Sonny Digital on Hip-Hop’s Generation Gap: ‘You Can’t Hold Them for Not Knowing About Tupac’

In an era where staunch defenders of classic, lyrical hip-hop are pitted against the young, mumble rap generation, Sonny Digital feels everyone should chill out.

While there’s no shortage of lyricism in hip-hop today, it’s arguably gotten harder for fans of classic boom bap to find what they’re looking for. The term "mumble rap" didn’t even exist a few years ago, marking a clear demarcation between the focus on tight lyrics to a series of more nebulous traits such as melody, ad-libs, and unintelligible wordplay.

To be honest, this old head got all the confirmation he needed last February when Lil Xan called Tupac Shakur — the Jesus of rap, idol, and inspiration to all Top 5 list nominees everywhere — and his music “boring.” However, fundamentalism doesn’t move the culture forward, and old heads such as myself need to make more of an effort to give this new generation a chance to redefine hip-hop for themselves. Sonny Digital, who recently collaborated with Xan for his single “I Got,” feels strongly about just that — giving these youngins a break.

In an interview with XXL, Sonny urges the movement of staunchly defensive lovers of classic hip-hop to consider the newer generations experience with the culture, or lack thereof, before becoming overly combative — with specific regards to Xan.

“Lil Xan, I’m not sure how old he is, but I know he’s young,” said Sonny. “A lot of these young kids, you can’t hold them for not knowing about Tupac and stuff. That’s not what they grew up listening to. The same people that’s bashing them for not knowing Tupac, you can't kinda bash them for not knowing all the hits from when they parents was alive.”

To be fair, Sonny has a point. As someone who grew up on 'Pac, B.I.G., Nas, Jay, and Em, it took me a while to go back to hip-hop’s early years and familiarize myself with Grandmaster Flash, the Juice Crew, and learn about the history of this culture. Whether or not most of these young rappers will do the same in regards to Tupac isn’t clear — but it shouldn’t become a motivation to alienate and dismiss. At least, that’s how Sonny feels. “I just don’t hold it against him, though…that’s not they era,” he said. “If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t.” And in perhaps the biggest missed opportunity to reference Pac’s “Life Goes On,” Sonny concluded, “Life gon’ keep going on.”

Now, for a huge portion of passionate hip-hop fans, the 1990s are the Golden Era of this here game. It was a time where production was at a sweet spot, with producers like DJ Premier, J. Dilla, and Q-Tip providing the aural foundation and soundscape for some of the most legendary MCs of all time to spit thunder. That fact alone, perhaps, is why defenders of this period are so disillusioned with the current landscape of “Lil’s” and pill-popping mumble rappers of today. To Sonny Digital, though, arguing from that standpoint isn’t fair.

“If you wanted to really flip it on people — if that’s the case, you should know everything about hip-hop,” said Sonny. “All the people that’s going hard about that, you can’t just be all-knowing about that one specific part,” presumably referring to Tupac’s era.

And while this seemingly endless debate will undoubtedly continue for years to come, Sonny is more interested in getting his new project with Jimmy Wopo out there, Jimmy Digital, and taking care of his kid. “I’m raising my son right now, and trying to make some fire music,” he said.

And in the end, that is perhaps the only thing we can all agree on demanding from our artists — to do their best, both professionally and personally.

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