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Hipsters Can't Ruin Hip-Hop Because Hipsters Don't Exist

"Hipsters" are a fictional construct, an army of imaginary scapegoats in trucker hats perched perilously on top of both a five-panel and a snapback.

by Skinny Friedman
Apr 24 2014, 4:00pm


This is what you get when you conduct a Google Image search for "hipster."

There is yet another article making the internet rounds blaming “hipsters” for destroying the sanctity of hip-hop. As usual, the piece starts somewhere useful (issues of race and class in hip-hop fandom) but quickly goes deep into the author’s private mind garden where KRS-One could stop the NSA if only we would “respect the culture” or something.

Arguments about who does and does not have a claim to rap are tedious as hell, clouded with so many levels of assumptions about who likes what, why they like it, and when they started liking it that the important issues at the core rarely shine through. It’s rarely a fight worth fighting, but this article is particularly annoying because it blames “hipsters.” That’s annoying because “hipsters” don’t exist.

A decade ago, there was maybe—MAYBE—a semi-cohesive "hipster" identity centered around American Apparel, PBR, fixed gears, and bands like Interpol. That's no longer the case, if it ever even was. American Apparel is just another ubiquitous national chain, and PBR is one of many reliable cheap beers. Meanwhile Interpol—as well as most bands of their ilk—hasn't mattered in a long time. Fixies are just another offshoot of the larger bike culture. In the modern day, all these things are mainstream in their own way, or at least not sufficiently related to describe any one scene.

But these days, "hipsters" are a fictional construct, an army of imaginary scapegoats in trucker hats perched perilously on top of both a five-panel and a snapback. They are incorrigible vegans in annoying shirts about bacon, guzzling both craft beer and Pabst Blue Ribbon. They ruined hip-hop by writing about it and ruined Coachella by attending it. Hipsters, running community-centric urban farms and destroying neighborhoods with their condos. Fucking hipsters!

The problem is while nobody can say what a hipster is, people still talk about hipsters en masse as if they are a discrete subset of the population. Even while hipsterdom is an arbitrary distinction, hipsters get blamed for ruining neighborhoods, scenes and, in this case, entire genres of music. It's pretty open for interpretation. I've seen dudes ride up to tattoo shops on fixies complaining about hipsters. I've heard white dudes in Brooklyn tell me they don't want to go to Union Pool because of all the hipsters. The couple I saw playing a cover of "Royals" on mandolin and cello at the Metropolitan G station are hipsters, and I'm definitely a hipster because, as we all know, everyone who's ever written for VICE is a fucking hipster.

It's especially dangerous because the term is often shorthand for "rich white kids." Any reference to hipsters can carry an implication of race and class even when it isn't intended; to use it is to risk making a statement about what kind of people do and don't belong in a certain scene or place. Somehow hipster is both totally meaningless and still discriminatory. The author in question rails against “hipsters” but only defines his targets as SPIN, Gawker, Fader, and Pitchfork. Anybody who actually reads these sites knows they each have distinct voices. We can quibble over their points of view and the diversity of their writers, but as a whole, they don’t really have anything in common unless you count “being websites."

This may seem hypocritical coming from someone who’s done a few pieces about who should and should not write about rap. But really, it’s not about who you are, it’s about how informed you are. In this day and age you could be a white kid from rural Canada and still be up on your shit as long as you do your research. One shining example is the London-based blog Southern Hospitality, still one of the best places to stay up on what’s bubbling underneath despite their geographical disadvantage.

So this is a PSA. if you are going to make a statement about hipsters, do yourself a favor: stop, think, and say what you really mean. If you mean "white people" then stand by your racial judgement. Don't hide it behind the vagueries of hipsterdom. If you mean "trust fund kids" then say that too. Don't hide your feelings about the long arm of generational wealth behind a piece of outdated slang. If you mean "rappers in tight pants" I guess just go listen to your reissue of Illmatic again. But please stop talking about “hipsters.” They don’t exist.

Skinny Friedman is a writer, DJ, and cat owner living in Brooklyn. He's on Twitter - @skinny412

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