Jay-Z: Kurt Cobain Blocked Hip-Hop

The rap star says hip-hop would have dominated much sooner if it wasn't for Nirvana rocking the world.

Ultimate Guitar

Jay-Z says Kurt Cobain and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" put the hip-hop world on ice - but he's still a huge fan of Nirvana.

He believes Nirvana was so culturally powerful that hip-hop didn't have a chance to be the dominant form of youth music, but is just had to wait a while.

He made the confession in Pharrell William's new coffee table book "Pharrell: The Places And Spaces I've Been" (via NME).

"'Hair bands' dominated the airwaves and rock became more about looks than about actual substance and what it stood for - the rebellious spirit of youth," said Jay-Z. "That's why 'Teen Spirit' rang so loud because it was right on point with how everyone felt."

He recognises that an individual like Kurt Cobain was a force to be reckoned with. "I knew we had to wait for a second before we became that dominant force in music," said Jay-Z. "It was weird because hip-hop was becoming this force, then grunge music stopped it for one second. Those 'hair bands' were too easy for us to take out; when Kurt Cobain came with that statement it was like, 'We got to wait awhile'."

Do you think hip-hop would have had a chance to dominate if Nirvana didn't stand in the way? How might music have developed without their influence? Share your theories in the comments.

227 comments sorted by best / new / date

    We really need another Kurt Cobain right now.
    I don't understand how this can be downvoted. Imagine how amazing it would be if an amazing songwriter came along and re-established rock music as the dominant force in music.
    Agreed. Although rock and metal will always be the dominant force in music in my eyes.
    There are so many songwriters around today that are better than Kurt Cobain. I like Nirvana, but seriously.
    as per the fact that no songwriter now is doing what he does you can tell that there aren't right now someone who can do what he did. it's not just writing good songs, it's writing the right songs for the right time for the the right crowd who needs it. it's not that simple, cause there are great writers out there, but since kurt no one touched so wide a crowd. and i wish someone will come along cause we need him.
    I'm not sure how accurate that statement is. There may not be an individual who touches people like that who plays aggressive music, but like them or not you could argue for John Mayer (or even Lady Gaga maybe..) Personally, I'll always take JM because he is the guitar player Kurt never could be and I find a lot in his songs, and I know a massive crowd do. Just usually you won't find them in places mostly exclusive to hard rock and metal. And Bob Dylan is still around lol
    lady gaga is of course not in the rock songwriting discussion :, but i think that even you can tell that there is a difference between john mayer's music's impact and cobain's music's impact. i don't disrespect any writer's efforts but nirvana had an impact on the entire mainstream and alternative scenes and changed the media's acceptance of the alternative scene.. i don't think mayer, again without dissing him, had that effect, or any other writer since cobain.
    Guns N' Chains
    They are out there. Its just that they are not pushed by the media. And the fans of their music are outweighed by the people that go with the flow and like what is popular. The "Bandwagon" for the mainstream and for the pop/rap/dance is too big right now.
    Mr. Baloonhands
    i like to think it'll happen eventually, someone or some band will come around and do what Nirvana and other bands in the past have done to change music, it could happen tomorrow or it could happen 20 years from now (good god i hope not haha) but its gonna happen, all we have to do is wait
    Thank God for Dave Grohl? Seriously, he's the only one who represents Rock N' Roll now-a-days.
    Don't forget Avril Lavigne (her music video Rock N' Roll) Pink, Van Halen, The Beatles (Paul and Ringo, besides Dave, and Rock will always have fans and live on.
    Honestly, I think that rock music had it's time, and hip-hop had it's time. But now, it's time for some other type of music to take control. I don't know what, but I can tell you that it will be something that nobody's ever heard before, and take's people by surprise.
    i hope to be that person. if not i will give my very life to support the chosen one. LONG LIVE REAL MUSIC!
    The term "real music" implies there is "fake" music. There isn't. Unless you mean "real" in the sense of artistic integrity, but I'm not sure that you do.
    Pop has always been, and always will be the dominant force in music. We have some very poppy rock bands and some really poppy hip hop that get popular. Also pop with twangy noises that gets called country, because somehow that makes something country (even though not really) Anyway, it's because it's marketable. Rock gets remembered, but might not necessarily have been popular at the time. Look at some old chart positions from past decades, and you'll see a lot of songs that have been forgotten.
