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Lil Xan, Tupac, and hip-hop's (seemingly unforgiving) generational barriers

Trey Alston

 // Mar 28, 2018

Artist // Instagram

As you might have heard, last month, on a scale of Kurt Cobain-glasses and SoundCloud aesthetics, otherwise known as "clout," Lil Xan rated Tupac a 2 out of 9, giving a subsequent shrug before dropping his bombshell opinion that the "California Love" emcee was "boring." The interview with us, REVOLT TV, has since gone viral for his honest admittance and has generated even more headlines since it has aired.

God, if there was ever a more badass introduction into the rap industry, strike me down, immediately. A tattooed, ghoulish teenager using more Auto-Tune than acne adorning the bridge of his nose, dubbed hip-hop's most prestigious legend as anything but. Across the world, pitchforks jolted in the air, torches were emblazoned with fire, and voracious yells filled the sky. As quickly as he came, Lil Xan must have overstayed his welcome. He had to hire police to protect him from upset Tupac fans. Waka Flocka banned him from participating in hip-hop. The list of reactions goes on for miles.

But one of the more surprising co-signs that Xan got came from fellow up-and-comer 03 Greedo. He acknowledged Xan's comments about Tupac and even took them a step further, saying that Pac was "…a bitch ass ni**a." Perhaps 03's verifiable street credentials and more traditional rap scheme have played a factor in the lack of controversy he's received for an equally-harsh assessment of Pac's artistry, but one thing's certain: the newer generation of rappers see Tupac in an entirely different light than the ones before them.

Hip-hop, since its inception, has been a genre measured in decades. Guys come in, guys exit out. What stays throughout the years is a constant, always-changing flow of evolution that dictates the shape of the culture. In the 80s, guys like Eric B. and Rakim pioneered a sound that shaped the decade. The 90s saw boom-bap become the genre's calling card, with acts like A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy ushering in a new domain of political focus. The 2000s got rid of some of the seriousness within the genre and made dance music America's obsession. And the 2010s? Trap music exploded in to one of the most imitated subcultures of hip-hop, becoming its main focus in the process. Every ten years (roughly), the game changes by introducing new characters, ideologies, and aesthetics. Judging by the past, we can expect for 2020 to usher in a new standard that the culture we know and love will change around.

With each change in direction, some of hip-hop's history gets fuddled. Think about how much culture gets lost in this transition, primarily because our genre prioritizes the present in the first place. Artists' achievements and rhyming ability may bring accolades and widespread recognition by peers, but with the rapidly bucking vehicle throwing off as many people as it lets on, legacy can only matter so much. Genuine respect plays a huge part in maintaining the status quo. It's why the concept of homage exists. Why the game's OGs regularly check in with the new school. Why award shows often honor legends' work to let them know that people still pay attention.

With this being said, attempting to connect the legacy of a hip-hop veteran with a new-age rapper, a response along the lines of what Lil Xan said should be expected. The music may not be boring to those who are able to understand and respect the tonal shifts of hip-hop, but this shouldn't be anticipated, or required, of everyone who steps up to the mic. Xan's response suits the idea that decades create new generations of hip-hop that are completely different from each other; tasking a young artist, whose focus is on crafting solely creative works, with fetishizing Pac's thematic-heavy catalog is both absurd and unrealistic.

Pac was a man amongst children, even as an adult. He lived a peremptory life, exclaiming his ideals and pushing for change around the clock. This wasn't a ploy for attention; he'd seen many a hardship coming up. Him giving back wasn't celebrity work, it was a privilege. He had a story to tell, his music was his outlet to get his message across. You can hear his conviction and experiences in Pac's catalog; releases like "Keep Your Head Up" reinforce a positive outlook on life despite any glaring circumstances that keep you down. No matter what song from his entire body of work, people from his generation, as well as some of other ones, identify with it for emotional or nostalgic reasons. He's helped countless individuals cope with circumstances in their lives that were made easier to deal with because of his music.

Lil Xan, on the other hand, is a former drug-endorsing, eccentric rapper that comes from a much different ethnic and financial background than Tupac. His music is atmospheric, trappish, and idiosyncratic; he's as close to post-apocalyptic rap that we'll get before the Rapture. His style is a culmination of the 2010s brutish trap sound that's growing ever closer to an ethereal base for the next decade.

Expecting a 21-year-old rapper, with nearly nothing in common with Tupac other than the fact that they both placed words together over beats, to understand and identify with the "Hit Em Up" rapper's catalogue is unreasonable. The struggles that Tupac portrayed through his music are not the same problems that Xan faces on a daily basis. Hip-hop may be a community created by and largely encompassing of African-American people, but it's grown to be popular culture. Xan isn't black so, for him, Pac is another fallen cowboy on the bucking bull. The differences in their experiences separate the focus of their artistry. Being that the two's music is also geared toward two different audiences, it's nearly impossible to see how Xan would identify with his music in the first place.

