You can tell, because KRS-One made a record saying that it wasn’t.The funny thing about KRS’s track, and (even more) the video, is that it’s all about the past.
A friend of mine said to me when Kanye West’s last record came out that he liked it, but it wasn’t hip-hop. I didn’t really get what he meant at the time (I mean, it’s a bloke talking over records, what more do you need, right?). But then I saw a repeat of Jimmy Kimmel with a performance from West, which got me thinking, and then Tha Carter III came out, which got me thinking even more. Maybe this is the early moments of a new genre, in much the same way that R&B arouse out of soul and disco in the late 80s. With Graduation and Tha Carter III (or perhaps Common’s Be is a better place to tag as the starting point?) hip-hop has generated a new form of pop music, something which has been implicit in hip-hop’s de facto position as the dominant genre for some time, but is perhaps beginning to lead to a formal reorganization only now.
This makes sense of KRS-One’s “Hip-Hop Lives.” He misses the point, of course: hip-hop’s death doesn’t mean that no-one listens to hip-hop any more, or even that no-one makes it. But it does mean that hip-hop is a specific and closed set of tropes: exactly, in fact, the set of tropes reproduced and reinforced by KRS’s video. Hip-hop now occupies the same position as jazz, in that it’s a genre as an object of curation, rather than as a catalyst for a movement. Hip-hop continues to be produced, then, but either as a kind of painstaking old-school reconstruction or a mainstream pastiche; the latter, of course, is best exemplified by 50 Cent, the Harry Connick, Jr. of gangsta rap.