This is why that song from way back is called “old skool”

We ran into a random question by a Twitter user during the week about what how many years it takes for a song to be termed as ‘Old Skool’

Interesting question don’t you think?

Anyway, we did a bit of research and categorically came up with three things that could make a song be termed ‘old skool.’ However to directly reiterate @OludaScribe’s question, a song being old skool may or may not necessarily be a function of how many years it has been on air since release. It’s a bit more.. well. technical (or boring, depending on how you look at it). The first most important thing, however, is to note that the term ‘old school’ is only used in reference to traditional methods and values. Following this premise, there are essentially three things that can make a song old skool.


80s, 90s rap may sound wack to you in comparison to anything you hear today, but do you ever wonder why the song was such a hit in its days? Well, the reason is because back then there were technological limitations that prevented certain genre experimentation. Unlike today when every guy with a laptop and FruityLoops can add the tag “producer” to their social media profile, back then everything was slightly more  switchboardy, 808s-ish and just generally more complex. But  for the lack of a better sound, fans enjoyed whatever was served despite their flaws. New technology means new possibilities and when that is mixed in the same broth with an originally great sound, you get a new sound, essentially creating the new school and everything before is forgotten, hence old school.

Sound Evolution

Sound evolution is one of the greatest phenomena that can quickly render a genre old school. The consequent result of new technology in music is fresh soundscapes to experiment with. The sound can easily move past an old established order of making the same type of music if less time and more elements can be incorporated. For example the often off-beat drop and stop style of 80s rap phased out after better production allowed producers to make beats that can accommodate lines that run through the tempo without skidding off the mark. All the new sound needed to be was mass appealing and soon everyone was making music like that, effectively out-phasing the old rap music order.

Sound Upgrade

Sound Upgrades are an incorporation of new elements that increase the appeal of a the music to an audience. These may include better songwriting, instrumental upgrades or alternate pattern and sound arrangements. As complex as this sounds, this actually happens a lot more often than you think. A typical example is between Highlife and Afrobeat. Though Nigeria has come to own the Afrobeat genre, what many don’t know, however, is that the entire sonic scape is a jazz upgrade of Ghanaian highlife music adopted by Fela and imported to Nigeria. The same way Fuji music is a grunge percussion upgrade of its more mellow Afro-juju counterpart. Upgrades don’t always out phase music as old school. What it does, however, is create a more popular sound than its parent genre. And to be honest, it doesn’t get more new school than that.

Of course, we have to note that all of these elements are dependent on what the audience decides to listen to at a particular point in time, which is of course not only debatable but nearly impossible to predict. Nonetheless, it should be comforting information to know that behind every new sound the fans latch on to, some things probably happened in the background before it became tagged as ‘new’ and its predecessors ‘old’.


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