Does Rap Suck Now, Or Am I Just Old? (with Clover Hope & Rodney Carmichael) | Crooked Media
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August 17, 2023
Stuck with Damon Young
Does Rap Suck Now, Or Am I Just Old? (with Clover Hope & Rodney Carmichael)

In This Episode

In the wake of the 50th anniversary of hip hop, Clover Hope, author of “The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop,” joins Damon to explore their respective histories and current perspectives on the genre. Then in Dear Damon, NPR music critic Rodney Carmichael helps Damon talk through the differences between different generations of hip hop artists.

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

Clover Hope: Would you go to like a Wu-Tang show now? Do you feel as excited about it? You know. Like or [laughter] or is it?

 

Damon Young: I mean, The Lox were just in Pittsburgh as part of like the city’s, like fifty year hip hop celebration out, obviously I’ve been sick, so I wouldn’t have been able to go, but if I were not sick, would I have gone to see a group, which is one of my favorite groups. And I’m not sure maybe. And just that maybe it’s like, wait, here they are performing at a venue, a five minute drive from where you live. And you’re like eh, maybe if I were healthy, maybe I would have gone. [music break] 

 

Damon Young, narrating: Welcome back, everyone, to Stuck with Damon Young. The show where we’re, we’re trying so hard. Just so very hard not to be the old nigga who thinks everything now is trash. So as we celebrate hip hop’s 50th birthday, I’m joined by music journalist and author Clover Hope, as we discuss our evolving feelings about rap and also just why contemporary female rappers seem to be so much more interesting and impactful than their male counterparts. And then I’m joined by NPR’s Rodney Carmichael to help someone who also thinks everything today is trash and wants to know if that’s true or if that’s just their own personal biases. Alright y’all, let’s get it. [music break] 

 

Damon Young: Clover Hope is the author of the amazing book, The Mother Lode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip Hop. Clover. What’s going on? What’s good? 

 

Clover Hope: A lot is good. Everything’s good. Nothing’s good. [laugh]

 

Damon Young: That’s [laugh] ok.

 

Clover Hope: It’s like the usual. 

 

Damon Young: So many ways to go with that answer. 

 

Clover Hope: [laugh] Right.

 

Damon Young: Um. Appreciate the candor. Appreciate the honesty. Most of the people will be like, you know what’s good? I’m great. Everything is good. 

 

Clover Hope: Right. Right. 

 

Damon Young: So I guess I want to get started with this question. I wanted to know, like, for you, when did you first fall in love with hip hop? When did that happen? 

 

Clover Hope: [sigh] There were a lot of seminal moments. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Clover Hope: Falling in love with hip hop itself, I think it was a series of just coming of age realizations, essentially. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Clover Hope: I came to America from Guyana when I was a year old with my family, with my mom, and then my dad. And we lived in Brooklyn at first and then Queens. So Guyanese family, we were mostly listening to a lot of reggae, soca. I grew up with a lot of that around the house. My dad had a record player and just like vinyls sitting around that I would flip through. None of it was hip hop uh because this was like the early eighties that we came here, early to mid eighties. 

 

Damon Young: Uh huh. 

 

Clover Hope: So one was M.C. Hammer, and I just remember like seeing that M.C. Hammer vinyl amongst like Madonna and Michael Jackson Thriller, Whitney Houston. And that was you know like maybe 8 to 12 years old. DMX is the first record that I remember downloading from Napster, like it’s Dark and Hell is Hot. I was 13, 14, and I just fell in love with that, very blunt and angry. [laugh] And when you’re like a just a teenager and I was just kind of in my basement room just being like, ugh I hate everything, like, why you know, like just feeling lonely and just kind of, like, isolated and even surrounded by people, you know? He kind of helped me express anger, basically. 

 

Damon Young: I guess it’s funny how much overlap there is with your story with my story. You know, I was in Italy the summer after my freshman year of college. This is ’98 where I played ball in college. We went over to Italy to stay over there for like a week and play Italian teams over there. Now, I had just tore my ACL that summer, so I wasn’t able to play, but I was able to just be with the team and hang out or whatever. So we’re on like these beaches in Rome and I’m playing DMX , you know what I mean? Because I actually was like the Radio Raheem of the team. I was the one who always had the Walkman or had like the the boombox. I had a boombox in 1998. Anachronism already at that point. And I was playing DMX on the beach. And like these Italians who weren’t speaking English were really into Rough Riders Anthem. [laugh] Right, they wanted me to keep playing that over and over again. 

 

Clover Hope: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: And also uh Get At Me Dog, you know? And just the energy of those songs was transcending language. Now, there were some other DMX tracks where I would play them, like Stop Being Greedy and um some of the more grimier tracks. And they were like, uh okay, this is this is a little scary. [laughter] But again, that vibration, the way that music speaks to you at like a lower frequency is something, again, that you don’t even need to understand English to have that feeling. 

 

Clover Hope: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: And even talking about how you fell in love with hip hop. My first tape with LL Cool J’s, I’m Bad. So I had that. I had like Boogie Down Productions. I had um Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions and De La Soul. I remember I loving Me, Myself and I. But the first rapper who I like, holy shit, I want to be this nigga was M.S. Hammer. 

 

Clover Hope: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: The thing that I really, obviously his energy and his music, but also his hair, [laugh] because he had like, the S curl with the parts going all the way around. And I wanted my parents to allow me to do that. 

 

Clover Hope: Right, right. Yeah. He had those uh, big old pants that then came back in fashion.

 

Damon Young: Yeah. I wasn’t, I wasn’t, you know, the hammer pants. 

 

Clover Hope: Okay. 

 

Damon Young: You know, I didn’t really need those. 

 

Clover Hope: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: [laugh] I didn’t really need to dress like him, but I wanted hair like his. 

