Run-DMC is my favourite group of all time and literally my introduction to rap music and hip-hop culture. When I first heard them, I knew they were something new and special. They referred to their style as “all brand new, never-ever old school” and back then, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant.
Now, old school is a term that people throw around for anything that is a few years old. But for hip-hop, old school is a clearly defined era. Dart Adams breaks down the history in his new book, The Book of Dart. He writes . . .
“The Old Schoolers, who came up performing at block parties, jams, school gyms, and then moved up to clubs, resented those New Schoolers who recorded and made LP’s. The Old Schoolers, who mostly never got the same opportunities to record albums, felt that the New Schoolers hadn’t paid their dues. They especially resented the fact that New Schoolers were eclipsing their popularity, despite the fact that they hadn’t spent years honing their craft in the same fashion that the Old Schoolers had done.”
Of course, rap music reached a much larger audience when it became commercially available through records.
“This new rap audience didn’t remember a time before records, a time when one had to rely strictly on secondhand audio cassette tapes from park jams. To this new rap audience, the so-called ‘New School’ and ‘Old School’ was indistinguishable. They just preferred some rap groups and emcees to others for various reasons.”
Dart breaks down how and why musical tastes get entrenched in us when we are young.
“Young people typically develop their sense of taste or preferences in music, art, and film or and begin to assert their individuality between the ages of 9 and 14. Incidentally, in urban music, a new generation or wave happens every 3 to 5 years. Black music became album based between 1967 and 1968. This is around the same time that graffiti first spread throughout New York City.”
This creates multiple generations of rap fans. It isn’t as simple as old school and new school.
“Every 3 to 5 years, rap had these new ‘generations’ that forced many rappers and groups to tap out because they couldn’t compete with the new breed of rappers, and producers or adapt to the new rap terrain following the newest innovations, technologies, techniques or style evolutions. Back when rap and hip hop were still very much considered ‘youth culture,’ it made sense that teenagers were capable of making classics so the young lions could actually best the old lions and usurp them. It isn’t much different from when the new skateboarding tricks sprung up in the mid- to late ‘80s that forced several previous generations of pro skateboarders out of competitions that weren’t capable of frequently landing them.”
In the past, new artists would knock older ones out of the spotlight. But that doesn’t necessarily happen anymore.
“The fact is, the new waves of emcees can’t force the old ones out of the game anymore. This puts rap into a new space that it’s never experienced before. And my generation, the one that retreated to the underground like the Morlocks from the “X-Men” comic books, is in large part to blame for this generation chasm. We’re the ones who broke away and didn’t do for the youth what the older kids did for us. We let our little brothers, sisters and cousins gleefully recite “Bling Bling” while retreated to our headphones and played Common & Sadat X’s 1999 to combat it rather than actively bridging the gap. Now I’m just left sitting in front of a MacBook wondering ‘What if?’”
The old school artists generally didn’t make records. Their’s was performance art. New school artists came into the game when rap music entered the music business. There art was recorded and distributed that through records, cassettes, CDs, MP3s. and now, streaming. There have been various waves of music and eras since all of this started to happen back in 1979. One of the coolest things about rap music today is that we have older artists still making records. And we have historians and writers like Dart Adams breaking it down for us.
If you want to get further in-depth, check out the interview I did with his this week on Word is Bond Rap Radio.
I love his new book and highly recommend it. You won’t be disappointed reading any of his work. This I guarantee.