Legendary veteran rock n’ roll band the Rolling Stones are in Cuba right now, preparing to play a huge free concert tonight in the capital city of Havana. The British quarter released a statement calling the sure-to-be-epic concert a “milestone” in their career; since when the Rolling Stones were at their peak of relevancy in the ’60’s and ’70’s, all foreign bands were considered ‘subversive’ in communist Cuba and illegal to listen to.
So, as revolutionary as this concert is, further breaking down barriers between nations and cultures with the power of music, one has to ask: with all due respect to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famers, why the Rolling Stones in 2016? Yes, they have many classic songs that are known globally, and considering their age (bassist Ronnie Watts is their youngest member at 68), they still put on a pretty great live show. But, in 2016, when appealing to the youth of a different country, why not send over an artist representative of the single most popular and globally influential genre around right now: hip-hop?
The reach of hip-hop is at an undeniable all-time high, as global crossover rap hits coming out of everywhere from Korea to the UK are making waves across the map. It’s the most streamed genre statistically, and the most nominated artist at this year’s Grammy Awards was rapper Kendrick Lamar. It’s official: hip-hop has fully transcended into mainstream culture, and not only in America, but around the globe. From fashion to slang, rap music is leaving its mark on youth in every country that it touches. So why is an old British rock band who haven’t had a charting single in decades been chosen to play this extremely important concert?
Cuban’s underground hip-hop community has been rapidly expanding over the last couple of years, despite how hard the nation’s government has tried to control it. The archaic nature of the Cuban government has them afraid of hip-hop still, only allowing songs they deem ‘safe’ (read: that don’t provoke any revolutionary thought or action) to be played publicly. But, in the nature of the culture, rappers are still creating and performing music across the country, despite any consequences they may face. Basically, Cuba is hungry for hip-hop coming straight from where it started, and they need to be fed ASAP.
Of course, American hip-hop artists have performed in Cuba before, but not on a scale of this size in a venue with the stature of Havana’s Ciudad Deportivo. The Rolling Stones are an excellent band, but they don’t exactly represent relevant American culture in the present day; hip-hop is topping the charts, ruling the airwaves, and has seeped into every facet of global culture by this point. It’s a constantly youth-driven movement that would tap into more young people’s minds than a rock act whom peaked over 40 years ago.
So who should be sent to perform? Anyone from Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole or even Drake from the new school, or recognized veterans like Jay-Z or Nas would be great examples of lyric-conscious artists who are also globally-known superstars that would pack in a crowd. Also, their messages are much more socially relevant that those of the Stones.’ As timeless as tunes like “Satisfaction” or “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” maybe what the young community in countries such as Cuba want (and need) to hear right now are songs like “Alright” and “No Role Modelz“. They not only have more relevant social issue-related messages, but they’re just touching more people worldwide in the year 2016.
With all that said, the concert tonight is still huge for global unification, and it’s fantastic that music is playing an integral role in that movement. However, next time (and there needs to be a next time), let’s hope the powers that be who make these decisions send over a hip-hop artists or two, if only to connect better with the youth of Cuba than some British senior citizens can. In an effort to show their uptight government that hip-hop is much more than what their stereotype-filled views tell them, and to bridge the gap between the U.S. and other countries through music and culture. The fact is, Americans gave hip-hop to the world. Now it’s our job to not only protect it, but to spread it.