 

Clover Hope: Right. Right.

 

Damon Young: And again, I’m you know I’m 44 now, and having grown up and I guess I fell in love with hip hop like again probably like my freshman sophomore year of high school when I first started getting into Wu-Tang. Like, I wasn’t just in to Wu. Like I was a nigga wearing Clark Wallabees, you know, shop at the Army-Navy store, get the fisherman caps, wearing fatigues to school. I rocked Wu wear like I thought that I was in the Wu. 

 

Clover Hope: You were like the 16th member or something. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah, yeah. I was like, Capadonna’s cousin or something. 

 

Clover Hope: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: And so what I want to get at with that is that a lot of us who are, you know, hip hop heads have very similar journeys in terms of you know how we first got into it, how we first fell in love with it. Do you feel the same way now? 

 

Clover Hope: No. It’s more complicated, having been in the industry versus when I was just becoming a teenager and you kind of learn the complexities a little bit more um and now I’m turning 40 this year, so you know that’s three-ish decades of just kind of being immersed in hip hop first as a fan and then actually being in some ways part of the industry and working at hip hop magazines at Vibe and XXL and, you know, on a mainstream level, Billboard, covering hip hop. I feel the same way about its massiveness because I think when I started getting into it, it was right when it was becoming this global sensation in ’98. And I always cite this fact that in 1998 was the first year that sales of uh hip hop albums basically surpassed country music for the first time. It literally became like the highest selling genre. Just as I was kind of like getting into it, which means then I’m becoming a fan at the same time that it’s changing a lot. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Clover Hope: Like I recognize that, you know, the more it’s changed, you know, from my era of to me, the nineties was such a golden era. I bet everybody thinks that whatever they came up on is the golden era. But it was like [?] and Juvenile and DMX and Bad Boy and Jay-Z and Nas and you know Outcast. And like you had all of these regional success stories and it wasn’t focused on one city or one area. That was really like, okay, this is regional. It’s becoming this you know sensation. And then it almost feels like it narrowed again. Even as it got bigger, you still really have being allowed to sort of like dominate at once or one type of hip hop sound, if that makes sense you know or a trend. 

 

Damon Young: Well, yeah, yeah. There’s a certain homogeneity with what is popular. 

 

Clover Hope: Right, right. 

 

Damon Young: Not with what exists but what is popular. And you know, you’re someone who again, you’ve worked for these publications so you know, you quote unquote, “see how the sausage has been made.” 

 

Clover Hope: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: But I’m curious also just about your feelings about like the music itself and your relationship with the music itself, not necessarily the genre, but in terms of just listening to hip hop. And I guess I’m asking you this I’m projecting a bit because like I feel like each year I am less and less interested. 

 

Clover Hope: Definitely feel you. 

 

Damon Young: And I’m curious if it is something that is about like the music itself where maybe hip hop music is just inherently young and inherently like countercultural, inherently something that is more youth driven, or is it that the genre isn’t old enough? I mean, it just had it’s 50 year birthday or whatever you want to call it last week, so maybe the genre hasn’t aged long enough to age. 

 

Clover Hope: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: In a way that rock does or whatever um or other genres of music have. 

 

Clover Hope: Right. 

 

Damon Young: Because like, it’s not even necessarily that I’m less interested in like newer stuff. I’m less interested in listening to the shit that I loved. [laughter] You know what I mean? And so I’m curious, like you think it’s the music itself, do you think it’s something about us? 

 

Clover Hope: I think it’s a combination of things, which is usually my answer. [laugh] But yes, like the aging, if you consider like it’s still the youngest genre. And if we think about a lot of musicians that we fall in love with or artists, you know, you’re growing with them, you’re evolving with them, it’s almost like, you know, yeah, it’s like I followed Beyonce from Destiny’s Child and now I can enjoy her still in the same way as she’s changing as an artist or kind of reinventing or Janet, people in non strictly hip hop fields. But hip hop hasn’t been a genre where people can put out albums that consistently over a long period of time. It’s only really recently that you have like the Nas’s and Jay-Z’s and Snoop’s, you know, in past what I would say 5 to 10 years, maybe even shorter, kind of putting out albums in their forties and because the genre is so young. Yes, now you can have like basically these rappers who were peaking in the nineties still putting out music that is very good, basically. And there is a point where, you know, rappers from the eighties kind of in terms of popularity, they weren’t consistently releasing records or touring. So if you think about even residencies where Celine Dion can kind of like be in the atmosphere still through her Vegas residency or rock stars are just always touring, you know, they have that legacy trend going. I think we are just now seeing legacy hip hop artists basically, or that being a thing where you can make money touring. And so I definitely dropped off after, like when I went from working at Vibe to Jezebel. I just wasn’t listening to as much hip hop. Part of it was just work and your life changes, I’m not discovering it the same way or going out to places like listening sessions and things like that. You know, like your actual life changes I think is part of it too. 

 

Damon Young: That’s a great point, is like, you know, part of um when I was, I guess in my listenership prime, the discovery of new shit was part of the fun of it. 

 

Clover Hope: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Whether it was back in the day, hearing like a Clue mix tape or Funk Flex or, you know, Drama or whoever. and then you know you go on and now there’s like DatPiff and all of those sites that have like the mix tapes on them. And so part of it, again, you had that discovery of like, Oh, I found some new shit. It’s too much it’s too hard. [laughter] [banter] To to continue to to look for new shit because again you just have life changes. 

 

Clover Hope: Right. 

 

Damon Young: But there’s also you know a really interesting quote from uh Dream Hampton in an interview with Helena Andrews of The Washington Post. And I’ll just read the quote, well the question from Helena was, do you believe hip hop was revolutionary? Was it ever? And Dream said, you can’t be a revolutionary with broken gender politics. You can’t be a revolutionary and be homophobic. And this is before we even get to capitalism. To be homophobic, transphobic, and misogynist. No, you’re not revolutionary. You’re not even a radical. You’re actually quite status quo. What it was was a radical sound. And that’s not even true anymore. 

