Again, Hip-Hop culture had a built in mentorship program. Older cats would mentor the youth and pass them the torch or the new cats would just force them out of the game for one reason or another. New Rap listeners were either introduced to Rap by an older sibling or relative. This was pretty much standard from 1979 to 1996 (although there was a stretch of upheaval during the transition period between the two Golden Eras).
In 1997, a new rift began opening that has become the chasm I'm trying to explain. Hip-Hop culture had the underground which helped to provide checks and balances necessary for the artform's growth. Without the underground there would've been any Golden Eras. However, fallout resulting from the signing of the Telecommunications Act Of 1996 aided in the eventual state of Hip Hop Apartheid that exists today. Two Rap industries existing at the same time, both separate and unequal.
When radio stopped playing certain artists that were once popular and the overall sound and aesthetic of Rap music began changing, listeners who remembered how things were during the Golden Era(s) or before took a pronounced step back. Many Hip Hop heads retreated underground as it still upheld what they believed to be the desired sound & feel of Rap music harkening back to the Golden Era(s). Some older cats just became disinterested altogether and focused on other genres of music like Electronica. What about the new listeners and the younger fans whose introduction to Rap was the Jiggy Era?
There was a clear splintering within distinct generations of Rap listeners during this period between 1997 and 1999. Those old enough to remember the entirety of the second Golden Era didn't much care for the Jiggy Era while those slightly younger who only caught the tail end of it were split. However, those even younger than them had no clue that any drastic change had even occurred. It was the music on the radio and all over the Viacom networks so it was just the Rap that was popular at the time. Nothing more, nothing less.
In previous years (with the exception of the aforementioned transitional period between Golden Eras) older siblings influenced the Rap their younger siblings listened to but an odd change occurred where the older sibling retreated underground or delved into R&B or Electronica leaving their younger sibling to their own devices along with their entire peer group.
This generation of Rap listeners never owned cassette tapes and only owned CDs. This same generation of Rap listeners grew up with the Internet being present as children rather than as adults. The Internet was the tool that helped to widen this generation gap in Rap. As the speed of communications technology got progressively faster, the generation gap between Rap fans ultimately became a chasm.
Three independent Rap albums in 1997 denoted the beginning of a divergent era for Rap music, Lateef & Lyrics Born's Latryx: The Album, Company Flow's Funcrusher Plus and the Rawkus compilation Soundbombing. These albums didn't appeal to younger Rap fans but there was a college aged crowd and older which gravitated to Rap along these lines. Those that preferred the mainstream Rap that was gaining favor all but eschewed underground Rap and soon it was remanded to indie labels.
An older brother played Company Flow in his headphones while the younger brother played DMX in his. As time passed they would have fewer and fewer of the same favorites MCs, Rap groups or producers in common. One of the earliest indicators of this generational gap is how many younger Rap fans regard It Was Written as being as good as Illmatic while older Rap listeners maintain it was an obvious step down quality wise. That's just the tip of the iceberg…
Why is the Rap generation chasm such a big deal? Well, for one think about “classic” albums and how it's affected them. Between 1997 and 2003 think of all the Rap albums released that are across the board revered as “classic” albums. There are a significant number of indie Rap albums that don't get the same distinction only because mainstream Rap listeners never heard them.
You might wonder why that's weird considering indie albums don't sell a great deal of units? In actuality, most of the albums from the Golden Eras that are universally accepted as classics didn't sell very well either. The difference is there wasn't a split that occurred which affected the way these albums were processed by Rap fans as a whole.
This becomes a larger issue every year following 2004 where the quality of mainstream Rap releases gets worse and worse musically but more and more of the best quality Rap releases are made by indie labels. The generation chasm prevents indie and underground Rap albums from being regarded as “classic” material simply because no more universal agreements can be made about what constitutes a “classic” album anymore.
This rears it's ugly head when Rap journalists largely constituted of the post Mainstream/Underground split era are asked to write classic album lists or list classic songs. Since these multiple generations of Rap listeners weren't exposed to the full diaspora of Rap music going back as early as 1997 they have a limited knowledge base to draw from. This is how Cam'ron's Purple Haze ends up often being viewed as a classic album over Madvillain's Madvillainy and why so many deserving indie and underground releases end up missing from Rap albums lists.
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