    Music comes in decades for a reason. I think we're just due for something a little more real than electronically assisted music. I DO NOT HATE OR DISCREDIT MUSIC MADE ELECTRONICALLY. Just to make that clear. It has a place in the music scene. The computer software and programs have made becoming an "artist" easy and therefore everyone wants their hands in it. I'm a big fan of the imperfections in music and the digital scene is all about getting rid of those imperfections. Music needs personality just as much as people DO. Kurt and Nirvana portrayed this and were the breath of fresh air for the scene. Without them who knows what would've dominated, 80's needed to die so if hip hop could bring that personality to music then I'm sure it would've had a chance. Nirvana just did it so purely it demanded everyone just chill and listen for awhile.
    Electronic music can still have personality. Being electronic doesn't make the person not an "artist." It depends on other factors.
    Picking up a guitar and singing into a microphone is a SHIT TON easier than music production, you have no idea. People on this site need to stop undermining music producers, or "beat makers". It can take days to create the "beats" for one song, while it takes 2 minutes to sing the song once and record it. 
    I respect what Kurt Cobain did for music, but why can't we just have another amazing set of musicians playing in a band like AiC and Pearl Jam? Or how about another amazing singer leading a band like Chris Cornell did for Soundgarden. While Nirvana established the scene's dominance, it quickly became clear that the other three members of "The Big Four of Grunge" were significantly better artists.
    of those big four, nirvana broke the barrier and peaked even more with in utero and with the amazing unplugged cause kurt was headed for other places, with his songwriting. pearl jam, reformed their musical path to being kind of the new are grateful dead. alice in chains is arguably the band that hd the most musical impact, which you can trace in latter and following bands, and for me they were the most special and unique. soundgarden had the better overall songwriting skills, for me, cause cornell was ahead of the scene, more mature and more complete, while the others found their confidence much later.
    i dont think we do. i feel that everybody coming out now is specifically trying to be that game-changer, and because of that no is coming out as one. someone will come along and not give a shit. we need someone who literally gives around no ****s and just makes music because atm everyone is just trying wayyy too goddamn hard to be lennon or cobain
    It was the right person at the right time. We won't see another musician like him anytime soon... the way our culture has suffocated rock and punk music won't allow it to happen, unfortunately.
    Couldn't agree more, at the risk of getting blasted, I FUCKING HATE RAP AND HIP HOP. I am so friggin tired of having to hear friggin lil wayne and nicki minaj drake ,rhianna and all these other fake ass lame-brains dominating the airwaves. I hold "Hip Hop Culture" solely responsible for dumbing down popular music. It's about ****ing time for rock and metal to rise again. We need the REAL music back.
    No such thing as "real" or "fake" music. Popular music, for the most part, has always been easily accessible and easy to sell. Always will be. The people you're referring to are the effects of that ON HIP HOP, not the other way around. Most people who hate rap/hip hop haven't really listened to enough of of to make statements about it.
    I just look at it from a talent standpoint. I've heard enough to know that there isn't any talent involved in making rap/hip hop, so I can't bring myself to appreciate it regardless of how annoying I find it. If there aren't any instruments involved, I don't consider it to be "real".
    Yes, a drug-addicted overhyped songwriter is exactly what we need.
    Battery Chicken
    So many downvotes. Grunge would have happened without Kurt, he didn't change the game he was just part of the sword tip. He was just a guy in the right place, playing the right music at the right time. There's plenty of brilliant music out there that no-one listens to, and there's plenty of shit that millions listen to. For some reason Nirvana struck a chord with the troglodytes, in the same way as Gangnam Style has. Opinions are opinions, but Nirvana weren't the second coming.
    Grunge already was happening without Kurt. But yes, he was certainly the guy who brought it into the limelight, along with a couple of others.
    implying drug use isn't a catalyst for great songs. Why do you guys even care who the biggest musician is anyway?
    Depends on the person; some are better with, some without. The "biggest musician" doesnt bother me at all. I just enjoy what I enjoy, regardless of what it is
    We have Billie Joe Armstrong
    ANOTHER Billie Joe Armstrong? We can barely handle the political loudmouth as it is. He's no game changer.
    exactly! like he said in his stupid little rant, hes been around since 1988, what difference has he made besides stupid preppy girls acting like they like rock and metal even tho green day is neither
    my thoughts exactly. now i think thank god for grunge. although it was the next thing after myy favorite metal, thrash.