 

Clover Hope: Yeah, that’s what I mean with actually being part of the industry and seeing the innards almost, you know, you almost have this glamorized version or a lot of fans probably have this glamorized version of hip hop. And when I started out listening, I fell in love with DMX at the same time that as, you know, he was very much spitting like homophobic uh [laugh] lyrics and it was so rampant and that it was almost like, okay, like this is a default. Um. And at the same time I’m questioning, okay, I like this music, but it’s clearly objectifying women in videos. It’s clearly treating women and just like this entire sort of gender as objects and as just kind of accessories. And so that I was very much aware of that from the beginning. And so it takes some of the glamor off when you one, just grow older and realize as a woman that you almost get pushed out of it or you just it’s like, what is my place in this genre? And then you just also just experience like just being kind of belittled or being seen as secondary in some way or just like, different, like, okay, like you can’t possibly be like a hardcore rap fan. Like, name me whatever album by so-and-so that came out in [laughter] on this date month or whatever. 

 

Damon Young: I would agree with Dream. Like, I think that and I think that might be one of the things that makes me less interested in the music. And the thing is, it’s not like I’m, I’m a motherfucking [?] it’s not like um like some perfectly conscientious motherfucker like the rest of the time. You know what I mean? Like, I’ve tried listening to, like, more conscious rap or gospel rap and it’s like, fucking choke me with a spoon. [laughing] Right?

 

Clover Hope: Right. 

 

Damon Young: So. So one, do you have this, like, paradox where the rap that I want to listen to is more aggressive or antagonistic or violent or whatever, you know now Kanye probably was my favorite rapper, but even his music, yeah, he wasn’t talking about shooting people, but there’s a lot of like misogyny and just a whole lot of shit that just is a [?] through his music, right? And so there’s that. But then there’s also the fact that, yeah, I mean, I feel like it is tougher to be as into that. It’s tougher to have that sort of cognitive dissonance. 

 

Clover Hope: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Now as you get a little bit older, but again, the music that doesn’t do that I’m just not as interested in, right? So it presents this kind of awkward dichotomy where it’s like, well, what the fuck am I supposed to do with this? Now, one thing I will say and your work deals with this quite a bit is that um it does seem like and this is just from, you know, I consider myself maybe more of an outsider now, but it does seem like the most exciting personalities in rap today are women. 

 

Clover Hope: Yes. Yes. 

 

Damon Young: And I don’t recall a time where that was true, where, you know, obviously you have Drake, you have Kendrick who are charting the way that they do. But in terms of like the zeitgeisty the people who are, I guess, influencing like just the mood and the tenor of the conversation of rap today, it is female rappers. 

 

Clover Hope: Yes. Yeah. And the style even going back to Hammer and you wanting to have that hair, [laugh] you know, like– 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Clover Hope: –the women are just influencing pop culture in general. I started seeing it obviously, like it’s almost like now you can look back in retrospect and kind of see the touch points. And Nicki Minaj really was like that kind of before Nicki after Nicki, I think in the same way that there was like before Lil Kim and after Lil Kim, again nothing was the same. And so you know I think that with her success and just her kind of coming in with this multiplicity in some way, like she could kind of be multiple personalities and styles and sounds that stay successful as a business I want to sign a woman who like kind of can give me that as well. At the same time, you had the women just kind of like creating their own lanes. And I think Dream also said something about the women pre-Nikki is like, you had to have this cosign like some coming in to the game through you know, like a man who’s kind of uh cosigning your skills, credibility, whatever. And it’s hard to think of like so many of the women kind of dominating now just carved their lane themselves. Obviously, social media has a lot to do with that. I mean, that’s been kind of like the constant conversation. But yeah, I think of it a lot of basically elements that had to line up for women to be so omnipresent as they are now in hip hop. And I do attribute some of it to Nicki, a lot of it to social media. Cardi B also opening that lane, and then it’s you know just a flood of talent, but also diverse uh not to use that word hashtag, but [laugh] like different types of like No Name being as talked about or, you know, like in the conversation with Latto, with Cardi, just kind of see these names pop up all the time and that feels nice. But at the same time, you know, like you said, it’s it’s that’s happening as again, I’m turning 40 this year, and I definitely don’t listen to as much hip hop as I did when I was 13 even 20, 30. And I think it’s a good uh question to like to dissect like what happens to a hip hop fan as they grow older also, not just the genre but like us, you know?  

 

Damon Young: Yeah what happens to us? 

 

Clover Hope: Would you go to like a Wu-Tang show now do you feel as excited about it, you know? [laughter] Like or [laughter] or is it.

 

Damon Young: I mean, The Lox were just in Pittsburgh as part of like the city’s like 50 year hip hop celebration. Now, obviously I’ve been sick, so I wouldn’t have been able to go, but if I were not sick, would I have gone to see a group which was one of my favorite groups? And I’m not sure, maybe. And just that maybe it’s like, wait, you grew up listening to The Lox, you love Jada, you love Styles, you love Sheek, you know what I mean? Love the production, here they are performing at a venue, a five minute drive from where you live. And your life eh, maybe if I were healthy, maybe I would have gone. So there’s that. And you know, I want to get back to your point about Nicki, too, because it’s this is something that I think, you know, it gets discussed but I don’t think it gets discussed the way that it needs to be in terms of how her verse on Monster– 

 

Clover Hope: Yes. 

 

Damon Young: –basically changed rap music. 

 

Clover Hope: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: One of the things that and you brought this up that makes Nicki so unique is how she’s able to change voice. 

