I listen to and am subscribed to a lot of podcasts. A lot. I listen to the requisite This American Life, Radiolab, and WTF with Marc Maron. Meet the Composer is another favourite. But I also listen to a slew of rap-centered podcasts. You know the ones: Juan Epstein, Rap Radar Podcast, The Combat Jack Show, and Microphone Check.

Unless the artist is a pioneer or has been around for awhile, I'm not really into the artist-based rap podcast episodes. Of course, there are exceptions. Anderson .Paak interviews are always good because, like in his music, he has no problem talking about his life and the decisions that got him where he is. I enjoy D.R.A.M. interviews too. He's a good brother.

But what I really enjoy listening to when I listen to rap podcasts, the reason that I subscribe to rap podcasts in the first place, are the behind-the-scenes people. I'm talking the episodes with A&Rs, Managers, and Record Executives. Hearing how they develop artists and projects and their perspective on the musical landscape is always inspiring.

And something that they all have in common is they say this:

"I do it for the culture."

I used to know what that meant. Hip-Hop was a movement. But now, now in 2017, now that rap music is as mainstream and pop as Hanson once were or One Direction is now, what culture are we talking about?

One of my last graf related drawings, 30 May 92, five students and two months into being 120.


What people call Hip-Hop nowadays is so questionable that I automatically assume that people are talking about the rap industry and keep it moving.

I can't state enough , that's not the world I grew up in. While people like my brother, Wakeel Allah, would always debate you if you called Hip-Hop a culture, I used to stand firm on that belief, because I lived it.

What used to frustrate me about Wakeel having that argument was he lived it too. Over time, I learned that he rapped and DJ'd. I wrote (did graf) and was a minor b-boy. But what we had in common was our love of the music. And what music are we talking about? Each and everything that made Hip-Hop what it is: the funk, the soul, the blues, the jazz, everything. If you loved the music of Hip-Hop, it almost went without saying that you loved music. But that was just the entry point.

If you were in "The Culture," your role required two things: Study and Practice. If you were a writer, you studied letters everywhere. You studied them in comics, on billboards, magazines, everywhere. Nowadays a person who does that would likely become a student of typeface, go on to design their own fonts, or become a graphic artist. We studied letters to improve our own. To get up. Having a good arsenal of letters is what determined what type of writer you were. Being able to apply the right form of letters for the right occasion showed that you studied.

You could only master that through practice. Anyone who knows me knows that I did absolutely nothing in class between the 7th and 11th grade but draw. That was it. If I wasn't drawing characters, I was working on some form of letters -- whether that was wildstyle or just simple, easy to read letters. I would find a word (four or five letter words were the best) and that would be my focus for that class.

If I was drawing a character, I would be designing my own style of Adidas or Nike or whatever shoe was in at the time. I would alter the current trends in clothing to fit whatever drawing I was doing. That's all I did until I decided I wanted to go to college.

Then that just stopped.

Me and my older brother had been studying the history of Hip-Hop since first stumbling on Steven Hager's groundbreaking book Hip-Hop: The Illustrated History of Break Dancing, Rap Music, and Graffiti back in 1985 (the Kindle version of the book is nothing in comparison to the actual book which you'll have to pay at least $200 to own.)

So when I finally made it to college, I changed my focus. Sure, I knew a few people that continued to get up while we were in school... I ain't have that in me. Straight up. I decided to focus on the least mentioned aspect of Hip-Hop, the knowledge.

Like everything else, that required study and practice. Due to the fact that there were few books on the culture of Hip-Hop at that time, one had to learn to mine various sources -- Village Voice, New York Times, Billboard, etc. because even though my major wasn't history, when writing a term paper (which I did several times) on Hip-Hop, something that many professors saw to be juvenile in the early '90s, the work of an historian was required.

In general, professional historians consider it a failing to rely so closely on a single work by another historian for whole passages in any event, even when attributed... David D. Fitzpatrick, NYT.

And there was a standard to compare my studies to. The work being done in The Source by dream hampton, Jonathan Shecter, and many others was thought-provoking, well-researched work. To achieve that level of scholarship, required study and lots of practice. That was the time - the early to mid-90s.

I've written in other places about how the role of the DJ shifted to production. It's important to note that to do that type of work in that time - make beats on those machines, and I tried - required a hell of a lot of patience and practice. A novice wasn't claiming to make a beat in five minutes. You could barely figure out how to get a beat to loop in five minutes if you were using a classic sampler for the first time.

Rap was still competitive. Rappers studied other's flows, found different ways to talk about similar topics, or simply told different tales altogether. Rap changed and progressed because there was a high bar to reach. Treach is nice. I need to do better. Nas is phenomenal. I need to do better. Damn, Biggie. Man, Snoop. If you were a rapper then, you damn well better study and practice. No way were you going to be mentioned in the same breath as those MCs without doing so.

Hip-Hop didn't seem like something that anyone could do.

But it's all different now.

Perhaps you're familar with Steve Stoute's concept of The Tanning of America. Stoute posits that color has been more or less blended into one tan color, making the old way of marketing to one demographic obsolete. Stoute holds that the great equalizer has been Hip-Hop. He proudly proclaims that this Tanning was the driving force behind the election of President Obama.

Four years later, with a failed businessman, tyrant, bully, little-handed, reality show star as President, I'm not quite sure how well that theory holds up. I will maintain that rap music is now common. Rap music is used to sell everything. Rap is listened to by every race, creed, and color of human on the planet. Rap music is popular all over the world.

But is that "The Culture?"

In this writer's estimation, rap music is just another form of entertainment -- no different than movies, television, or video games. The lead headlines in "The Culture" just a few days into the Gregorian year of 2017 have been -- rapper beefs with singer, dj beefs with former group, rap couple breaks up -- gossip at best. Is "The Culture" the way that we dress? How is that distinct anymore? Is "The Culture" how we express ourselves? That is where I agree with Stoute, everyone uses the same forms of expressions nowadays. So what is "The Culture?"

I'm not asking because I know. It's a genuine question. Being into Hip-Hop in the formative years was like constantly being under siege. The music wasn't approved of by your parents. The music wasn't supported by mainstream media. I once had a girl threaten to break up with me if me and my four man "crew" didn't stop breakdancing in the gym during lunch. She was embarrassed by my graf-covered notebook. That was all a part of being down with Hip-Hop in those early years.

Some of us saw where rap going mainstream would lead, and cries were made out then. But in the sight of millions of dollars, now billions, that ball was rolling. And it continues to roll. So when I hear "The Culture" now, my mind just goes to that - dollars -because outside of that I have no idea.

If someone wants to steer me in the right direction and tell me what exactly "The Culture" is in 2017, feel free. Thanks in advance.

sdq is a Noisey Vice, Cuepoint, writer that's been studying the culture of Hip-Hop for over 30 years. He also hosts an internet rap radio show that can be found here and tweets his complaints at Arsenal's propensity to pass too much @sdq0218. For more of his writing, head here.