Two weeks ago, the city of Houston welcomed a new radio station called The Boom to its airwaves. The Boom plays hip-hop, but not today’s urban hits: Its playlist is all songs from the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s, by artists like Dr. Dre and 2pac. In declaring itself the nation’s first major-market “classic hip-hop” station, The Boom is jumping with both feet into waters already tested by Los Angeles’ pioneering KDAY, which relaunched itself in 2009 as a hip-hop “originals” station; the Sirius XM channel Backspin; and Boston’s own Hot 96.9, started last year, which plays a mix of hip-hop and R&B “throwbacks” alongside a smattering of current music.
The arrival of classic hop-hop as its own category represents a cultural turning point: Just as rock and roll once did, a rebellious art form profoundly associated with youth has reached a moment in its life cycle when a significant number of its fans—and all of its founding fathers—are decisively middle-aged. Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the series of Bronx dance parties that brought hip-hop into existence. This year, both surviving members of the legendary rap group Run-D.M.C. turn 50.