 

Clover Hope: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: She has, like, multiple personalities and multiple different people that she could bring out in a verse and she did that on Monster. And that verse, you know, obviously just blew everyone’s fucking minds away when she did that. And I’m curious if you think that if there’s a direct line with her just murdering that verse on like one of the most critically acclaimed rap albums ever, you know what I mean? On a track with Ye, on a track with Jay, on a track with Rick Ross recorded in his Uber or whatever that was a triple first. But um [laughter] [?]

 

Clover Hope: Yeah it was like five seconds. 

 

Damon Young: Actually Jay-Z’s verse on that was bad too. 

 

Clover Hope: Yeah, they were all honestly. 

 

Damon Young: It’s almost like they heard with Nicki did and they were like, fuck I it just broke their brains. 

 

Clover Hope: Right, right. 

 

Damon Young: [laughing] And they weren’t able to like perform up to the regular standard after her verse or after listening to her verse. 

 

Clover Hope: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: And so yeah, I mean, so you have her verse and how she is many different diverse source of sounds in one person and now you have this landscape where you have so many different types of female rapper. Right? And to your point also, I do think that there is a connectivity with the advent of social media, and I think that many of these women are just better at it or more adept. You know, they’re better at tweeting, they’re better at IG, they’re better at TikTok and are taking advantage of these platforms in a way that male rappers just aren’t. 

 

Clover Hope: Yeah, we’re resourceful. Maybe men are lazy. [laughter] No, I’m I’m just kidding. No generalizations here, but like– 

 

Damon Young: I mean no no you can go–

 

Clover Hope: I just–

 

Damon Young: –you can say it. 

 

Clover Hope: That was a joke. But I do think about yes, like that Monster verse was excitement. And I think part of what we’re talking about is the way that a rap artist can create excitement for the genre. Just with it could be a song, an album, a verse. It could be just phrasing a line that people are like, your mind’s blown. And I think about like there are certain artists who do that, Missy Elliott’s, Lauryn Hill, Outkast, any time Andre 3000 releases something and that makes us want to listen. And so Nicki, with that Monster verse created this excitement that not only that is this tide shift, DMX falls into that same lane, 50 Cent, where you can create enough excitement that it almost like you bring the whole genre with you and you just kind of collect and you know it’s like alright just we’re going this way. Like everyone else is kind of already been going straight. We’re going this way. And if you don’t come, you’re kind of like left behind. So Nicki is one of those that I do kind of there was this tide shift for in general, I think just in hip hop in terms of combining hip hop, rap and pop and this shift of who’s allowed to be called a rapper, almost there was that whole debate with Peter Rosenberg, with Hot 97 just calling her that whole sell out argument or like, oh, you’re not hip hop basically because you sing. And then you also have Drake now singing and rapping. So I do attribute that you know like that is a line. And I think also just tying it to the combo about what changes about us as fans, maybe it’s that part of it is that excitement and it’s like a lot of the excitement I’ve gotten recently has been like for women. Like when Cardi B’s album came out, I was like, this is what I was waiting for. Like, this is everything. And then Megan [?] like Latto, having a Mariah Carey sample is just fun and exciting. I think they’re creating that sort of like thrill that you need in hip hop and also to mix things up. I mean, I think a lot of the shift was, you know, Nicki just kind of allowing more formulas for success. Like people need to see this works, that doesn’t work like, oh, this, you know I can do this and actually be successful. And, you know, now we have Doja Cat who’s in that direct lineage succeeding on a massive scale. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah, the best the best verse that I’ve heard this year was Doja Cat on the Kill Bill remix. Like the most lyrical, the most interesting, the most vivid. And Cardi on that um GloRilla song too. 

 

Clover Hope: Yes. Yeah, condos in– 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Clover Hope: –in that bitch head. Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Clover Hope: Yeah. Like the best lines, the best kind of comebacks. Yeah, a lot of it is the women and part of that maybe is like they have so much to say. They’ve been, it’s almost like silent for so long that yes there’s so much like I I’ve wanted to hear, like, just party tracks by women it’s in you know like, forever. Like, that’s exciting. 

 

Damon Young: So Clover um can you tell us a bit about your, I guess, your new series that’s debuting with Audible? 

 

Clover Hope: Yes. So the book that I published in 2021 is now available as an audiobook and it on Audible and you can listen for free 99 free. [laugh] And and a good way to describe it is a literal oral history where you’re hearing the book out loud uh from me. So I’m narrating, but also with an incredible lineup of voice talent. Remy Ma, MC Lyte, Nia Long, Lauren London, Janelle James, Angie Martinez and Chloe Bailey. And– 

 

Damon Young: Oh wow. 

 

Clover Hope: It’s music, it’s archive and you know, it’s a I’ve kind of described it as sort of a mixtape where you have the surprise around the corner, um like uh there’s a section with Chloe Bailey reading um lewd lyrics that is quite uh thrilling [laughter] and fascinating and MC Lyte reading Cardi B’s slogans. So it’s like a fun listen basically you know version of the book. 

 

Damon Young: The Motherlode. 

 

Clover Hope: Yes, The Motherlode, 100+ Women who made Hip Hop. 

 

Damon Young: Clover Hope. Thank you for coming through, appreciate you. 

