Bug One

Eric Andre's Criticisms Of Hip-Hop Are Needed, And Here's Why...

ericandre.jpg

Recently Adult Swim comedian Eric Andre came out with a series of tweets that criticized hip-hop for openly embracing and promoting rap artists Kodak Black and XXXtentacion. Just so we're clear on what he said, here's what he said:

i was just looking at World Star Hip Hop on my IG and they’re always promoting XXX and Kodak Black. and i got upset.

i was also mad at myself for promoting XXXTentacion’s music the other day. my friend was like, “that dude beats up pregnant women” :(

1 out of 3 women are beat, raped, or murdered in their lifetime. that’s 1 billion women. Shits got to stop. No more apathy or indifference.

racism, sexism, homophobia - it's all bigotry. it is all part of the same systemic evil that keeps people subservient and disenfranchised.

Alot of supporters of said rappers on the Twittersphere have come out against Eric Andre with the same predictable defenses of their adored idols- in so many words: "She lied to get all his money!" and "They couldn't prove it court!" and "Innocent til' proven guilty, bruh!" And let's not forget the standard "Stick to comedy, bruh" which Eric Andre pointed out himself is just code for "Stick to apathy." and don't criticize anyone in our community.

But I for one believe we should demand some sorts of standards and accountability from our more visible hip-hop artists. There's nothing wrong with that. We don't have to celebrate negativity, violence, and misogyny. And I don't want to hear that "It's all just entertainment." cop-out. He singled these particular artists for a reason. That reason being their criminal records or alleged acts seem to be some pretty reprehensible stuff. They don't appear to be just talking the talk, they're actually walking the walk.

Another reason I agree with his criticisms is because if we don't question, challenge, and police our own culture and those who represent it, then those who are outsiders to our culture will begin to do so and often through a misinformed, uninformed, and biased prism. A lot of the current hip-hop audience (especially those who are fans of Kodak Black & XXXtentacion) are probably not old enough to remember when Fox News' Bill O'Reilly went on a crusade against rappers Nas and Ludacris (even causing Luda to get endorsements pulled from him) for their "vile, obscence" lyrics when in their personal lives, they were clearly normal, law-abiding citizens. And maybe they don't remember the days of C. Delores Tucker, VP Dan Quayle, Senator Bob Dole, and countless other high profile white folks who tried their best to put an end to "gangster rap" by taking the lyrics of songs totally out context to prove rap was responsible for cop-killing and every social ill of the inner-city in the early 90s.

So if they weren't around for days, maybe they don't understand the need for those within hip-hop culture to hold certain ones' feet to the fire for committing heinous acts in real life. It's like when we want Republicans and conservatives to denounce people who are racists and white supremacists and claim to be under that Republican/conservative umbrella. We should likewise denounce, or at the very least criticize those who are members of the hip hop community who seem to embody all those negative things (specifically misogyny & violence) that hip-hop's critics claim is synonymous with hip-hop music and culture itself.

Its waaay better for someone like Eric Andre (who's clearly a fan of hip-hop) to come out with these criticisms than some out-of-touch, but dangerously influential Trump disciples to come out against certain rappers. Because when that happens, the focus goes from a few bad apples to hip-hop as a whole genre because bigots and xenophobes don't have the capacity to distinguish between the good examples and bad examples and will paint all rap with same brush. And when that happens, record company execs and sponsors who pay artists for promotion will get shook from the political pressure and pull support from artists. When comedians, young black actors, or even other rappers criticize the culture, it's from an honest desire to want to see the culture reach it's potential and not go backwards or destroy itself. And it sparks discussions like these where we ask ourselves "Why aren't we giving more of a listening ear to rappers who are socially conscious in their content and personal lives??!"

We live in bizarre times where the media can villainize pretty much anyone. A movement started to stop police killing unarmed black people has been equated to the Ku Klux Klan. And I would hate to see hip-hop be made into the boogieman. Again.    

Detroit Is An Excellent, Must-See Film, But There's One Thing That Bothered Me...

detroit.jpg

Minor spoilers ahead...

