The processed vocals and slick, minimalist beats of Wiz Khalifa, Fetty Wap, Drake and the Weeknd rule the hip-hop charts and the ears of the kids who drive the sales. But over on Backspin, the classic-rap satellite-radio channel that runs 24/7 on SiriusXM, they’re partying like it’s 1999. And 1989. Sometimes, even 1979.
Eric B. & Rakim leads into the Notorious B.I.G., which gives way to Digital Underground. If you’re of a certain age — roughly 35 or older — the beats and rhymes quickly trigger the nostalgia receptors. When did I first hear “Bonita Applebum,” A Tribe Called Quest’s ode to a round derrière? Where was I when I heard Tupac got shot? When did I stop subscribing to The Source?
The hip-hop generation is Humpty dancing toward middle age, and the entertainment industry is responding with a flurry of products aimed at old-school aficionados.
“We’re yearning for these songs the same way our parents would yearn for the old R&B songs of their youth,” says Dion Summers, vice president of urban programming for SiriusXM. “It reminds me of the music that I literally grew up listening to.”
On the radio you can flip back and forth between the commercial-free Backspin and the burgeoning chain of Boom stations, including 94.5 in Dallas. On TV, Netflix is gearing up for The Get Down, Baz Luhrmann’s drama about hip-hop’s earliest days in the South Bronx, which premieres Friday. Earlier this year, VH1 delivered The Breaks, a TV movie about hip-hop strivers orbiting around a label that acts a lot like 1990s-era Def Jam. A full season is slated to begin by the end of the year.
Not to be schooled on the old-school, the big screen is keeping pace. Last year’s N.W.A. biopic, Straight Outta Compton, earned $200 million at the U.S. box office. Coming soon: All Eyez on Me, a Tupac biopic; and Roxanne, Roxanne, the story of ’80s teen battle-rapper Roxanne Shante.
This all seemed improbable back when hip-hop was viewed as a scrappy stepchild from the New York streets. But times have changed, and now rap has its own variation of classic rock.
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