As usual, Macklemore has remained a polarizing character in most hip-hop circles, but this time he appeared alongside some of the most respected pioneers in the history of the genre, and if featuring them on a single wasn't enough, they also performed "Downtown" at this year's MTV VMAs. It brought up the question, should revered legends be mixing it up with an artist who's status in hip-hop is questionable at best? If they've given the stamp of approval, does it mean anything to anyone in 2015?
While Kane spoke out in the week following the performance, he in ways questioned why the three legends hadn't been called upon before. Melle Mel held no punches, he named names and defended Macklemore while questioning the intentions of some of this generations most loved artists, but with all due respect, he is beyond wrong with his assessment, and here's why.
Jay-Z has been in the game for the better part of the past 25 years. He came up on their generation to an extent, he was the protege of Jaz-O, and toured with Big Daddy Kane in the late 80s, and 90s. With that being said, I'm not aware of any time Caz, Moe Dee or Melle Mel "reaching back" to help a young Shawn Carter. While it's no question he received help from quite a few people, those three were not any of them. With the exception of the role they played in pioneering the art of MCing, and advancing the culture overall, he owes them nothing more than the respect I'm sure he already has for them.
On his 2001 single "Izzo" ('The Blueprint') he pays homage to The Cold Crush Brothers, mentioning them by name in the songs 2nd verse, before proclaiming to overcharge major labels for how they exploited the culture's earliest pioneers. This was 14 years ago, in the height of not only his career, but also during his legendary battle with NaS. Furthermore on that same album he featured Slick Rick, Biz Markie, and Q-Tip on his single "Girls, Girls, Girls", if that's not "reaching back", I don't know what is.
Kendrick Lamar for all intents and purposes has a different set of pioneers as a west coast MC. On his major label debut, 'Good Kid, Maad City', he had a buzz big enough to place a call to any MC in the game, but instead of tapping Ice Cube, Ice-T or Kurupt he featured West Coast legend, MC Eiht on the track "m.a.a.d. City". Eiht is every bit the gangsta rap pioneer while he has never gotten his proper due, his group Compton's Most Wanted was offering up a brand of music just as gritty as the more celebrated NWA during that era, helping to usher in the funk influenced, street orientated, style the West Coast would come to be known for in the following decade.
While Kendrick is probably the biggest artists in hip-hop, he introduced MC Eiht to a whole different generation of fans on both coasts. On his latest album ('To Pimp A Butterfly') the single "King Kunta" was influenced by the late Mausberg, the protege of west coast legend DJ Quick. He shot the video at the now closed Compton Fashion Center, paying homage not only to his city as gentrification sets in, but also paying tribute to 2Pac, who shot scenes for his video "To Live & Die In LA", where a 9 year-old Kendrick was there to witness.
The album also features funk legend George Clinton, who's Parliament-Funkadelic influenced the way Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five dressed amongst other things. In ways he's an OG to them, and once again Kendrick introduced him and his sound to another generation of music listeners. For good measure, the album also features Ron Isley on "How Much A Dollar Cost". On the hip-hop side, Snoop Dogg appears on "Institutionalized" and the album closes with a rare interview with the late great 2Pac himself. Is that not reaching back?
In the case of J Cole, while he doesn't have the features with "legendary" artists from the 70s or 80s, he has more than paid homage to those who paved the way for him. He dedicated an entire song on his sophomore album ('Born Sinner') to his disappointment with letting NaS down by making the song "The Workout". He sampled "The Art Of Story Telling" (Outkast and Slick Rick) on "Land Of The Snakes". Also sampled A Tribe Called Quest's "Electric Relaxation", name drops every group memeber, (even Jarobi) on "Forbidden Fruit" (which also features Kendrick). 50 Cent lends the hook to "New York Times", while his name may not hold the weight of previously mentioned legends, he is a legend in his own right and is quite the veteran, making his debut on Onyx's "React" almost 20 years ago.
On his debut, 'The Sideline Story' he tapped Missy Elliott for the hook on "Nobody's Perfect". While she was huge in the late 90s, early 2000s, the average teenage rap fan wasn't familiar with her or her catalog to an extent. Cole helped reintroduce Missy's music to the world after half a decade away, battling lupus. On many occasions, Cole has more than shown that he is a fan of the culture first and foremost. On his lastest album, '2014 Forest Hills Drive' he pays homage to the great Rakim, as the 2 of them share the same birthday, on the appropriately titled, "January 28th". Name dropping Slick Rick and Big Daddy Kane along the way, but that doesn't seem to impress Melle Mel much.
With all due respect, Melle Mel sounds like a bitter old rapper, a good 30 years removed from relevancy. Of course none of the artists he mentioned want his 1983-ass flow on their tracks, hip-hop has passed him by. In fact that's been the case since the days of Run DMC. The culture has left the Melle Mels, Caz and Moe Dees' in the dust. I'm surprised he's even being interviewed in 2015, but I guess doing a song with someone as corny as Macklemore was the only way he could get a camera in his face and extend a 15 minutes that has long expired since KRS One went at him on "Still #1".
As an OG, I don't think having Macklemore reintroduce you to his fanbase is doing anything for his legacy, whether or not he's willing to admit it is another thing. Name dropping the who's who in today's hip hop comes off as nothing more than a cry for attention via his convoluted interpretation of respect. Unlike Macklemore, the artists he mentioned have nothing to prove to the hip hop world, and most definitely not to the original shiney suit rapper.
Hip hop is a young man's sport, if anyone should know that it should be Mel, Moe Dee and Caz. Moe Dee made his name by pulling the exact same card on Busy Bee, in one of the cultures first legendary battle. While Mel was on the wrong side when a then unknown KRS One challenged him in the mid 80s. It's simply the evolution of the art form, while they may need to know who these 3 legends are, the average 20 something year old could care less. That's not anyone's fault per se, so no one should be pointing fingers.
While Mel complains, there are many legends who's careers are still striving, and not by making enemies of the new generations but by offering counsel and an occasional guest verse. Bay Area legend E-40 was featured on Big Sean's hit single "IDFWU" in 2014. Meanwhile Common featured upstarts Lil Herb, Dreezy and Vince Staples on last year's 'Nobody's Smiling'. So one hand certainly does wash the other, so if Mel, Caz or Moe Dee feel slighted by the new generation, why not make an album and reach forward to this generation of MCs? Houston legend Bun B has made himself available not only for features, but also for advice to anyone willing to take it. Snoop Dogg has time and time again reinvented his sound with the passing times and has built relationships with artists across generational lines. So if Mel wants to be respected as an OG, he must keep in mind that it works both ways.