 

Clover Hope: Thank you. This was wonderful. [music break]

 

Damon Young, narrating: Up next is Dear Damon with Rodney Carmichael. But first, Damon hates. [music break] This week’s Damon hates is going to be a little bit short. If you listened last week you learned that I have COVID. I still do. At least the last time I tested myself, I’m still positive, even though I’m still feeling better. And so this Damon hates is in relation to that because having COVID, being sick made me miss the only annual Pittsburgh outdoor event that I look forward to, which is called Barrel and Flow, the world’s largest festival of Black brewers. Now, I am not a beer drinker. Like I drink beer. I probably drink more beer at the festival each year than I do every 364 other days combined. Right? And I don’t even drink the beer. I’ll drink like the cider or because they have multiple different stations or whatever. But it’s like the one day, the one day of the year that Pittsburgh feels like. I don’t know. It feels like D.C., it feels like Bed-Stuy, even, which is blasphemous to state. But if you’ve been to Barrel and Flow, you would agree with me in that it feels like, Oh shit, this is the place where I want to live. This is the place that is vibrant, that is fun, that is Black, that is diverse, you know what I mean? And again, I look forward to this outdoor event every year. I plan my outfits, I plan my haircuts. I eat beforehand knowing that, you know what, I’m going to drink this and drink that, we make tremendous plans both my wife and I, make tremendous plans. And we don’t get to, we don’t really get a chance to do a lot of things together. You know what I mean? Take a lot of trips, spend a lot of that sort of outside of the house quality time. And so this is the thing that we have circled on our calendars every year to look forward to. But motherfucking COVID, I get COVID, can’t go. I was I kept my fingers crossed hoping that, you know what, I’m going to I’m going to rest up. I had the virus I’m going to rest up. I’m going to take all the pills I need to take. I’m going to sleep, and then I’m going to test myself Saturday morning. And if I’m negative, then maybe, maybe if I’m if I’m negative and I’m feeling better, then I’ll allow myself to go. Nope. It’s still positive. Now, it did rain. [laugh] It did rain during the beer fest this year, which, you know, I’m at home hating. So there’s that. [laugh] So it wasn’t a total loss for me. But again, I just hate that this fucking virus made me miss the one Pittsburgh event, the one outdoor Pittsburgh event that I look forward to every year. [music break]

 

Damon Young: So this week on Dear Damon we’re joined by Rodney Carmichael. Rodney Carmichael is a hip hop critic for NPR Music, a big fan of his work. Rodney, what’s good? 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Oh, man, I’m good. Excited to talk to you. Long time fan. So, you know. 

 

Damon Young: Same same. Was looking forward to this interview for a bit. So, Morgan. Morgan the producer what we got this week? 

 

Morgan Moody: Dear Damon, are my ears old or is new rap and hip hop just bad compared to older generations? 

 

Damon Young: Okay, this question is straight to the point. I love it. Now, Rodney, um if you don’t mind me asking, how old are you? 

 

Rodney Carmichael: I’m in my forties. I’m on the the upper end, I guess you could say. 

 

Damon Young: Same. I’ll be 45 this year. So we’re– 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Okay. 

 

Damon Young: –the same age. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Came up the same time, same era, whatever. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Right. Right. 

 

Damon Young: How would you answer that question? 

 

Rodney Carmichael: I mean, we all understand hip hop for the most part, up until very recently, has been a youth culture driven music. So, you know, if you 45+, it probably ain’t for you. You know, it’s not for our ears. We’re not supposed to hear it and love it in the same way that somebody half our age does because it’s not speaking to us. I mean, the artists are half our age. And um honestly, if you love it too much, it might be a problem. [laughing] You know what I’m saying? [laughter] Sometimes I have to check myself like, oh, man, this this Uzi Vert is speaking to me. I don’t know what that says, you know? 

 

Damon Young: I mean, I will admit that fuck you Mayne. [laughter] Gunna could be on my stoop right now and I would not be able to recognize him. But I know that song. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Right. 

 

Damon Young: You know what I mean? And it’s catchy. And, you know, I put it on one of my playlists when I’m in the car, but I feel like that question, I don’t know. It’s something that I’ve actually been grappling with myself, too, because, you know, I try very hard not to be the old nigga.

 

Rodney Carmichael: [laugh] Right. 

 

Damon Young: You know what I mean? Like the one who can’t evolve, the one who can’t grow, the one who thinks everything from when he was young is better than everything now. You know what I mean, it particularly annoys me with, like sports, particularly NBA conversations when people act like the game just stopped evolving in like the nineties. It’s like, motherfucker, you feel that way because you were 15 watching grown men. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: So, of course, you’re not going to be as impressed at 40 watching 25 year olds. That’s just that’s just the way it is. And so, like with the music again, I still fuck with, you know, younger artists. Drake sometimes if I’m in a certain mood. Kendrick. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Definitely. 

 

Damon Young: Nicki. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Tyler the creator you know what I mean? And these are people that I could like, oh okay, I could, I could hear it. I could hear like the I could hear the rigor. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Uh huh. [laughter]

 

Damon Young: [laughing] You know what I mean? I could hear the thoughtfulness and the construction of the verses. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Alright. 

 

Damon Young: But when I try to listen to some of the younger, younger, younger guys now, like someone like a Playboi Carti. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: For instance. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: I’ve heard you talk about Playboi Carti. [laughing]

 

Damon Young: Yeah. And it’s like, did this nigga just die in the booth? Like, [laugh] did he did he go in the booth. Is that his thing? That he goes in the booth and he dies, right? 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah. I cannot for the life of me. I, and I hate not especially as a person who writes about music and hip hop. I hate not being able to get something, even if it ain’t for me. But yeah, I have to admit, the Carti thing still just kind of confuses me just a little bit. But I mean, this is bigger than Carti. Like, it’s a whole like Carti subgenre, you know, of cats that sound like him. And I have to talk to younger writers to have a sense of like, how to interpret, you know what I’m saying, what it is that he’s saying that they connecting with, because I don’t get it. I mean, the dude is from Atlanta, too. That’s the other thing. And it’s like I, I don’t see that when I look outside. I have not seen I didn’t see the Carti era of dressing and style happening here so. 

 

Damon Young: And to your point, and I don’t want to make it just like a shit on Playboi Carti uh show. Right, episode. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Right, right. 

