The Problem With Old Rock Stars (And Why Rap Is Awesome)

Gene Simmons of the once-glamorous hair metal band, KISS, recently shared his disdain for rap music in an interview with Rolling Stone, saying that he was “looking forward to the death of rap.” In an effort to discredit THE ENTIRE GENRE, he said: “A song, as far as I’m concerned, is by definition lyric and melody…or just melody. Rap will die. Next year, 10 years from now, at some point, and then something else will come along.”

Being passionate about the music you like is one thing, but the crux of Simmons’ statement isn’t the music he likes, it’s the negativity he tries to throw towards a legitimate art-form because he just doesn’t understand it.

The damaging thing about this is that it fuels people to spend time hating on music they think they don’t like and all that’s achieved is a spill of ignorance into the cracks where great music dwells undiscovered.

Simmons isn’t the first old-time rocker to angrily shake his guitar-shaped walking stick at the gosh-darned, fast-talking whippersnappers either. An NME feature titled “The Razor Tongue of Keith Richards: 17 Artists He’s Slammed,” details the Stones guitarist’s opinion that rap is only impressive because it shows how many tone-deaf people exist. The article could be renamed “17 Times Keith Richards Was A Bit Mean For No Reason.”

I’m fully aware that Simmons gets the “music business” more than I do (mainly because I’ve not tried to get it on with the entire music business – KISS condoms anyone?) but his prophecy that “rap will die” is only ignorantly wish-based, and given that rap has been ingrained in popular consciousness since the likes of Grandmaster Flash and Grand Wizard Theodore pioneered still-utilized hip-hop DJ techniques only forty years ago, its a relatively young genre of music, and it’s continuously growing. Whether it maintains its mainstream success (which it almost certainly will) isn’t really relevant to the fact that people will continue to love it.

Gene Simmons: a beacon of musical knowledge and reason (Image: CNN)

Gene Simmons: A Beacon Of Musical Knowledge & Reason. Image: CNN 

The two examples mentioned above, of what should only really be described as closed-mindedness by big players in the rock world, aren’t irritating simply because they are closed-minded. For one thing, it’s totally insulting to the millions of genuine rap fans when someone who could be considered a respectable musician completely ignores the fact that real people, with real ears, and real feelings of positive association LOVE rap and hip-hop — and for good reason, too. That passion isn’t in place because a few businessmen decided to sneakily slip it into the collective subconscious. The passion isn’t in place because rap fans are all idiots who wouldn’t know a good song if it smacked them in the head. It’s in place because so many people identify with it on countless levels, whether as a way to express themselves or to witness other artists express themselves, whether it tells a story they can relate to, or one they can aspire to or fantasize about, or, simply, because it’s fun, or complex, or just good for a dance. Whatever the reason, hip-hop is just as intricate, expansive, meaningful, fun and expressive as any other form of music.

There wasn’t any cheating involved in the rise of rap music. It didn’t lie or steal, it certainly didn’t rob rock ‘n roll of its spotlight. The fact that rock had to share some of the attention was only a small price to pay for an increase in diversity, and whenever older rock stars bitch about it, that’s all it really is – unwanted bitching.

Rap obviously has had its questionable moments, but so has rock, in exactly the same ways. And Simmons is really contesting the power of say, Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 masterpiece To Pimp A Butterfly?

Lamar spear-headed a huge project that ended up resonating commercially, critically and personally. It won 5 Grammys, it blew (and given how dense it is, continues to blow) minds all over the planet, it helped inspire Compton’s Mayor, Aja Brown, to gift the rapper with the key to her city, and the hook from the track “Alright” was chanted at a protest that stopped a Donald Trump rally from taking place in Chicago. Lamar is (in my opinion anyway) a great example of how incredible hip-hop can be, but it’s a genre full of artists bursting at the seams with original ideas and energy. In other words, its a far cry from what Simmons and Richards perceive to be just talking over a simple drum-beat.

Certainly on a lyrical level, it’s ridiculous to suggest that Simmons’ music has any more depth and validity so some hip-hop.

Let’s take a look at lyrics as a point of comparison.

Is the alarmingly forceful,

“You need my love baby, oh so bad
You’re not the only one I’ve ever had
And if I say I wanna set you free
Don’t you know you’ll be in misery
They call me (Dr. Love)
They call me Dr. Love (calling Dr. Love)
I’ve got the cure you’re thinkin’ of (calling Dr. Love)
And even though I’m full of sin
In the end you’ll let me in
You’ll let me through, there’s nothin’ you can do
You need my lovin’, don’t you know it’s true”

And the poetic, inspired,

“I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day
I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day
I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day
I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day”

Really more legitimate and important and relevant and worthy of existence than this song or this one or this one? Of course, we’re aware there’s a lot of horrible, pointless and downright offensive rap music out there, but there’s also a lot that’s really fucking interesting and insightful.

Gene, we’re not saying there’s no time or place for Kiss, but maybe you should get an education in what hip-hop can entail, before slamming the entire damn genre.


Furthermore, Simmons claimed that one of the reasons he doesn’t understand the genre is that, “I don’t have the cultural background to appreciate being a gangster.”

Don’t worry, he clarified that he realizes you dno’t actually have to be a gang member to understand the genre. “Of course that’s not what it’s all about, but that’s where it comes from. That’s the heart and soul of it. It came from the streets.”

The Rolling Stone writer went on to question Simmons, pointing out that Kiss came from the very same New York streets as some of the greatest rappers in history.

“Sure, but other than Kiss, which plays stadiums around the world, there’s no other New York band that was ever able to do that,” he responded. “Ramones never had a gold album until some of them died. We took Anthrax out on one of their first tours, but we’re talking about stadiums.”

Firstly, that’s straight up just not true. Secondly, huh? That has nothing to do with the question. What on earth does playing in a stadium have to do with understanding the importance, or at least the necessity of a genre like hip-hop? Once again, Gene Simmons proves that he is, well, a misguided fool. Since when does selling out stadiums imply cultural importance? By that token you could argue that One Direction are more important than The Beatles.

Potentially the most annoying thing about this is that Gene Simmons seems to be unable, or unwilling to acknowledge the fact that guitar music is very well represented throughout the modern popular music landscape, on scales large and small. Arctic Monkeys are so successful that Alex Turner’s rumoured net-worth is $22 million, Dave Grohl alone is worth close to a quarter billion, Radiohead just sold out their stadium tour so fast that Thom Yorke himself has had to personally take a stand against ticket scalpers. Even younger bands, like Twin Peaks and Hinds, are completely taking the world by storm just now – using their guitars.

Just because it doesn’t have as big a slice of the pop-music pie as it once had, it doesn’t mean that “rock’n’roll” is dying, and this further highlights the ridiculousness of comments that pine for “real music” to come back. Real music is still around and thanks to the progression of technology, it come in pretty much every shape and sound you can possibly imagine.

Real music exists – in rock AND in rap. You just can’t be fucked looking for it, Gene.

Words by Greg Murray

Originally published on Indie News

Image: Genius