Mychal Denzel Smith’s musical upbringing sounds a lot like mine: copious amounts of hip-hop that was deemed “underground,” “backpack,” or (perhaps most conspicuously brandished) “conscious.” Elitism disguised as authenticity. Yet, with the recent returns of Black Star and Kendrick Lamar, Smith found himself unmoved — and in this crystalline essay, he unpacks exactly why.

The idea of becoming conscious has always been a nostalgia trap, a way of propping up reverence for a bygone era as a critique of the present, to suggest the waywardness of the youth is the true villain of progress. Moreover, it was always more of a posture than a true worldview, a ready-made aesthetic identity for those of us who were too afraid or too unable to develop real personalities.