 

Damon Young: But even okay so, I listened to Travis Scott’s new album and he has a one track theme that features Playboi Carti on it. And I listen to the first verse, which is mostly Travis it’s like, Oh, whatever, it’s Travis Scott. Second verse is Carti. And I’m like, what is happening? But then you go on YouTube or you go on Twitter and you see people talking about that verse and it’s like the second coming of God just like appeared on the track. And I’m like, what? What am I missing? What is happening? Is it just the ear deafness? Or as you’re saying, is it just that we are just not supposed to like it’s just. You know, as you know, people in their forties, you’re just not supposed to get it the way that someone in their twenties is. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah, I don’t even try to, like um, get too bent out of shape about it, you know? I mean, [laughter] I do try to listen. I try to listen. I try to hear what any artist is trying to do, you know? And a lot of times with the young cats, you know, it’s about vibe and it’s about um. It’s about just capturing a certain rhythmic energy, you know what I mean? They ain’t really necessarily trying to communicate the same way that our generation was, or the cats older than us were communicating to us through rap. You know what I mean? So I don’t know it is working for them on some level, I suppose. I do think that question, though, is, is a relevant question. It’s a question that people continue to grapple with. Like even though it’s that exchange, can you say that they’re changing for the better or worse? I don’t know. I mean, I feel like our parents, you know, my dad was throwing away rap in the golden era. He was like, Oh, this is trash. What are they doing? [laughter] You know what I’m saying? So. You know, I mean, for the Motown generation or what have you, you know, I’m sure they still scratching their heads to a degree. 

 

Damon Young: And it’s to that point, though, it’s like, well, okay, so if you’re coming of age or listening to rap in like the nineties, you know what I mean? And you’re trying to explain and you’re trying to sell someone who’s older on like the lyricism, on the quality, on the rigor. I don’t think it’s that hard of a sale. I think, you know, once you get past profanity, mm hmm the profanity is probably the part that made people a little bit older tune out. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Right, right. 

 

Damon Young: But once you like, broke down the lyrics and broke down the metaphor and simile and all the figurative language and, you know, in how, you know, certain artists we use our voices almost like jazz instruments, then I think that you could at least have like a mutual understanding and perhaps I think that sort of back and forth might be missing today where either perhaps I’m not as open to having those sorts of conversations with someone who is in their twenties and who can explain Playboi Carti, [laughing] you know what I mean, in a way that like, Oh, okay, I’m still not going to be a fan, but I least understand like the thoughtfulness here. I understand like I see where this was constructed. I see how and why this was constructed this way. So we had Clover Hope on the first half and we were also talking about just this topic about like hip hop and rap and whether or not, you know, the genre is old enough for us not to age out of it so quickly. For our ears to age out of it, um where we both expressed that we both kind of love it a bit less. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Than we did 20, 25 years ago. And it’s not even so much that we love the newer stuff less than the older stuff. I’m not as interested in the older stuff too. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Is that because it doesn’t speak to who you are now the way it did? 

 

Damon Young: I’m still trying to unpack that. I’m still trying to unpack what that is because like, okay, I’ll listen to an old Ghostface album. And Ghostface was my dude. Supreme Clientele is one of my top five favorite albums of all time. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: I’ll listen to Supreme Clientele today, but if Ghostface is recording a new album, rapping in that same style, I don’t know if I want to listen to it. I would rather just listen to old Ghostface instead of new Ghostface. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Right. 

 

Damon Young: Even though that’s the style that I am that I have more of an affinity for. See what I mean? 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah yeah yeah. I mean, that’s almost kind of like um when you go back and, you know, not to [laugh] personalize this too much, but you go back and look at your old writings from, I don’t know how many years ago, you know, maybe you do feel the same connection because, you know, it’s nostalgic and you’re looking at stuff that actually came from you. But does it speak to the times and who you are as a person now the way it did then? Probably not. Hopefully not, because hopefully you evolved in a way that, you know, old Damon is like, okay, yeah, that was that was me then. But, you know, I’m on a different I’m on a different thing now. I mean, I would hope that I see that Ghostface stays pretty active, relatively active, but I can’t say I’ve listened to any of his more recent stuff either, but I would hope that he’s bringing something to the game that um is very much different than what he was doing in Wu-Tang’s heyday. You know what I mean? I mean, you have to figure out, like as an artist, how to keep it fresh or else it’s just like. You know, making music for the sake of consumption, right? Like, if you ain’t really inspired, I don’t know. I think inspiration just, you know, built into that is the suggestion or the idea that it’s new. You know what I mean? And if you’re not inspired by um what you’re doing present day, then you probably are outdated. You know, but I feel like rap is aging in a way where it’s allowing cats our age to I don’t know I I’ve been surprised on one hand how much I’ve been able to stay connected with. I think a lot of rappers, though, haven’t gotten to that point where they feel like it’s still cool to be rapping at this age. You know, I remember Andre 3000 talking about that years ago. He’s like, I don’t want to be still rapping past 40, you know? And so we only get a verse every blue moon from dude. But I really be curious to hear what Andre today has to say, you know what I mean? And so I still think there are cats trying to figure out how to bend the genre in that way, where it doesn’t have to just, you know, reflect youthful energy and ideas and imagination. You know what I mean? 

 

Damon Young: I’m glad you brought up the point about Andre, because he is someone who I would want to hear new shit from him. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Like, I would be very interested in a new album from him. I’m still interested in new Jay albums. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Okay. Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: And. I. Probably going to get struck by lightning by saying this out loud, but I’m still interested in new Kanye. [?] [laughing]

 

Rodney Carmichael: Oh, that’s a whole nother episode bruh. 

 

Damon Young: Right? [laughing] I’m interested in at least what he has to say. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Mmm. 