    "Rap music is the only vital form of music introduced since punk rock" - Cobain
    And then it was quickly ruined when they started going on about their money, cars and referring to women as 'bitches'
    This is such a strawman argument. First, rock music has plenty of songs about money, cars, and "bitches." WTF do you think Van Halen, AC/DC, Zep, The Rolling Stones, ect. where singing about? Second, ya some rap songs do that, mainly on the radio, but dig deeper and find some real rap artists. Would it be fair to say that Nickelback represents all of rock music? I think not.
    You don't even have to dig that deep, either. While he's not what he once was, Nas has some amazing lyrics. Nappy Roots are amazing. You can dig deeper and find semi-underground artists like Jedi Mind Tricks and Immortal Technique, and then you find artists like Alexander King, who are so open to other genres that they record collaborations with artists like Jamey Johnson and Kris Kristofferson (try and find the song "Orange Man" on the internet. Amazing). Just like every other form of music, Rap has a mainstream side and a legitimate side.
    ^Exactly. Jazz has Miles Davis and John Coltrane...but it also has the wanker Kenny G. Rock has great and terrible artists. (Usually the "bad" ones merly just play up the sterotypes of the genre).
    Thank you for writing this, I get so sick of metal elitist with there dumb comparisions used to degrade rap. I will admit wakka flakka, gucci mane, soulja boy, rick ross, nicki gar-bage and the other lame f*cks ain't helping the cause. I wish they would go sit they butts down. thank god for Nas's album.
    Not only money and cars, but jewelry, guns, drugs, entire 'songs' about the rims on their cars (WTf'nF?), dead homies, gangs, gang rivals, etc etc. And they have more names for women than bitches- like ho, trick, ass... I've had the misfortune of being subjected to a lot of 2002 - 2007 rap music at my old job, and those were the dominant themes
    Braking News: Jay Z says he would have been famous sooner had it not been for some musicians with talent and their pet dog too.
    I get the impression that he's acting like Rap was still an underground thing when Grunge was mainstream,which isn't the case at all.
    I can't help but disagree. I was 14 when "Nevermind" was released and I remember the wave of alternative music and hip hop in the early 90's appealing to totally different types of people. Nirvana wasn't pulling many fans away from hip hop in those days.
    80s and 90s rap/hip hop all the way. great to know that there was such mutual respect between rap and grunge. take that, Motley Crue. go smoke in the boy's room.
    Do you think hip-hop would have had a chance to dominate if Nirvana didn't stand in the way? Um, if hip-hop hasn't dominated the mainstream music scene/modern radio I don't know what has haha. Wish it wasn't so, but for the last 10-15 years hip-Pop's basically been at the forefront. We definitely need a "dominant force" in rock 'n' roll again for music
    "'Hair bands' dominated the airwaves and rock became more about looks than about actual substance and what it stood for - the rebellious spirit of youth," said Jay-Z.
    Oh? And Hip-Hop is any different, Jay? Go **** yourself, Jigga. Take your blueprints and shove it.
    I think the success of 90's Hip Hop artists (including Jay Z himself) is proof enough that his statement about Hip Hop having to wait is not really something to be taken seriously.
    Jay-Z is a punk that came after all the real greats in Hip-Hop; Run DMC, 2Pac, Dr. Dre, Snoop, Nas, etc. Hip-Hop wasn't blocked by Nirvana and I can say this without a doubt because where I grew up people were listening to that instead of Nirvana, South Texas (Austin, Houston, San Antonio) was flooded with it. It's a joke for him to say anything stood in the way of this talentless hack, he tries to cover that up by saying "We gotta wait a while."... there was no WE Jigga, back when you and Nas had beef, Nas gave everyone the straight facts to your bullshit.
    poppy hip hop is more about looks, yes, but plenty of hip hop in that era had substance. Plenty today still does if you look past what's popular. I will be honest and say that plenty of underground stuff has some importance on image/imagery and still talks about some of the subjects. in a different way though. It's not a bad thing. You have to understand the roots of hip hop and realize it's a more narrative genre. It doesn't need to be complex or anything.
