As these things do, it all started in G-chat.
"I am listening to Nirvana's Bleach right now. I love this damn album.
1. Is it in danger of becoming classic rock?
(Subtext: How old am I?)
2. What criteria makes something classic rock?"
I agonized over the question: What is the next "classic rock?" Eventually, I pondered the question into oblivion and forgot about it. But the other day, a 40-ish-year-old friend and I were discussing favorite Beatles songs, then he wanted a lesson in Kanye West.
So I return to my initial hypothesis. Maybe hip hop is the "classic rock" of today's 20- and 30-somethings. I'm applying a broad definition to the term, obviously, that does not require the music to be anything like what we currently consider classic rock. What I'm searching for is the music of this era that will last, the stuff we'll play for our kids and will still hold cultural significance decades from now.
Hip hop was revolutionary at its start, no doubt. Is Tupac vs. Biggie our Beatles vs. Stones? The former pair had a tiny fraction of the time the latter did, but ... well, argue amongst yourselves about legendary statuses. Is Kanye changing music the way classic rock heavyweights did? My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is pretty much universally recognized as a game-changer. It can be argued that the Beastie Boys do what Elvis did, bringing black music to a mainstream white audience, only they were immersed in the culture instead of covering it.
Legendary status and revolutionary music are solid criteria. But there's still Nirvana's status to consider. Nevermind changed everything, too, and the band is already getting play on classic rock radio stations.
Though Kurt Cobain is gone, we still have Dave Grohl. Months after that first G-chat conversation, the same friend points out today: "You know Foo Fighters are going to be touring arenas in 2035."
Add longevity to the criteria. U2 could keep going forever. The Smashing Pumpkins are still going, even though that's not the same level of stardom.
I'm not sure I can picture Jay-Z or Kanye touring until the age Mick Jagger is now. It's hard to imagine anyone outside of the rock genre doing that, but then again, did anyone think Jagger would even survive?
The problem with picking our classic rock is the "our" part. I think Nirvana and co. are really good and important, but I'm leaning toward hip hop. I just had an intense standoff over this, and I'll argue about this in bars until I die. Pull up a stool and join me.