 

Damon Young: I can’t call myself a fan anymore. But I’m interested. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: You know what I mean? And I can’t deny that there wouldn’t be like, if okay, Kanye dropped an album tomorrow if I wouldn’t be curious and interested about okay, what what is this going to sound like? 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Is it that kind of interest where it’s like, Man, I really want to hear what this cat got to say. Let me listen to this. Or is it like, do you keep bumping it for like weeks after that initial release? [laughter] I’m just curious because, like, [laughing] you know. 

 

Damon Young: I mean the last Kanye album that I listened to heavy was probably um Kids See Ghosts. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Oh, yeah, that was a good one. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah, that’s that’s the last album that I like listened to. And still to this day, the rest like, I’ll give it a couple listens like yeah this. Yeah, um I think I’m good. But I guess my point is that there are artists, rap artists who I would still be interested in. Right? So it maybe it’s not necessarily about my ears or about the genre or it’s about like specific artists, you know what I mean? Where specific artists just have a certain esthetic and a certain sensibility where you are more interested. Like, for instance, I’m not as interested in like murder rap, new murder rap. I’ll listen to old I’ll listen to murder rap that was created in ’99. I got a whole mixtape of murder raps. [laugh] Of all the mob deep. [laugh] You know what I mean, all the murder rap. But new murder rap. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: By old niggas. [laughing] Right? It’s not something. [laughing] 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Right, right, right. 

 

Damon Young: Is not something I’m interested in. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Right. 

 

Damon Young: I mean, what’s your relationship been? Like in terms of, you know, as a consumer? Obviously, you keep up with it for a living. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Mm hmm mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: You know what I mean? But as like just a consumer as a fan. How has your relationship evolved with rap music? 

 

Rodney Carmichael: I mean, it’s definitely different. The kind of hip hop writer I am. I don’t even necessarily pretend to do a really good job of keeping up with it. You know, I’m not a big, I don’t write reviews a lot. Um. I do stay up late on Thursday just to see what comes out and and and try to listen to anything that looks interesting. But and that’s more from a I don’t know. That’s the only part that kind of feels like it’s connected to how I used to consume hip hop as a kid. You know, if it was on like Tuesday and it was, you know, new album drop day and just um I don’t know, it’s that excitement ir’s like Christmas morning type vibe. 

 

Damon Young: Oh, yeah. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: You know what I mean? But I find that I’m I tend to be. Um. I won’t say disappointed, but but but less happy about the presents that I unwrap. [laughter] You know what I’m sayig? And so again, because most of these artists tend to be younger. But and you know, you get a week like the recent one where No Name drops, you know, and I was looking forward to that album and yeah, I couldn’t I couldn’t wait to, to, to play it. Um. But–

 

Damon Young: Were you excited about No Name? 

 

Rodney Carmichael: I was excited last month when I heard it was coming. 

 

Damon Young: Okay. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: I was excited when I saw it in my, you know, in my Tidal uh feed, whatever. And um and I’m excited listening to it. I mean, she’s snapping. She she’s she’s, you know, she calling out folks and calling out herself. And and um, you know, it feels like there’s a sense of urgency behind what she has to say, mainly because she’s not saying the same thing that everybody else is saying. And that’s that’s the one thing that’s so feels so different now. Um. That I don’t even think it has anything to do with any kind of ageism or whatever. Like, you know, the industry has just, you know, figured out this thing in such a way that, you know, copycatting to a degree is very lucrative. And if you’re trying to get on to a certain extent, you got to be able to say, you know, I’m following this branch of thought or sound or or esthetic, and if you’re too original, you know, a lot of times we may not ever find you or hear, hear of you. You know what I mean? So we find less people coming out that are just like, you know, sounding so countercultural, so counter to everything that’s already out, you know, and her and her album sounds like that to me. So, yeah, I’m excited. Yeah. What about you? 

 

Damon Young: I mean, that may be Tyler the Creator’s most recent album, I forget the name of it. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Oh, yeah. The mixtape joint, DJ Drama– 

 

Damon Young: Yeah with– 

 

Rodney Carmichael: –did with him? 

 

Damon Young: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Or maybe even– 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: –going back to, like, Daytona. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Mmmm. 

 

Damon Young: In terms of, like, excited. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Okay. 

 

Damon Young: That’s a good question, because the excitement part is something that, again, I’m glad you put it like Christmas morning. You know what I mean? 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Like you’re opening gifts. You’re opening presents and you just have that excitement, and the anticipation where you can’t sleep the night before. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Um. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Right. 

 

Damon Young: And that feeling is a feeling that’s associated with youth, because I’m not excited– 

 

Rodney Carmichael: True. 

 

Damon Young: –for Christmas gifts anymore. I’m excited to see– 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Right. [laughing] 

 

Damon Young: I’m excited to see how my kids react– 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Right. 

 

Damon Young: –to the gifts. But as far as–

 

Rodney Carmichael: Right, right. 

 

Damon Young: –like my own gifts, I mean, I fall asleep because I’m tired and I want to, [laughing] you know what I mean? Christmas ain’t– 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Exactly. 

 

Damon Young: –keeping me up anymore. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah yeah yeah.

 

Damon Young: And so anyway, I guess the answer to the person’s question. Um. [laugh] You know, to get back to that, finally. [laughter] I I don’t think I think you put it greatly. I don’t I think that you that for people looking for the same thing in contemporary music, particularly in like the youthful, like the Carti’s or like the I don’t know, [?] I’m just naming people off the top of my head. But those– 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Right. 