    Hey God, give us back Kurt Cobain, and well send you Lady Gaga
    Can we send Eminem too?
    hey! Eminem's first 3 albums were boss. Plus, he held off the boy bands for a whole decade! atleast thank him for that.
    I don't know...Hip Hop still managed to come through throughout that period. The big 4 of grunge were NOT totally reliant on Nirvana. Not by a long shot.
    Lily, come on. They were completely reliant on Nirvana. After 1994 the whole alternative scene went to shit.
    leave popular music (nirvana and jay-z) to the corporate big wigs. both acts are garbage, propped up to make money, and do not embody the spirit of music.
    the people in this forum are real idiots, seriously nirvana and muse fans aren't just fans they are fanatic cultists who hare anything positive or negative said about the band they worship - cobain was a god, there lets see how many downvotes this gets from the fanboys for saying that.
    If Kurt Cobain hadn't died I don't think he would be as relevant today, he's overrated
    Holy crap. Rap is music. Rock is music. Metal is music. Jazz is music. Stop spending so much time labeling and start forming your own opinions. Everything that's made to be music is music. It doesn't matter if it's made with a guitar, a keyboard, a computer, or just someone singing. It's still f'n music. And I don't think Jay-Z said a single negative thing. In fact, looks like all truth to me. There was no sleight or disrespect in what he said, I don't understand what the rage is.
    Kurt Cobain was an average musician at best just because millions of people love your music does not mean your an amazing musician some of the best musicians are people no one has ever heard of
    "Rap critics that say he's "Money Cash Hoes" I'm from the hood stupid what type of facts are those If you grew up with holes in your zapatos You'd celebrate the minute you was having dough" Jay-z on why rappers view materialism as obtaining equallity in America.
    All of you people talking about Cobain like you knew him personally is ridiculous. He was human and made mistakes just like everyone else.
    Hip Hop blocked hip hop. While hip hop pioneers like Tupac were selling their soul to movie producers and writing "diss" songs, Kurt Cobain was actually making quality music.
    Its funny how Jay-Z says rock music lacked substance, because thats honestly how I feel about the mainstream hip-hop scene right now.
    He didn't say rock music lacked substance. He said hair metal lacked substance... which it very much did.
    Like others have said, rap and hip-hop became irrelevant when they started singing about cars and how much money they have. In the early 90s, urban youths could relate to rappers. They were singing about the struggles of the everyday, angry youth. These "artists" are so out of touch now. I still listen to a little of it, but how are kids supposed to relate to someone who says "What's 50 grand to a mu****er can you please remind me?"
    A lot of people actually miscontstrue rap's materialism when you seperate it from the genre's history. They rap about materialism because for most of American History, African Americans did not have acsess to the good life. Rap's materialism is ultimatly about equallity, finally able to enjoy the American dream. As Jay-Z said, "Rap critics that say he's "Money Cash Hoes" I'm from the hood stupid what type of facts are those If you grew up with holes in your zapatos You'd celebrate the minute you was having dough."
    " more about looks than about actual substance " condescendingwonka.jpg
    it's kind of funny that he slammed hair metal for being more about the looks (he's right) and now hip-hop became more about materialism. Listen to Watch The Throne
    Cobain blocked everything Nirvana were the Beatles of their time.
    Please learn about The Beatles before you post anymore moronic comments.
    The funny thing about this statement, is that Nirvana probably shared more similarities with The Beatles, than they did with Alice, Pearl Jam, or Soundgarden combined. They both played extremely simple melodies and instrumental parts, had great and influential lyrics, innovative vocal styles, they both blew up with record-breaking and legendary success and burned out faster than they became successful, each one due to tragedy, and both are both household names today... I'm sure there are probably a dozen more striking similarities but I can only think of all of these right. Also, The Beatles were one of Kurt's top influences... So you still think they're not alike?
    Right now* Honestly, how dated is an "edit" button and we still don't have one, UG? Even with all the updates to the site layout recently... How hard is it to add an "edit" button?
    the inclusion of all those bands should be on a social basis but certainly not a musical one cause they're completely different. alice in chains is more rooted in metal, soundgarden is sabbath influenced, pearl jam has a neil young-the who thing going, and nirvana was a mix between pixies and the beatles.
