When you walk into Hieroglyphics HQ in East Oakland, you are greeted by a voluminous warehouse. It has white walls, cement floors and comfy couches scattered about. The warehouse and surrounding neighborhood have a rugged appearance at times, but while inside the art-covered building it feels like an oasis of culture. It’s the perfect place to relax or get work done on a Friday at the Hiero Beats Cafe, or to check out a Wax Poetic Audio Exhibit. This wave of community-renewing events is the brainchild of wordsmith Pep Love. He came up in the 90s and 00s with gems like Ascension and Rigamarole under his belt, but Pep Love is still going strong with more recent releases like the uplifting single “Everybody” and EP Fly Philosophy. I had some time to sit down and talk to Pep about the current state of hip hop, and his words attest to the changes he’s seen in the culture throughout his career as an artist.
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the generation gap in hip hop. Do you feel like there really is a generation gap? Why do you think there is or isn’t one?
Some of the generation gap, and static shit that we see in hip hop is based on what happened in the ghettos in America. The crack epidemic made it to where…there was a broken link in the chain. It created a generational gap between some of the younger guys and some of the older guys. They didn’t grow up with positive male role models, so they are not interested in what older folks have to say.
I don’t need to be a teenager to make music. I get better over time. I’ll be better at rap 10 years from now than I am now, if I keep doing it.
Hip hop overall is a young culture. My generation is the first that grew up listening to hip hop. No generation of fans that came before us did. They grew up listening to funk and disco, and then started making rap. Youth now look at hip hop in terms of generations, but we don’t, because there was no generation that came before us. Now there are generations. There’s an assumption of younger guys, that generations come and you pass the baton. They think there’s always been generations, but that’s not the case. We can’t see ourselves as being like “oh we’ve got to a certain age so it’s time to put rap away now.” But wait a minute, who created that rule? We created rap. There’s this assumption that older MCs hang up the mic. Like the workforce, but that doesn’t apply to art. For instance, you can’t be a garbageman forever, your back might start to go, whatever, but for art, that’s not the case. Living in a capitalist, consumerist society – it is always trying to leverage people. Slavery is the foundation. Always trying to leverage people to be part of the labor base. When rappers talk about retiring, I’m like, so are you about to get your benefits? Even using the term retirement implies that you are working for somebody.
It’s good to be reinforced by other people, but it’s most important to just keep going and developing your own style, your own unique voice. I just feel like a lot of these things that people want to impose on rap music…rap music was created to go against the mainstream, and a lot of these things are just mainstream thinking, mainstream-dominant culture thinking. Labor force, age of being productive. Talking about being productive in the labor force, like being able to bust up the chifforobe or whatever.
The thinking of the labor force is the thinking of the masses–they want the masses to think like that so a lot of people will do a lot of work for a little bit of money, while a very small number of people make all the profit and live comfortably. The record business is the record business. Hip hop is hip hop, and it has a subculture to it, but the record business is making a lot of money, they’re gonna try to squeeze it for all of its juice. They want to squeeze more juice than rap, without rap squeezing back. Washing out some of the counterculture makes it so that rap doesn’t squeeze back.
You mentioned the record labels…how do you think mainstream popularity overall has affected hip hop?
Reaching the masses, many people at once, is not what counterculture is about. Counterculture is about the brewing storm, it’s about you know, just galvanizing people who have a certain special interest in something. It’s almost asking something that you can’t ask. It’s like trying to have your cake and eat it too, for rap to be this huge mainstream phenomenon when also it’s supposed to be the underground street culture where people who want to change the world come together. Those two things contradict each other. But there’s somehow some counterculture in the Migos, and there’s some mainstream in Oddisee. Even though hip hop has been commercialized, they have not been able to wash all of the counterculture out of it. It will never be accepted fully by the whole mainstream.