 

Damon Young: –sorts of people, Gunna, if you’re looking for that, if you’re looking for, you know, what you heard in ’99 and 2002. Right. And you’re and you want that out of this, then of course it’s not going to sound good. And so perhaps. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: You know, you need to. I don’t know. You have to be more curious and more open to just different interpretations of what someone can do in the studio and on a song to to to to matter, you know, and and– 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: –and to be, you know, and to exist under this large umbrella of um of hip hop and rap music. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah. Yeah. And lastly, if I could say one more thing on it. Like, I think the other thing that that makes it harder for our generation now is because the industry works so different now. Like when we were like coming of age, you knew about all the albums within the hip hop genre that were out at a certain time. You knew about everything. You know what I mean? And if you were from a particular region, you knew about all the regional stuff, or the stuff coming out of your city. It wasn’t really super hard to find or be aware of. But now, you know, there’s so much music. [laugh] It’s like it’s too there’s too much music and there’s not enough uh curation happening. We nobody listens to the radio anymore. The radio does a bad job of it anyway. Ever since they stopped letting DJs play what they want to play and all of that stuff. Um. And and, you know, I don’t know. I don’t know how you feel about the the uh the playlists and Spotifys and all of that kind of stuff. But it still serves you know commercial purposes. The artists with the most money behind them. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Tend to rise to the top. So a lot of stuff that’s out there that I think appeals to our generation. Unless you like a, you know, Internet crate digger, you ain’t gonna find it. You’re not going to know about it. I mean, I just came across this one group um, DefPrez, that uh Andre Gee, he’s a writer at Rolling Stone, wrote about, you know, listened to him on Bandcamp. I was blown away. I was like, man, this album sounds so good. I wish more cats, you know, my age, knew about this album, and I’m sure whoever the cat is, that wrote this question and I would be willing to bet and listening from Chicago, which is where this duo is from, that they have never heard of this DefPrez group. And so it, and you know, we end up forming these these these opinions. On on what is really more so the industry than hip hop as a genre, because the industry like siphons it down so much to where, you know, we only hearing probably like a 10th of what’s actually coming out for real for real. But you know, it’s the Billboard Top 100, top 200. And um we already know, you know, that uh that’s that’s not necessarily where it’s at. You know? 

 

Damon Young: Well, you brought up you brought up a great point. You know, something I haven’t really considered is how we had, like these built in methods of curation. You know what I mean? Where we knew, like, yeah, we’re not going to be able to listen to everything. Well, we could get a DJ Clue mixtape or whoever, whoever you listen to, whoever’s mixtape you listen to and you would have like, oh okay, well, so this is on this album. This is the person, this is the next person. And so I’m wondering. Maybe there is that for people who are in their twenties, you know what I mean? But even, you know, you speak to the Spotify and the um that curation is like algorithmic, um you know, on Spotify and on YouTube and wherever else, you know, whatever other streaming platform that there is. And so there’s not like a human behind saying, hey, this is you know, this is I’m the tastemaker. And and there and not just one tastemaker, but multiple tastemakers where it’s like, you know what? I usually trust this person. I usually trust this person’s opinion. And so if they’re saying that these are the albums I need to listen to, these are the albums I need to listen to. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Right. 

 

Damon Young: You know, and even going back to having the Source and Vibe and having these magazines that do reviews, that do the cover stories and that had the trusted writers and reporters and journalists that are given out, you know, that are that are rating these albums. I mean, you still have Pitchfork, obviously, but it’s it’s just not it’s not the same. This is not it’s just not the same. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Right. So. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: It’s not. It’s not. And even and even with whatever resources you know, we have in music journalism, this there’s no way you can keep up with the output. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: The output is incredible. Which, you know, I don’t know if that speaks to the vitality of the genre or of the industry itself. You know, there’s this this talk this year, of of of hip hop becoming, you know, less vital or less important, because until this Travis Scott album, there hadn’t been there hadn’t been a number one album, um which I think that’s like the worst way to determine the vitality of hip hop. Like, I mean go to 1989 and tell me who [laughter] who in Hip hop had a number one Billboard album? We didn’t care. We did not care about that kind of stuff. So I really hate that that’s even used as like a goal post now to determine like, Oh, is hip hop still killing shit? Well, let’s check Billboard. Nah, that ain’t really the the pulse of the culture, but you know, it is what it is kind of where we are right now. 

 

Damon Young: Rodney Carmichael, thank you for coming through. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: Yeah yeah. Appreciative it man. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. Thank you. This was a lot of fun. Whoever asked that question, I hope you got something [laughing] out of this. [laughing]

 

Rodney Carmichael: Hopefully. Hopefully. Go check out–

 

Damon Young: Hopefully. [laughing]

 

Rodney Carmichael: Hey go check out DefPrez, D-E-F Prez. 

 

Damon Young: Boom. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: It’s it’s it’s–

 

Damon Young: Boom. There you go. 

 

Rodney Carmichael: You might you might dig it. You might dig it. 

 

Damon Young: Alright man.

 

Rodney Carmichael: Alright, take care. [music break]

 

Damon Young, narrating: Again just want to thank Clover Hope, Rodney Carmichael, great conversations, great guests. It’s a very hip hop themed episode and I really appreciated both of your perspectives. Just helping me think through some of my feelings about my relationship with consuming and with listening. Also, Stuck with Damon Young is available on every platform, but if you’re on Spotify, there are interactive questions, answers. You go to the app, please knock yourself out with that, have a lot of fun. And also if you have any questions whatsoever about anything, hit me up at deardamon@crooked.com. Alright y’all, see you next week. [music break] Stuck with Damon Young is hosted by me, Damon Young. From Crooked Media, our executive producers are Kendra James and Madeleine Haeringer. Our producers are Ryan Wallerson and Morgan Moody. Mixing and mastering by Sara Gibble-Laska and the folks at Chapter Four. Theme music and score by Taka Yasuzawa. And special thanks to Charlotte Landes. And from Spotify, our executive producers are Lauren Silverman, Neil Drumming, and Matt Shilts. Special thanks to Lesley Gwam and Krystal Hawes-Dressler. [music break]