    One glaring difference is the amount of input per band mmember, compairing The Beatles to Nirvana. But I agree with almost everything you said here...
    Cobain actually took a lot of influence in many respects from the beatles. He loved them!
    Kurt put at least one N.W.A song on his home made mixtapes, it even says so in his journals.
    It's sad that in this day and age hiphop and dance/pop really is the dominant force in music, and by the looks of it, it could be a very long time before we have another cobain to help re-enforce the grandure that is rock back into the mainstream fully. One day this figure will come and bitch smack any who thinks otherwise!
    I give him credit for developing an impressive business empire on top of the art that got him where he is. But this guy takes himself way too seriously. Hip hop may sell the most, but it's also the most disposable, too. I doubt you'll be seeing any of these artists touring on their catalogs 30 years later. It's one-dimensional because hip-hop is spoken word, which doesn't lend itself well to changing direction or style. Just like boy-bands and teen acts, the audience moves on and doesn't look back.
    Run Dmc still tours, so does Dougie Fresh, Slick Rick, Kool G rap, Ice T, LL Cool J most of these guys are in there mid 40's or pushing 50's and they still do it. Just not at that "sell your soul to the industry level" and they are still highly respected.
    I actually agree with what Jay-Z had to say. A lot of the early 90's movements, including hip-hop, were about something a lot more real and meaningful to the youth than the 80's had become. He seems pretty respectful of Cobain for being that one that connected to the generation as a whole. Unfortunately, like most genres, the more mainstream hip-hop grew out of the urban struggle into the very materialist thing it was supposed to be against. Grunge was lucky enough to die off before it transformed into that.
    Good lord he looks like a straight up gorilla. no racism intended, all you sensitive types. The dude seriously is an ugly gorilla lookin sumb itch. He's banging Beyonce too. lucky bastard. screw it, it's actually more refreshing, for some reason, knowing that she's with a gorilla like him, than like some male super model.
    You know... I thought a few years ago that the rap scene was dying in this country. At least back in the day if you didn't like rap you could at least respect certain artists. These modern rappers today are jokes. But I honestly thought when Soulja Boy and Lil Wayn were hitting the mainstream that it was the end of the rap wave... But Nicki Minaj came a long and showed that it doesn't matter how bad you are. If you are popular enough you will sell. And the argument I always hear is, "Well they make more money than you do so you must be jealous." You know it's kind of sad when talent is judged by the amount of of money in your pocket. It's sad to see these extremely talentless "artists" making millions of dollars but yet extremely talented musicians are still playing small venues.
    Yeah, because radio stations and the like played *nothing* but grunge during that time.
    F**k you Jay-z. I know you're successful and everything. But you're not as good a performer as Nirvana were. The "grunge" phase was exactly the opposite of what jay-z is saying, it was all about NON-mainstream music and NOT caring about appearances and NOT seeking approval. It takes a lot more emotion and guts to play like nirvana than to sound like gay-z And also NOT everyone likes Rap & Bullshit nowadays, all because it is tagged with "mainstream." WTF is mainstream anyway? Rock for f**king life. P.s. Acts such as Aerosmith and the Beastie Boys brought R&B into the mainstream. And these artists are rock artists, not R&B.
    Pearl Jammer#1
    Hip-Hop was popular back then. It was meant for, and to represent, a completely different group of people. Rappers rapped about their lives and struggles. I don't think rappers wanted their music to become mainstream in the early 90s. It was good back then, as soon as it became "dominant" it turned to shit, and now we have Lil Wayne and a group of rappers that sound just like him who rap about smoking weed. If Nirvana did prevent rap from becoming really dominant then it was a good thing because then rappers like 2pac and Notorious were able to rap about things that matter. It was never about dominating the airwaves or the money, which coincidentally was the same mind state Kurt Cobain and other early 90s rock bands had. There's a difference between wanting to be famous and wanting to make a difference.
    Nirvana - Dominant force in music. jay z - dominant force in noise, bitching like a disregarded dildo.
    I beg to differ, Jay Z's story of coming from nothing an establishing himself as a shrewd business man is something that ANYONE can respect and admire. I am not a huge hip-hop head, but I love the 'Hov. In terms of innovation, both Nirvana and Jay Z are leaders in their respective genres. Just because you're a narrow-minded dink, doesn't make your opinions valid.
