“There has always been this rebellious connection between hip-hop and punk music,” once said iconic hip-hop pioneer Fab Five Freddy, in an interview with radio host Davey-D, back in 2010. It’s true–nestled in the downtrodden streets of a 1980s Manhattan, a new relationship between two of music’s most unlikeliest candidates, began to develop.
Fast-forward to the alternative hip-hop movement of today, and you’ll see that the scene does exhibit many of punk’s characteristics. I would argue that there are two specific ones they have fully committed themselves to: Do-it-yourself (DIY) and attitude. These two components have seeped their way into present-day alternative hip-hop, providing a new generation with something that is fresh and relatable.
As a subculture, DIY has been said to have begun with the punk movement of the 1970s. From recording, manufacturing albums and merchandise, to booking tours, the bands themselves would take up multiple jobs that were known to be music label responsibilities.
“I knew how to set up a business,” said Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn, in an article for L.A. Weekly, back in 2001. “So, I decided to release [Black Flag's Nervous Breakdown EP] myself.” Along with putting out their own releases and booking their own tours, they would create their own publicity, spray-painting their “four bars” emblem throughout southern California.
Sacramento alternative hip-hop trio Death Grips is a DIY machine. They self-released their mixtape debut, Exmilitary, last year, and regardless of recently being signed to Epic Records, the trio still makes their own music and videos. Take music video “Get Got” for example. Being their priciest music video to date ($20 because of the police sirens) “Get Got” is like that of The Blair Witch Project–eerie, bizarre but undeniably enthralling, keeping viewers glued to their computer screens. “There isn’t an ideal scenario in the way we work, because the things we imagine in our minds aren’t accessible and within our budget,” said Death Grips drummer Zach Hill in an interview with MTV Hive. “So we’re forced to work with whatever’s available to us because of those limitations.”
As legendary hardcore punk group Bad Brains once said, “Don’t care what they may say / We got that attitude.” American punk music was born out three things: The Vietnam War, the death of disco and its drug/club culture and a worldwide recession. Punk rockers did not care about being on the party scene, or making a big hit. They just wanted to take out their frustration in the best possible way. Documentaries like 2006’s American Hardcore is proof of that. Teenagers moshing, and reciting chants screamed from the band’s vocalist; this is punk–the lost looking for salvation from the man onstage.
“We [Odd Future] just don’t give a fu**,” said Tyler, the Creator in an interview with blogger Casen Kreation, back in 2009. “We do what we want, we make what we listen to.” Teenagers appreciate Odd Future, and their message; whether intentional or not, the group is apathetic to fan’s feelings. This is why you see sold-out crowds chanting the words to Tyler’s “Radicals,” in verbatim. They relate to when the frontman says, “Stand for what the fu** you believe in,” and “Do what the fu** you want.” It’s straight-to-the-point–no hidden messages, just a clear and definitive statement that resonates with disgruntled youth.
What Does it All Mean?
What the connection between alternative hip-hop and punk indicates, is that this generation wants something new, and that they can relate to. Luxury is scant; not everyone can brag about their all-tinted Escalade, or popping bottles in the VIP section.
What they can relate to are feelings of alienation or frustration, and trying to remain optimistic in light of it all. Because of everyday challenges, and the uncertainty of financial stability and government assistance, people have become impassive. They need something to rekindle their flame, and help push them through hard, economic times. This is where alternative hip-hop comes into play.
Bay Area’s Lil B preaching words of wisdom to those that are “Based;” A$AP Rocky’s motto being to “Always strive and prosper;” Kendrick Lamar’s quest for self-enlightenment; and Danny Brown’s asymmetrical hair and missing tooth serving as symbols for individuality and being who you are. Like their punk counterparts, these artists use their talents and beliefs to simultaneously influence others, and create their own success, by their own means.
Sure, not everyone is moving to the beat of alternative hip-hop’s drum, but a good amount of young and pissed-off individuals are. It’s an indicator that the genre has the potential to be influential like punk, reminding listeners that no matter how tough it gets, as long as you have a dream, believe in it and are willing to work to achieve it, anything is possible. The answer is simple: “Do what the fu** makes you happy.”
“We hustle hard / No sleep.” These are words music journalist Elijah Watson lives by. Watson is currently a student at the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in journalism. He also serves as senior entertainment writer for The Daily Texan, the school’s student newspaper, and a contributor to the college section of the Huffington Post. When he’s not critiquing the next big thing in music, Watson can be found listening to hip-hop, ranting about his desires to be an honorary member of hardcore punk group Trash Talk and making new friends on Twitter.