So the other day, I was able indulge in the rare treat of catching a movie. By myself. In the morning. When the theater first opens. Which is the best time to catch a movie if you haven't tried go at this time. I decided on seeing Detroit, a movie that caught my attention when I first saw the trailer about 6 months ago. My wife and none of my friends wanted to see this movie due to being squirmy, sensitive types who were put off by the film's reputation for containing what is being labeled as torture porn. And while I do understand not wanting to view black people being beaten, abused, & psychologically tortured at the hands of white people, it is a story I felt needed to be told.

This is not a movie review exactly. I cannot break down a film's strengths and weaknesses the way a true film critic could, but I can tell you that I thought this was an exceptionally excellent movie. The atmosphere feels palpable and transports you back in time to the world where the story takes place, and you're emotionally invested in all three acts that the movie is broken down in. You care about the characters. Nothing feels forced or crow-barred in just to shock the audience. The overall storytelling was well crafted and the acting was on point!!!

But one thing kind of bothered me, and this is no reflection on the quality of Detroit as a movie. What bothered me was that while viewing this racially charged story and all the injustice surrounding it and after it, there were times I forgot what I was watching actually took place in the 60s. 1967 to be exact. The events in Detroit felt so current despite going down 50 years ago, reinforcing in my mind just how little has changed since then. I'm not saying to short change the achievements and progress that we as African Americans have made, I'm saying that in reference to deeply entrenched ideologies and practices that keep white supremacy alive.

Every few minutes in the film, there was something being said or done that frankly just happened in the current news cycle. Black communities were being policed by a predominately white police force. Black men were shot in the back by police despite posing no threat to law enforcement. The shooting of black men in the back was either ignored or justified. White policeman told themselves and their partners that they had nothing against black people right before calling them 'niggers' and physically brutalizing them to the point that they never would a member of their own community. White officers got butt hurt over the mere appearance of white women dating/sleeping with young, black men (much like the racists who vent over interracial scenes in the comments section on YouPorn- or so I've been told). White police officers made up and corroborated stories with their co-workers to explain away dead, black bodies. Evidence was planted (much like we recently saw from the body cam footage from the police officers in Baltimore). White officers were acquitted of murder charges by an all-white jury of their peers. Dead and brutalized victims were discredited and demeaned because of their own alleged criminal pasts despite the fact they weren't the ones on trial (much like Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Alton Sterling). One black character identified himself as a veteran and was accused of outright lying about it (much like the black veteran last year who was denied a free meal from Chili's because some white man didn't want to believe he served and was wearing a stolen military hat in an effort to get a free meal). And even on a lighter note, black people back then floated theories about how the government killed certain black musicians because they "knew too much" and blamed it on drug overdoses (much like black people today put out theories on any deceased or shamed black celebrity who "was about to buy NBC" or was talking crap publicly about the Illuminati).

It just puzzles me how movies like Detroit get the "hard to watch" label when everything in it is based on realities that are still in effect today. We live in a world where people will make the argument to keep up statues of seditionist, racist, murderous Confederate soldiers and generals in an effort to "learn from our history" (pick up a history book, jackasses!!) when clearly American society has learned nothing at all from its past and continues to keep up the status quo of white supremacy and defend the legal, sanctioned murders of black people.

I guess that's why they have to be told "black lives matter".

Is Andre 3000 Right? Can You Ever Get Too Old To Rap?!

Recently, hip-hop legend, pioneer, an MC extraordinaire and one half of Outkast, Andre 3000, came out in an interview with Complex and basically said in so many words that he was pretty much done rapping because he's too old. I don't want to paraphrase what he said and misconstrue what he was trying to say so I'll share the direct quote from the article:

  “I kind of like not being a part of [Rap music], now that I’ve done it,” 3000 tells Complex‘s Alex Gale. He continues “As I get older, I start to see myself move more back from it—the hustle and bustle of putting out an album, the pressure of being in the studio trying to come up with something. Now it’s more like a hobby for me, so I don’t think about it in that way. Even with Outkast, if we never do another album, I’m totally fine with that. When I was 25, I said I don’t want to be a 30-year-old rapper. I’m 42 now, and I feel more and more that way. Do I really want to be 50 years old up there doing that?”

