Notes on Hip Hop Conservatism -- by General Baker, September 2006
The old guard had a real opportunity to begin critically attacking capital, which it did at times, at least ideologically so, because that is where it has its origins. In the mid-90s, record companies were further consolidating and label executives began to drop artists like flies. They did this in response to Parent's Music Resource Center, Tipper Gore's brainchild lobbyist group which "monitored Un-American and anti-patriotic attitudes in music", to C. Delores Tucker, a former Civil Rights activist of all people, to Bob Dole, etc. Not only did they drop gangsta rappers, they dropped all artists whose fan base remained regional and/or small. To some that is good business, but in reality it is just business.
Out of this consolidation and out of the reaction to this consolidation arose a whole new legitimate strand within hip-hop music. A democratic and independent music movement began to sprout to fill a gap that large music enterprises could not and were incapable of filling. Stones Throw, Rawkus, Fondle 'Em, and other independent music outfits began to grow and fulfill a need for individual creative control over artists' music.
But as this independent strand expanded and developed ideas of its own, it produced an ideological extreme; one that negates all unlike it including other independent movements. It was an ideology that struggled against other variations of hip-hop. It sometimes took on an anti-technological sentiment; that is, when it was convenient. A turntable is technology in that it contains material substratum which has been altered by the labor of man, but the line of demarcation became the phonograph since digital technology was repudiated.
Initially, the need was progressive. Vinyl production ground to a halt in the early 90s as more and more DJs mixed music with CD players. But CD players during this time were incredibly limited. It was impossible to scratch, to beat juggle (the manipulation of two copies of the same record), and it lacked the feel of vinyl. Hip-Hop DJing had grown into a true and perfected art form. Nowadays, however, this need has been satisfied by the CD turntable manufacturers. Every single aspect of spinning vinyl records has been completely replicated so that the only basis to continue the use of vinyl is personal preference which usually takes the form of conservatism since it sometimes demonizes those who employ digital technology (CD DJs).
So at this stage we have completely reified hip-hop, fetishized the turntable and wax recordings and hence all music recorded on wax. Hip-Hop is not relegated to simply sampling records since many modern producers use the sounds of synthesizers to create original music. But bound up with this conservatism of the phonograph is the conservatism of sampling vinyl for music production. There is potential for a progressive tendency to emerge out of the sampling of vinyl music in that it reproduces old sounds to make something modern and unique, but when it merely reproduces the same sounds over and over again the corresponding ideology says, like the old generation says of all new music, that the classic way is the pure way.
DJ Shadow states that, "My aim in life is not to try to successfully duplicate a '88 hip hop record, or a '68 psych tune," he explains. "It's to incorporate elements of all sorts in into something hopefully new and innovative." This statement profoundly reflects in a progressive fashion the motion of contradiction, the dialectical nature in music. There is a logical outcome, a negation, of this new music movement which has manifested a hip-hop elitism and a refutation of not only popular hip-hop, but its other regional and independent expressions. This negation has represented a limitation instead of the democratic spirit which is inherent in the mid-90s independence movement.