Also, the difference in the time periods should help to excuse Xan of any wrongdoing. It's a new day, with new focuses on the horizon. Our music is streamlined and more geared towards leisure and merriment. We're more "woke" then ever before, but our music is decidedly more relaxed. It's most likely not even in Xan's realm of comprehension to make sense of the stuff that Pac talks about in his song. Let apples be apples and oranges be oranges.

Just look at the difference in the focus of lyricism between today and yesterday. In the 90s, if the lyrics weren't it, neither were you. Careers were birthed in the booth, and the public would let you know if your bars were subpar. Tupac wasn't your typical 90s lyrical prodigy; he was a blunt-force rhymer that didn't dance circles around your head with obtuse metaphors and similes. He cut through the fat and just delivered his sermon with such conviction that he'd push society's buttons with every introspective release. On the contrary, Xan is much more careless with what he says. It's a product of the times; his rhymes are nonsensical and unfocused, suited perfectly for partying instead of social commentary. It works for him and this generation, being a reflection of our quick brains that jump to different subjects like frogs on lily pads.

But at the end of the day, it all comes down to respecting someone's right to formulate an opinion. If he doesn't like Tupac's music, that's on him. There's a reason why, just like one may not like Michael Jackson or Elton John's music. That doesn't make them disrespectful, or idiotic – it's just their personal preference. Judging someone's artistry off of this just shouldn't happen.

The resulting backlash is more a telling sign of the growing divide between hip-hop generations that refuse to accept exploration while not acknowledging the fact that this same experimentation created the aspect of the culture that they love in the first place. Xan, although articulate with his rhymes, is classified by some in hip-hop circles as "mumble rap," a blanket term used by fans of the genre to castigate artists that don't adhere to traditional rap mainstays. Being that he appears white – he's actually Hispanic, but let Twitter tell it and he's pastier than Eminem – what he says about rap is unfairly scrutinized. Combine both of these facts together and you have a scenario that older rap fans salivate over: a fresh face, counter to what they've known and loved about the culture, to pick at until he goes away. In the desert, it's akin to a gathering of vultures preparing to pick a fresh corpse clean.

Waka Flocka's now viral tweet claiming to ban Xan from hip-hop is shocking, and depressing. Does our opinion on legendary artists' catalogs make our right to record music invalid? If so, who has the authority to remove us from the equation? This looks to create a troubling future for hip-hop – especially with "mumble rap" becoming what looks to be the face of the next wave of the culture.

Imagine in twenty years when what we know about hip-hop is archaic, and new, branching styles of recording exist. "Mumble rap" could possibly evolve into the biggest thing in the industry, endorsed by every aspect of pop culture. When we look back at the beginning of it, as controversial as it already is, how many new artists' catalogs will be deemed invalid if they didn't believe in it in the beginning? What if they too don't believe that Tupac's catalog was the best fit for them? Will the genre continuously splinter off into different factions and effectively become lost in the pages of history?

The main reason why Xan's opinion does matter is that hip-hop is a culture of openness and understanding. It was a counter-culture to the status quo in the 1970s. It's conflicting by nature, antagonistic and rowdy. It comments on social issues, injects life into the party, and tells stories that the public needs to hear. Through these aspects, it's therapeutic in nature, inviting artists to get personal to create the most honest and vulnerable work for their listeners. It would be a disservice to not voice this same veracity outside of the booth as in it. He said how he felt, and he meant it. If anything, he should be rewarded for having the guts to say it.

Now, as fans of Tupac, we shouldn't harass him. Tupac wouldn't even want that; he'd respect Xan's opinion and push for others to embrace their own. He probably wouldn't even care about a "clout scale" anyway. It's just another indicator of changing generations and focuses that determine what makes rappers relevant in 2018. In 2023, it'll be something else. Who knows, next time, the artist may say that Future's music is boring. Will super-fans of the Atlanta lyricist jump to defend him, cursing the artist who had the audacity to comment on his run? Or will they allow him to speak his mind? For the sake of the genre, and attempting to understand the new age, the latter needs to happen.

It looks like Xan has already turned the other cheek. He recently performed Pac's "California Love" while in Pomona, California, taking the time during the show's meet-and-greet to tell the crowd that he thinks Pac really is a legend. Hopefully, his attempt at appeasement to the older generation of hip-hop gatekeepers will be reciprocated with understanding and conciliation on the other side. Once the gates that block understanding of each generation come down, the culture will truly elevate into something that withstands the test of time.

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