Given its commercial dominance, is rap now recognized by the industry as a full-fledged genre, or do they still see it as a trend?
Grayson: Hip-hop has been influential for far longer than 30 years. The difference now is that we have metrics by which we can actually see how much it influences. We see it in the new spring fashion lines [and] in the undertones of film and television storytelling. But it’s a double-edged sword: On one hand, it’s finally being acknowledged. But then you’re like, “Why the fuck is it just now being acknowledged?” No disrespect to this conversation, [but] why are we still doing articles about why is hip-hop important? When something is mainstream, we [usually] all accept that it is. We don’t talk about it. [Whereas the hip-hop industry is] constantly having to justify our place in culture.
Drake: It’s still looked at as a trend and not given value, even though numbers don’t lie: It’s consumed over 30 percent more than any other genre. But it’s still treated with kid gloves and looked at as a cultural taboo. “Bad and boujee” is now a term in the dictionary. Rap is being taught at Harvard and other institutions. So it can’t continue to be seen as a trend -- especially by the music business, which generates so much income off rap culture. It can’t continue to ignore [hip-hop’s] dominance and how it’s woven into the fabric of our country.
Chery: There’s an executive that I used to work with when streaming started exploding. In every meeting we sat in, he was like, “Oh, hip-hop is No. 1... for now.” But I don’t see this ending.
Big Boy: Hip-hop just celebrated 45 years. So how long does a “fad” last? This isn’t like the disco explosion, [which] took off, got corny, [then] everybody stopped messing with Studio 54. This is getting bigger and bigger -- so big that it’s also getting out of hand. We’re losing culture. Back in the day, everybody had lyrics. Now it’s like, getting in is so easy. Will.i.am recently said it’s low-hanging fruit and anybody feels like they can do it. [So] it’s not something that’s going to disappear, because now you don’t need to get signed by the Def Jams of the world. Hip-hop is everywhere.
What does hip-hop need to do to sustain growth and protect its culture?
Drake: [Young artists] have to invest in an attorney. [And] there’s a plethora of information online and in bookstores. I’d love to see young aspiring artists, songwriters and producers really understand the business side of the creative -- [it’s] important, especially from a publishing standpoint. We have all these incredible urban albums that dropped this year, a lot of them don’t get licensed -- or it takes a long time for them to get licensed -- because the business side on the front end hasn’t been done.
Grayson: That’s tough, because [hip-hop is] global. It’s ours, but it’s everyone’s now -- we should’ve known this when MTV did a story about white kids in Arkansas listening to Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. And that was prior to the internet. So we need to continue to educate and acknowledge our history the same way we do in all parts of our culture. But I don’t know that I want it contained -- that feels anti-hip-hop to me. When OutKast started popping, they got booed at the Source Awards. Imagine then if we were like, “That’s not hip-hop.” We wouldn’t have had years of incredible music.
Chery: It’s on all of us to make sure that in our respective roles we reflect hip-hop in an authentic way. There’s a generational disconnect that has been happening for a while: The values we have from the era we come from aren’t necessarily being passed on to millennials. We may have negative feelings about certain artists inserting themselves into the culture, but all the kids that are relevant are making songs with them. My mind also goes to how other black genres are no longer black. We’ve seen it before with jazz, blues and rock, and that’s why we need to try and enforce it as much as possible. If we don’t, and [we leave] the door open... I feel like this is the last thing we have. That’s why we’re so passionate and protective of it.
What was your first indelible rap memory?
Big Boy: “Rapper’s Delight” [by Sugarhill Gang]. It was my introduction to hip-hop. I remember walking to the Boys’ Club with my homeboy Trevor, and we’d rap it all the way there. That’s why where [the genre] is now kind of hurts me: We don’t take care of it. Spotify has said there are, like, 8,000 [rappers named] “Lil” on there. No disrespect, but we’ve got [a lot of], “Oh, I’m a rapper now; just add water.” We’ve got a lot of fucking Chia Pets right now taking over [from] the shit that’s really grown from the soil. All these heads growing these fake green leaves. A lot of microwaving, but nothing in the oven. This isn’t coming from a bitter old man; I just know what it is and what it was. I consume it every day, and I feed it to others. Some of these younger cats in the game need to study [hip-hop history] as well. There’s no reason why hip-hop should be worth all this fucking money and DJ Kool Herc doesn’t get $1 million a year from it for creating hip-hop. This man has to damn near beg for money because he has cancer. It’s crazy how much we made, and we don’t give back to the community.
Chery: The first song that ever got stuck in my head was Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s “The Show.” I remember being in the back of the car with an older [relative] driving. When I got my own access in the ’90s, it was about A Tribe Called Quest. It was also about becoming a student of the game and listening to older stuff.
Grayson: Tribe’s “Bonita Applebum” is my one moment. I thought I was her and prayed that Q-Tip was talking to me. There were moments when you could really tell when hip-hop was changing, like when you heard The Chronic, OutKast’s “Player’s Ball” and Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die. You could just breathe different because something fantastic was happening. Before Chronic, rap was dirty samples and jazz. Then all of a sudden it was clean, musical and had this energy.
Drake: I’m from Oakland, Calif., and we used to spend our summers in a very white area of Philadelphia. We experienced a lot of racism when we would go. I remember hearing Tupac Shakur’s “Keep Ya Head Up” and feeling so empowered and beautiful. Like, “Wow, he’s speaking to me and sharing with the whole world how I should be proud and keep my head up.” It really resonated with me.
Big Boy: I have to ask my younger cats: Do you still get that same feeling? Do you really remember when you first heard 6ix9ine or Lil Pump? You’ve got to have those moments.
Nominations are about to come out. Which hip-hop artists are poised to do well at the Grammys?
Chery: Travis Scott should be heavily nominated in the general and rap categories [and] have the kind of year that we’ve seen Kendrick and Kanye have in the past. And Drake basically spent the whole year at No. 1. [Scott is nominated for three Grammys, all in rap categories. Drake is nominated for seven, across categories.]
Drake: And Cardi for album of the year. She had the third top album this year. [Cardi B is nominated for album of the year.]
Chery: And it would be a good snapshot of 2018 if a song such as Cardi’s “I Like It” with Bad Bunny and J Balvin was nominated, not just in rap, but in the general categories. It’s a massive record, a reflection of what’s happening right now with the black and brown worlds converging, with collaborations on both sides. [“I Like It” is nominated for record of the year.]
Big Boy: I wouldn’t be mad watching Cardi do an acceptance speech.