    Yet another reason why Kurt Cobain was the greatest human being ever born.
    Cobain was a junkie who abandoned his daughter. That hardly qualifies him as the world's greatest person. He was a 'piece of shit' personified.
    like many other amazing artists he's had a tragic flaw with his addiction with which he couldn't deal. i think your reason is right just not the term "piece of shit". he obviously was weak enough to give up on his life which, as a parent myself, is unthinkable to me, and nothing will justify that. having said that, he still is one of the great artists of our generation.
    Abandoned his daughter... Leaving her with millions of dollars and a mother that loved her (debatable) how terrible... There are worse things he could have done. Also who cares about the drug habits of musicians, they're allowed enough to make their own decisions, just like everyone else - at least he tried to keep his addiction hidden as to not influence others.
    If one of my parents left me a load of cash and another poor parent for suicide I'd call that awful parenting. Just my view on it though
    He had convinced himself that Frances was better off without him. He didn't want her growing up to turn out like him. Its an awfully sad occasion but i don't think you can judge someone until you have walked in their shoes.
    Money doesn't make everything better, you know? And he left her with Courtney Love. Quite the responsible action of a loving parent.
    you can still love someone but be a coward. and for everything that Kurt was, he was a bit of a coward. Of sorts.
    Hip hop is going through the same phase that rock went through in the 80's RIGHT NOW. Just like the 80's glam bands hip hop has become more about image and money than substance. Jay-Z is one of the few that have been consistently good for a long time. It will bounce back just like rock did but it may take 5 or 10 years.
    Rap needs more Nas,more Lupe Fiaso (when he keeps his mouth shut), more KRS one, more Jeru The Damaja, more Ice Cube and Ice T (The had there moments when they actually spoke about something). And yeah metal had it's phase of garbage.. it's called Nu-metal and only a hand few that was worth a damn are still around i.e. Slipknot, Mudvyne, Korn...
    I think what speaks loudly (and I am not a fan of Nirvana)of Cobain as a symbol is how he can be the face of 90's alternative music when there where other bands that sold more records and pulled larger audiences.
    no musician/artist in the 90s even came close to making the impact Kurt made. And even to this day, no one has came after him and moved a generation and culture like Kurt did.
    If you based it all on commercial sucess then your big four alternative bands of the 90s would be Creed, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Allanism Morrisett or as I like to call them "lengends."
    I'd like to have Pearl Jam in there as well, they outsold all those acts.
    I'm actually a big fan of REAL hip-hop, but right now, new hip hop is just plain gay. If anything, we need a new Kurt-like "being" to rise to the top and dominate all these crappy bands like Psy, Nicki Minaj, LMFAO, Pitbull, Kesha, Flo Rida, T-Pain who use computers and autotune shit to make "music" and write lyrics about going out, having sex, gettin drunk, wear nothing in their film clips and inspire our young generation to be like their own trashy selves...that ain't talking about their own youth, it's killing our youth! A recent survey said that pop/hip hop has completely dominated the music market over rock music but I don't blame them when you have bands like Nickelback, Matchbox 20, Karmin, Train and Maroon 5 in the charts who are even worse than the bands above... you don't have to write all the same songs and make a collaboration with Rihanna to be famous, screw whatever your label says you untalented sell outs! So let's get off our arses aspiring musicians, try the stripped down Nirvana approach and hopefully create a 'rock scene' and bring real rock music back into the business!!!
    Hip-hop sucks. That kid driving down the street with his cocked flat bill cap, windows down, blasting it with the bass level on high in driving Mommy's mini-van...? yeah, that's who listens to this garbage. Not adults.
    So I guess u have tats, were tight ass leather pants, ridiculous hair,talking about how a band has sold out just because they made it big all while living in your moms basement, while wearing make up make you any better. I wish 90's rap would come back(Nas, A tribe called quest, onyx, etc...) as well as real rock and metal and not this play as fast as I can yelling so you can't understand a ****ing thing, or the band that say this is the heaviest thing ever only to sound worse than the there last release. Gimme a break with that bullshit. The sorry ass bands as well as the pop rap crap that's out can eat a mean one. on the other hand Testament just released an album people should pick up...
    Also: Your ignorant comments about the 'Hov are automatically void because hes banging Beyonce and you're not. That is all.