really recreate, but capture, I don’t have a problem with it. The more street-oriented artists look at them as not authentic or not official and think they don’t have the right to be rappin’ or whatever.”