In order to even approach the topic of Hip-Hop potentially being in its Punk stage, it is important to have an understanding of what “punk” means and where it came from, so as to to be able look at current day Hip-Hop in the proper context for understanding this. While Hip-Hop is without a doubt its own unique umbrella that encompasses an innumerable myriad of different sub-genres and styles, it seems as though today things are developing in unique and creative ways to Hip-Hop itself. These developments may be familiar when looking back to the past of other music genres that dominated the mainstream the way that rap is today, and there couldn’t be a more recent or apropos example of this than rock and roll and how it birthed punk in the cities of the early 1970s.
Just like how rap and hip-hop dominate the mainstream today, in regards to music, culture, and style, rock and roll did the same during the mid 20th century, emerging in the 1950s and seemingly continued to control the zeitgeist of popular music all the way up until early 2000s. While hip-hop emerged in the 1970s and has only continued to grow in stature since, some would argue that it hit its artistic apex in the 1990s, with artists such as Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G., and others topping the charts while still creating rap that exists at the highest level in regards to artistic vision and lyricism. Despite this, rap didn’t come to be the most dominant form of popular music until the last decade or so, with bands and songwriters giving way to rap artists and producers when it comes to the musical vanguards of popular culture. Despite this, the music and culture, as well as style, of rap today resembles a lot of the punk aesthetic that marked the underground bands of the 1970s, which itself was a reaction to the massively glamorous and over –the-top arena filling rocks bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s, such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. Teens and young adults began to resent the corporate influences and mainstream status of these bands, and a movement of political, social, and musical dissidence was born, with groups like the Ramones, Sex Pistols, and the Clash taking the underground music scenes of their respective cities, and countries, by storm.
While the current developments in Hip-Hop may not necessarily be a reaction to the mainstream status of the genre, it is indeed reactionary. Instead of going after the “sell-outs” or “the man” like many punk acts of old, today’s artists are rebelling against the traditional sensibilities of hip-hop that have come to define the genre, and beyond this, have further created a perceived elitist/esoteric attitude amongst older generations in hip-hop. Many of today’s most popular artists still use the basics and foundations of what made the “golden age” of hip-hop so great to those who believe it to be so, but instead of being beholden to them and the structures/elaborate lyricism that defined them, they distort, corrupt, and diversify these different elements and present them in an entirely new and unique light. From Travis Scott using southern trap elements commonly found in early 2000’s Houston and Atlanta hip-hop in the midst of cutting-edge production and trap instrumentation on his newest record, Astroworld, to Juice Wrld using tasteful and emotional sampling of an old rock classic on his hit song “Lucid Dreams” (a sample which hip-hop legend Nas had himself previously used on the song “The Message”), the examples of this are endless.
This rebellion isn’t just sonic in its nature, though. Just like the punk bands of the 1970s reacted against the glitz and glamour of arena rock by wearing cut-up leather jackets, donning
anarchy symbols, rocking spiked/dyed hair, and using safety pins as piercings, today’s prominent hip-hop artists rebel against the hyper-masculine/tough guy sensibilities of “golden age” hip-hop by wearing ripped skinny jeans, dying their hair vibrant colors, and donning flamboyant new-age fashion apparel and streetwear. Examples of this can be seen all over the genre from artists such as 6ix9ine to the enigmatic Young Thug, who himself wore a dress on what some people would say is his best album, 2016’s Jeffrey.
Rock and roll saw its punk phase grow out of a hypersensitive time in the world, where political intrigue and anxiety was at its absolute height, and the masses were becoming sicker and sicker of the status quo. Punk saw kids and young adults rebel and strike back against what had been normalized in the decades prior, not necessarily in the hope of finding or creating better, but rather because it was time for a change, be it for the worse or for the better. Hip-hop’s punk phase will similarly grow out of rebellion, but not against the same things rock’s was. Instead of fighting the system, today’s hip-hop looks to fight stereotypes. Instead of being politically motivated, today’s hip-hop is instead motivated artistically and aesthetically. Instead of being angry, today’s hip-hop is both melancholic and braggadocious. The exact characteristics are not the same, no, but the spirit, and most importantly, the rebellion, is.