Back in July, I was standing in Hour Haus amongst a crowd of people watching local rapper Al Rogers perform at the annual Rapscape festival. In the middle of his performance he shouted out Eze Jackson, another local rapper who was there as a spectator, for being a long-running member of Baltimore’s rap community and an inspiration to his musical career. A similar situation happened the previous day at Play Hookah Lounge during a show where rapper, The Boy Blesst, saluted Skarr Akbar for his years of contribution to the Baltimore music scene.
Two months later, I posted a status to my Facebook page about how disappointed I was by the poor organization of an event called “New Baltimore”, resulting in backlash from both the older and younger generation of rappers. The event was held in an unbearably hot DIY space with most of the artists rapping over recorded tracks and lacking stage presence. Half of the artists I paid my money to see left before the show really began because of the chaos. Older artists in the Facebook conversation claimed that there wasn’t a need for a “New Baltimore” and discredited the newer artists’ movement, while the younger ones criticized the old heads for not being supportive enough of their hard work. The title “New Baltimore” had already been a touchy topic in the artist community because of the preexisting sensitivity to the issue of ageism in rap music. However, the generational divide only seemed to get worse with this incident.
At 26 years old, I feel like I am stuck between a generation of 20-somethings and 40-somethings in Baltimore that both perpetuate this concept of ageism because they have opposing views of what rap culture should be. When interacting with the rap scene I tend to flock to the middle aged and older crowd for several reasons: As a blogger just starting out two years ago, I would frequent the local venue, Nowchild Soundstage, where this crowd mostly dwelled. As a mentee, I came up under radio personality, Civ Jones, who is more invested in the older generation of rappers and those rappers seemed more interested in my blog--contributing their music to my site for exposure. The “New Baltimore” just didn’t seem as concerned about it. But, while I respect “Old Baltimore” for their wisdom and appreciation of media, I also respect the new scene for their innovation, drive, and “do it yourself” method of getting things done. Without much help from media, these artists have a solid following and quality turn outs for their events. Unfortunately, what exists between the two groups is an underlying tension instead of a complement of each other’s work to further the cultivation of today’s music.
I was having a conversation with someone who felt that the older generation should be the one to reach out to younger people, given that they are the elders in the community. In my mind, I had to agree, especially when I find that many of my older rap friends are unaware of whom many of the popular new artists are when I mention them. If I bring up a Rickie Jacobs or a Soduh in a conversation, I immediately get a blank stare followed by a, “Who’s that?” Dylan Sullivan-Ubaldo, creator of the Llamadon collective that coordinates a lot of events for new artists in the city, shares the same sentiments: “I think that older people will always doubt the abilities of younger people,” he says. “That’s why it’s important for young artists to create their own outlets. There are some older cats in the city offering resources to younger artists, but they’re few and far between. There’s definitely a disconnect.”
Older artists may feel like they have done what the newer ones are doing ten-fold and feel less included when they aren’t able to lend their expertise, but they also have a sense of entitlement that discredits their efforts too, which can give off a sense of jealousy or haughtiness when their views are expressed. Although not everything was done right at New Baltimore, there have been plenty of events coordinated by vet emcees that were far from perfect: a bill full of unknown acts that lack creative delivery on stage, lyrical content lacking substance in their work, and ultimately a stale showcase of emcees being sold.
On the other hand, young people like me can be very oblivious to the years of labor put in by the older generation of our culture, sometimes disregarding it, which can be like a slap in the face for them. For example, younger rappers now have the advantage of social media to extend their reach to a broader audience, whereas older rappers had to work harder to get their music heard: hitting the streets with CDs, having face-to-face interaction with people in order to network, not having a space on the internet like Youtube or a personal website that can host and archive their bodies of work.
Jimmie Thomas, co-founder of the international hip-hop blog, Curators of Hip Hop, has witnessed the same issue of ageism in his hometown of Tallahassee, Florida. He mentioned that while ageism exists, their seasoned emcees help tutor the younger ones and collaborate on songs. Still, some young artists feel like they have all of the answers and want to do their own thing.
“We had a good monthly event going called The Renaissance Movement where a seasoned group headed it up for us putting on a show each month at the same location with new artists each time,” Thomas says. “A younger artist felt that they should have been in charge of the show and basically caused drama, which got personal and ended up causing a conflict in the scene. The showcase is no longer taking place because of it and it's unfortunate. Ego is the biggest downfall--be it young or old.
In my opinion, both parties could do a better job of communicating with one another to become more open-minded. Granted, the older crowd will not always be willing to listen to today’s style of rap or go to crowded shows, and not every young person is going to desire attending a boom-bap rap showcase. While both ends are understandable, reaching out wouldn’t hurt. Even if it’s just to show support.