“Rapping is like being a boxer,” André equates. “No matter how great you are or were at a certain time, the older you get, the slower you get—I don’t care who you are. And I can feel that coming on. There’s always a new wave of artists, and sometimes I’m just like, ‘I’m good. I’ll let the young guys do it.’” Moments later, he says, “I don’t get much happiness from doing music like that—I get happiness from pleasing who I’m working with, and helping them, and seeing them be excited.”

I respectfully disagree with 3 Stacks. Outkast hasn't released an album in over a decade with their patchy-but-still-great-in-spots Idlewild, but anyone who's heard any of Andre's guest verses he's peppered throughout the hip-hop world since then will agree that he has not lost a step at all lyrically and creatively and constantly reminds us just how far rap has fallen off in recent years. Speaking for myself personally, I know Andre's verses for "Walk It Out", "Everybody", "Sixteen", "Pink Matter" & "International Players Anthem", but I either cannot name the other artists on these songs or fast-forward through their verses. Okay, well...maybe not "International Players Anthem"...that whole song is fire, but Andre definitely outshines everyone on that joint too!

Another reason I disagree with Andre is because Jay-Z just taught us that grown men in their 40s can definitely still craft an "adult" sounding hip hop album that is commercially successful and socially relevant without catering to all the youthful BS in the industry. And I mean no disrespect to the Jigga Man, but Andre 3000, to me, is just a way more intriguing and creative MC lyrically. I'm sure plenty of heads who have been long time fans of him and Outkast would support and buy a release by him. Heck, A Tribe Called Quest was able to sell an album last year 18 years after they broke up. They sold 132,000 units and reached the number 1 spot on Billboard which a lot of current, more "relevant" artist cannot do. My point is that those like myself, who grew up on rap music, who are getting older, who still have the money to actually buy music...we haven't gone anywhere. We didn't reach the age of 30 and all of a sudden developed a taste for jazz or classical music. We still appreciate and dabble in other genres, of course, but we still need our hip-hop dag-nabbit!! I can only listen to the classics so many times before I just need to hear something new. And most heads I know around my age aren't gonna pretend to like Ugly God, Lil Uzi Vert, and Kodak Black just cause we're told to like them. Most heads I know. We haven't gone anywhere and we haven't all died off and we still have a hunger for good ol' hip hop that I think someone like Andre 3000 is totally up to the task to create. I know he compared rapping to boxing, but rapping ain't boxing. Rapping is rapping. And it's art. Much like sculpting, photography, or painting. And there are many examples of sculptors, photographers, and painters who produced works until the day they died or at least well into old age.

On the other hand, I do kind of get where he's coming from. He's paid his dues. He's provided classics that will be bumped for many years to come. He's made significant contributions to the culture and has nothing else to prove. And I imagine it gets increasingly difficult to fit into an industry that continues to cater to and encourage the most undisciplined characteristics of young people while you continue to grow old and mature. Because let's face it, for every Andre or Jay Z in the game, there are 21 21 Savages. Nobody wants to be that 45 year old in the club with a bunch of college kids. They look old and out of place, and should feel that way (R Kelly, I'm lookin' at you).

So at the end of the day, I respect and understand Andre's stance and position, but at the same time can't discard my wishful thinking hoping that cats like him will every once in a while shake up the game and show the young cats how it's done.

 

Ghetto Fast Food Joint Practices That Need To Stop Now!

