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September 4, 2012
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Which artist or album, regardless of when it was released, can you play when Blue Ivy Carter is 16 and STILL have it be relevant at the time?”

By definition, “classic” means something that is the perfect example of a particular style; something of lasting worth or timeless quality. On the flipside it is a musical genre made famous by the likes of Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and many others from the classical music genre.

We have come to know a variety of these genres as music has evolved. Musicians have been crowned and knighted by their fan-base for their efforts and contributions to the industry, including their ability to stir their listeners’ emotions.

In the early 90s we saw a growing number of South African hip-hop heads take to makeshift studios and songs were born. The international influence was evident in the lyrics, dress code and dialect of our musicians yet the message was proudly South African. By any standard, your POC’s are the foundation of the genre in SA. They had videos, radio stations banned their music, they also spawned the careers of Amu (SAMA winner artist/producer) and Ishmael (Former Skeem member, Jozi member & producer). So my question is this, would you list their album as a “classic”?

The SA hip-hop industry is recovering from the aftermath of Hype Magazine’s “Top 50 Rappers in SA List”, after the heated debate surrounding which artists should and shouldn’t be part of the list’s acclaim. Fair enough, each person is entitled to their own opinion on who deserves to be at the pinnacle of the hip-hop game, but what is your personal criterion? How does anyone deduce whether an artist’s work is worthy to be crowned a “classic”? The term however is now more than ever loosely attached to something as diminutive as a song that has 10 plays on your playlist. When I asked a few fans why they referred  to a piece of music as “classic”, the response I usually get is “This sh*t bangs!” So I guess that directly means that today’s “classics” don’t need to last a month after a thousand spins at your local club.  What does that say about the music you place as the foundation to you listening to hip-hop?

Many a hip-hop enthusiast will point to Nas’ “Illmatic”, Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ready to Die”, Tupac’s “All Eyez on Me”, The Roots’ “Illadelph Halflife”, Big Pun’s “Capital Punishment”, Jay-Z’s “Reasonable Doubt”, DJ Step One’s “Infinite”, Wu Tang Clan’s “36 Chambers” and similar albums on that deep hip-hop tip as “classic” albums. (And if you never heard of any from the list above; Google is your friend). In South Africa, which albums get the nod in your opinion? Which artist or album, regardless of when it was released, can you play when Blue Ivy Carter is 16 and STILL have it be relevant at the time?

When we speak of a “classic” album we refer to the package in its entirety; production, lyrics, delivery, style engineering and relevance… all of those elements in one. We are not saying if one album has that one song that tears a club apart then the album gets the place in this elite box. Don’t get it twisted. Last week’s banger is kicked out by this week’s heat but a “classic” album will endure endless spins over the years from start to finish with a tinge of nostalgia ringing through you each time you indulge in that fine craftsmanship called timeless music.

Take a look at your “classic” albums list; is the criterion in synergy with the entire package? Are all those albums masterpieces in every sense of the word? Ask yourself that question before labelling just about anything with this endearing “classic” idiom. The trick is not to abuse this honourable expression.

Written by Siphiwe Zwane (@siphiwe_junior)

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