On Sunday afternoon, a few hours before the beginning of Hot 97 Summer Jam 2012, Peter Rosenberg — one of Hot 97’s morning hosts — was speaking on a small stage in the parking lot of MetLife Stadium here, faulting what was going to happen on the big stage inside the stadium that night.
“I see the real hip-hop heads sprinkled in here,” Mr. Rosenberg told the crowd. “I see them. I know there are some chicks here waiting to sing ‘Starships’ later — I’m not talking to y’all right now,’ ” he continued, referring to the Nicki Minaj hit. “I’m here to talk about real hip-hop.”
Hip-hop is many things, depending on who is drawing the boundaries: sometimes it’s a walled-off fort, sometimes a steady fountain of invention and change. At the 19th-annual installment of the Summer Jam showcase, Ms. Minaj was scheduled to be the marquee performer, an unmistakable sign of evolution. But a couple of hours after Mr. Rosenberg’s remarks, word came that she had backed out, at the behest of her Young Money label’s boss, Lil Wayne.
Mr. Rosenberg is a classicist, and also a curmudgeon, an avowed defender of hip-hop as it once was, impervious to commercial realities and evolving taste. That Hot 97 (WQHT, 97.1 FM) has given him so much bandwidth says a great deal about hip-hop’s rapid and unpredictable shifts in recent years, and the radio station’s struggle to adjust its mission accordingly. With Mr. Rosenberg preaching traditional values, the station has wiggle room, though not much.
He has previously derided “Starships” as “the most sellout song in hip-hop history,” as if selling out were still an issue. The idea that art and commerce are at odds is a remnant of an old culture war: dogma presented as forward-thinking but really just protecting an outmoded status quo, leading to the unusual and very modern spectacle of a white man deriding a black woman for insufficiently upholding hip-hop values.
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