Over the course of my 33 years of life on this earth, I've eaten a lot of fast food (nothing I'm very proud of) in a lot of different areas. And I can honestly say that there are certain practices and shortcomings that are...how you say, habitual, when it comes to fast food restaurants in the black community. I have made a list of all the things that I want to see stop being done in said establishments and while I know its wishful thinking on my part, maybe we can at least demand better or just stop supporting joints that do the following:

The unresponsive drive-thru intercom. You drive up, there's silence. You call out to see if anyone's on the other side, there's silence. You honk your horn, silence. Finally after a while, an extremely distorted and barely audible voice responds and tells you "Hold on a minute!" You patiently wait, then after 5-7 minutes of staring at the intercom, they're finally ready to take your order. You spit out the first couple of items you want to order and they yell out "Hold on." again as if you're reciting your order at some breakneck speed that they simply cannot comprehend.

Getting the order wrong all the time. I swear one time I ordered a plain burger from the Wendy's around my house and they gave me buns with no hamburger patty on it!! Just the bread with some mayonnaise, pickles, ketchup, and onions spread on it. Why is it so hard for hood joint to get the orders right?! If I'm telling you I don't want certain toppings on my sandwich, I thought I was in essence asking ya'll to do less work?! Which brings me to my next point...

Not giving you any compensation for screwing up your order. At the same Wendy's around my house my wife and I had to take back a messed up order and the manager looked at us with a straight face and said "I'll comp you for the burger." which I thought meant he would give us the sandwich we ordered and paid for, how we ordered it, and our money back for our troubles, but no. He meant he'll just give us what we paid for without charging us any extra!! I'm like "Nigga, how you gonna comp us for something we already paid for by just giving us what we paid for?!!" The idea of giving the customer a free drink, french fries, or dessert for the inconvenience of screwing up their order or making them wait for 30-45 minutes for no clear cut reason, is obviously a concept hood fast food joints have never heard of.

Not accepting debit/credit cards. This is disturbingly common. I've been robbed before and make it a habit to not carry a whole lot of cash on my person. I would say that 50% to 65% of hood food joints do not accept plastic because there's a fee connected to using the card machine. Some forward thinking hood spots simply charge you an extra 25 cents to pay with a card, while others simply skip all that jazz and install some off brand ATM in the corner of the joint that will charge you $3.50 to withdraw $20.

The obligatory 15 minute wait for an item that they should have on tap. Why in the wide, wide world of sports do I have to wait 15 minutes or longer for an item whose name is in the name of the establishment?! Why is it a 15 minute wait for chicken at KFC or Popeye's Chicken?! Its not like I ordered shrimp or catfish or some other specialty item that doesn't get requested often. Or say it's a burger joint and there's a wait for fries...these are items you should theoretically have on tap and a constant supply of!! Well, at least they're letting you know what you're in for.

Telling you to "drive up to that spot" after you've paid for your meal in the drive thru. When did this BS start?! You pay for your food and they want you to drive another car length or two up to some random spot. Why can't I wait right here? Where I just paid you? Isn't is easier for you to just give me my food at the window than to send some 90 pound teenager outside into the 15 degree weather to hand me my food? And what if the order's wrong? Now I gotta get out of the safety of my car and knock on the window or the go in the actual place (which obviously I was trying to avoid by going through the drive- thru!) to demand the correct order. If asking the customer to drive past a certain point has something to do with clocking shorter wait times for their lines (this is what I've been told), how bout you just have the food ready and cooked? Quit trying to employ trickery and just do what they do in the other neighborhoods...work to have the food ready quickly.

I'm calling on all my fellow black people out there to please stop patronizing joints with these habits or at least call the corporate office to file a complaint. Cause if we never demand change, we can never expect it.

Rap Has Officially Trumped Rock n' Roll As America's Most Popular Music Genre

So the Nielsen's data people have come out recently and have officially declared rap music the most popular form of American music trumping rock music in sales and consumption. This comes as no surprise to those with a little age on them, who have been able to observe firsthand the trajectory of rap's popularity. Rap went from not getting any music videos shown on mainstream outlets and being largely ignored by music based award shows to being almost only form of music you see featured in movie trailers, commercials, and hear in nightclubs. Its become more and more evident that hip-hop is here to stay. Even with popular slang, terms that originate from hip-hop culture are what dominate. Terms like "dope" and "lit" have replaced "gnarly" and "cool". Whatever styles of dress and grooming you see among the current rap artists are what gets adopted by their adoring, young fans(and in a lot cases, even pop artists)- in the 90's it was gold & platinum jewelry, baseball caps, baggy jeans, Jordans, etc., now it's skinny jeans, grills, dashiki hoodies,  and whatever else the young kids are running around in these days. But I have a few theories as to why rap has overcome rock as America's most popular music:

