NOT TOO LONG AGO, I was asked to imagine what kind of hiphop my four-year-old son, Ebenezer, might listen to when he enters his teen years. I was somewhat surprised by this request, because I never pictured my son becoming a hiphop head like his daddy; I instead imagined him engrossed in something fantastically futuristic, with a sound (a biotech beat?) and culture that's bound to offend my ears and sensibility. "You see," I explained to my friend, "hiphop will be dead by the time my son is old enough to take an interactive interest in pop music, and something else, something completely different will be in its place." My friend was astonished by this prediction because she imagined that hiphop would never die, that it would continue to grow, transform, adjust. But no: Hiphop is going to die, it has to die. In fact, its death can be read in the very circumstances that brought it to life.

It was T. S. Eliot who said something like, "In my beginning is my end." Similarly, if one considers the beginning of hiphop, they will read the story of its end. I do not mean hiphop's formless, mythic, half-conscious infancy--the mid- to late-'70s--but its formative years of '82, '83, and '84. During this period, hiphop started to sound less like disco or funk, and more like something from another planet. Songs such as Run-D.M.C.'s "Sucka MCs," T La Rock's "It's Yours," and World Supreme Team Show and Malcolm McLaren's "Buffalo Gals" were so novel that they seemed to lack a precedent. Nothing in the near or distant past could adequately explain what, say, DJ Jazzy Jay was doing on "It's Yours." Were those underwater scratches? And why the looped crowd noises? The components of the form--the mini-nuclear booms of the drum machine, the dissonant scratching, and samples programmed "with just one finger"--were all brand new. Indeed, the lack of any referent, any antecedent, any source, was so pronounced that many wondered if hiphop was even music. It employed no instruments, and instead of singing, it used a strange speaking/singing form. Hiphop didn't so much make music the way, say, Bud Powell made music, as it instead made music its subject. Hiphop didn't play music, but replayed it. In this respect it was, and still is, a metamusic--a music about music.

My point is this: Hiphop represented nothing less than a total shift from earlier forms. I was well aware of this; every b-boy and b-girl I breakdanced with in downtown Harare was aware of it. T La Rock knew it too, and in "It's Yours," which was the most articulate celebration of hiphop's total break from the past, he told the rock and soul world that "common talk deserves a walk, the situation's changed/everything said from now on has to be rearranged." This is how hiphop started, and this is how it will end. These words will return to hiphop, but in a different form, with a different beat; though it will hear the words blaring from a passing spaceship, hiphop's staggering senescence will prevent it from comprehending them, from remembering that it, too, once made such a bold and big-headed declaration.

For now, hiphop rules everything around me. It is no longer on the margins but is the order of the day; you must blend, bend, borrow from hiphop if you want to sell a hit record. But one day a tremendous cultural earthquake will occur, and everything will "be rearranged." Exactly what this rearrangement will sound like I don't know; all I can say with any amount of certainty is that just before it happens, the hiphop nation will be weak, old, spent, and wasted like an overweight rock star. With profits down (the only measure for success it has at this point), corporations will turn over every rock in every ghetto in search of "the next big thing" in hiphop. And if they do find it, it'll only be "the next best thing," like a Jean-Michel Basquiat, representing the art world's last-ditch attempt to stave off the inevitable.

The new music will not return to instruments, for we in the West never return, we only "fare forward!" as T. S. Eliot would say. And in the beginnings of this new music we will discern the end of hiphop. Bloated hiphop will, of course, resist the challenge and mock the "new thing," insisting that it's not even music. But nothing, not even hiphop's Stanley Crouch-like arrogance, will persuade my son to change his mind. He will commit all his time and energy to this new form that upsets his daddy's ears so.