There's an inescapable saying in hip-hop music: "Keep it real." The phrase has progressed to "keep it 100," as in being real 100 percent of the time.
Janis Ian, a folk singer who will perform tonight at Newberry Opera House, doesn't subscribe to hip-hop tenets.
"Rap music is about the attitude of real," she said. "Folk music is about being real.
"It's really about two different things."
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Folk and hip-hop are genres considered mouthpieces for the voiceless. Many performers (especially rappers), critics and fans might consider Ian's opinion misinformed.
But she's unquestionably right about one thing when it comes to folk music.
"Usually in hard times, when there's a recession, folk singers are big," she said.
People have been listening to what Ian has to say - and sing about - for four decades. The Grammy-award winning singer has had a string of hits, including "At Seventeen," "Jesse," "Days Like These" and "Society's Child."
Her voice sounds as riveting as ever.
"It's not a terribly strong voice, so I take care of it," she said. "I don't go into loud places. I take voice lessons when I need it. I'm very careful."
Ian's songs have always told stories, small nuggets of commentary about the world we live in and how much better - or worse - things could be. That's what a folk singer does.
"People don't know folk singers have always been that way," Ian said. "We've always known disaster is around the corner."
Folk music was once a darling of the recording industry in the '60s and '70s, but now it's on the fringes where the genre, which has always had a do-it-yourself work ethic, is thriving.
About 15 years ago, Ian eschewed traditional concert rules. She tells stories between songs. She takes requests. She signs autographs and chats with fans after the show.
"I started doing an honest show," Ian said. "There's a lot of interaction. It has created a loyal fan base."
That's not the approach music-business advisers would take.
"If they knew what they were doing, they'd all be famous and rich," Ian said.
Of course, Ian isn't like most Grammy-owning performers. For our interview, the directions were to just call her whenever. Most singers don't give out their phone number, let alone stop for an interview when not expecting a call.
"I just give people my mobile. I'm OK," Ian said. "I'm 58. I don't have time for (worrying about her number getting out)."
Janis Ian, whether she likes hip-hop or not, keeps it real, 100 percent of the time.
IF YOU GO
WHEN: 8 tonight
WHERE: Newberry Opera House, 1201 McKibben St.
CONTACT: (803) 276-6264