White people have always stolen, or "borrowed" from black people. Like it or not, white mainstream culture has always looked to black culture as the indicator of what's cool, edgy, and the "next big thing", often to exploit it monetarily, and less often just because whatever music black people are cooking up genuinely appeals to them and makes them dance and feel good. Black people have always been creators and have always seemed to be able to create something from nothing, or at most, very little. Divorced from our original African roots when brought here to America, we created jazz and blues as an original art form. White people became fans and began to make their own jazz. The rhythm and blues Black southerners created served as the skeleton for what became rock n roll, and the new rebellious music that was once labeled "nigger music" was quickly becoming the soundtrack to the lives of white youth. White people took it and made their own rock music. Hip hop music has been able to fight off the next White takeover of itself so far, but that doesn't keep white pop culture from borrowing elements of the music like the aforementioned slang, dress, and forms of dance. They show their support for the most current form of black music through buying albums and tickets to hip-hop shows (In fact, I've never been to a hip hop concert that wasn't at least 50% white). Simply put, white people always adopt whatever black people are doing because it's cool. And I don't think they're gonna stop "borrowing" things from us any time soon. 

Rock music stopped being edgy and also fell off. The age of classic rock has been long over, and the age of rock being looked at as edgy/scary has been over for even longer. Rock had to almost reinvent itself with the birth of heavy metal to appear scary and dangerousat one point. Rap, however, due to the conscious and subconscious perceptions of the young, Black male (or how White America sees the young, Black male) became the King of Everything Scary when it burst onto the scene in the 80s. America saw this as the music of criminals, drug dealers, thugs, gangsters, and street scum who up until now had no voice and didn't deserve one. A couple of guys with long hair who wore spandex and pretended to salute Satan had nothing on Eazy-E, Ice T, and Public Enemy. Their music was brash, unapologetic and drenched in profanity. And on top of it, they didn't even play instruments! But despite these factors, America's infatuation with violence and misogyny (and penchant for looking to Black culture as to what's cool) kept feeding the beast. White America couldn't look away from rap culture but at the same time, didn't want representatives of this new culture living next door to them. Another factor is that rock has been assimilated into pop music to the point where most people can't name off the top of their head a whole lot of true rock groups that are pushing the genre forward. Sure, you have your Black Keys and White Stripes, but when it comes to rap, most youth can name more rappers than they can name rock artists.

The versatility of rap music provides something for everybody. Throughout the past 30 years rap has  evolved way beyond party music. It's the genre known for speaking out against things like police brutality and social injustice. It's great for storytelling. It's great for talking about love. It's great for talking about hate. It's great for talking about a good day. It's great for talking about a bad day. It's great for talking about nothing. It allows for introspective self reflection. And did I mention it's still great for partying and dancing to?! Even if the ultraviolent overtones of 21 Savage don't fit you, you have a Drake (and his many clones) to chill out to. If the garbled ramblings of Lil Yatchy or Migos aren't your cup of tea, you have artists like J-Live and Pharoah Monch out there still flexing their vocabulary. Don't like the beta-male crooning of Drake? You may like the confident, grown man bravado of a Black Thought or Jay-Z...Wanna hear rap from a female perspective? Rapsody, Jean Grae, Bahamadia, Remy Ma, Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliot, Eve, MC Lyte, Rah Digga, Queen Latifah, Snow Da Product, Nitty Scott, Young MA, or one of many others are available to check out. There's literally rap for every personality, every mood, and every age group that's been alive since it's inception.

