Some melodrama went down at New York hip-hop radio station Hot 97's annual Summer Jam this weekend. Before the show, morning-show host Peter Rosenberg publicly dissed headliner Nicki Minaj for her increasing pop appeal: "I see the real hip-hop heads sprinkled in here. I see them. I know there are some chicks here waiting to sing ‘Starships' later - I'm not talking to y'all right now." "Starships" refers to Nicki's current screaming pop-house hit.
He's previously derided "Starships" as "the most sellout song in hip-hop history," as if selling out were still a thing. The idea that art and commerce are at odds is a remnant of an old culture war. This is dogma that is presented as forward thinking but really just protects an old, outmoded mean, to say nothing of creating the unusual and very modern spectacle of a white man's deriding a black woman for not sufficiently upholding hip-hop's values.
But no genre has reconciled art and commerce more aggressively and with more flair than hip-hop, which also sustains several underground wings. That was demonstrated by the preshow, which was a who's who of recent hip-hop comers, driven heavily by Internet success, not radio play: the mesmerizing Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q, both from Los Angeles and ASAP Rocky of Harlem, probably just a step away from a main-stage performance.
Selling out was once a thing that rappers obsessed over, often to their own self-defeating peril. In one of the most hilarious examples, EPMD's biggest hit was "Crossover," an infectious bitchfest about going pop. There is something to be said for the fear of selling out enforcing a level of quality control — even someone as soft as LL Cool J never would have worked with the New Kids on the Block, whereas Justin Bieber is an occasional crossover collaborator, most likely because of the attention he can grab and/or units he can move for what has become a crumbling, fear-driven industry.
That said, there's room for everyone doing everything. If you don't like it, don't listen to it. Bury your head in the sand of the less radio-friendly fare Caramanica discusses above. Free love, everybody.
Caramanica's piece is worth reading in full. It's remarkable, really, that an anti-climactic, largely underwhelming festival could inspire this anti-snobbery screed and a sharp summary of the state of hip-hop, and it says a lot about Caramanica's talent as a cultural arbiter. But even at this juncture, hip hop will always be a venue for the great spectacle of beef: it's rumored that Nicki, an unfortunate no-show in the end, was going to stage a fake funeral for her arch-nemesis Lil' Kim during her set. Some values will never change.