So taking everything mentioned under consideration, acknowledging that rap music is here to stay, I surely hope it continues to morph, grow, evolve, and continue to be an accurate reflection of the black experience in America.  

Rap Groups That Need To Reunite, TODAY!

Tragically, we've seen way too many MCs pass away in recent years. The departure of Mobb Deep's Prodigy has laid to rest any hopes of another Mobb Deep album or seeing them perform live one last time. And the passing away of J-Dilla, ODB, Fresh Kid Ice, Poetic, Guru, Jam Master Jay, MCA, Eazy-E, Baatin, and Proof has effectively nixed any prospects for complete reunions of groups like Slum Village, Wu Tang Clan, 2 Live Crew, Gravediggaz, Gang Starr, RUN DMC, the Beastie Boys, NWA, & D12, all of which have classic (or at least great) albums under their belt.

Fortunately, and in bittersweet fashion, my favorite group of all time, A Tribe Called Quest, blessed longtime fans with an official farewell LP that was in the works right before the untimely passing of core member Phife Dawg. And it turned out to be the best rap album released last year IMO.

So here's a list a hip hop groups, who's members are all alive still, that I would like to see reunite for at least one more album, before Father Time and the Grim Reaper strike again. Some of these groups are beefed out and split up bitterly, some just had creative differences and went separate ways, others might just be on hiatus. But they made magic happen when they were together, and I'd like to see that happen again. So, in no particular order, this is who I wanna see make one last go at it:

1. Black Star- Mos Def and Talib Kweli joined forces for only one album, but that album just happens to be regarded as one of the greatest hip hop albums ever. Both these MCs have gone on to do solo projects, have solid discographies, appear to be on the same wavelength creatively and lyrically, and are on good terms with each other and friends. So reportedly, its just scheduling conflicts and other personal obligations preventing an official reunion project. But if it ever does materialize, expectations will be set incredibly high, and maybe that alone will prevent it from happening...

2. The Fugees- There is some understandable bad blood between Lauryn and Wyclef, but man, can't they put that aside to help out Pras?!! I doubt he's driving an Uber now, but I'm sure he wouldn't mind the income from another Fugees album and tour. Once they found their stride in the studio, the music they cranked out was nothing short of amazing. But right after they dropped their one classic album, they went their separate ways and Lauryn and Clef almost immediately started throwing shade at each other and Pras dropped Ghetto Superstar. SMH. This is the one group I think is least likely to get back together though.

3. Pete Rock & CL Smooth- Why Pete Rock and CL started not getting along is still unclear, but what is still clear is their chemistry together on a track. CL's buttery, clear flow glides perfectly over Pete Rock's soul drenched, jazzy, boom bap productions. Even when it's been years since their last collabo, they seemed to have never missed a step. Not to mention, no other rapper sounds as good and natural over PR's beats than CL Smooth, and Pete Rock has collaborated with ALOT of MCs over the past 20+ years.  

4. Little Brother- This group was a victim of what I call the Gang Starr Effect, where the producer's acclaim and popularity surpassed that of the group members he came in the door with. As a group, Little Brother seemed to be stuck in the underground, and looked at odd by television networks and radio stations who couldn't make heads or tails of them due to them possessing no clear marketing gimmick outside of dope beats and rhymes. But at the same time, underground rap fans adored them, musically they seemed to have picked up where A Tribe Called Quest left off. While the group seemed to have hit a glass ceiling in the industry, 9th Wonder's production was being sought out by high profile acts like Jay-Z, Destiny's Child, and Erykah Badu. It was only a matter of time before the trio went their separate ways. Phonte, Big Pooh, and 9th Wonder have all had decent careers since, and appear to all have plenty of gas in the tank, so I think if they were to reunite their talents one last time, the result would be phenomenal.

5. Company Flow- El-P has reached "super-producer" status since his Company Flow days, producing classic albums and songs for Mr. Lif, Murs, Aesop Rock, and Cannibal Ox while heading his own indie record label, releasing a jazz album, a movie soundtrack, stellar solo LPs, and most recently joining Killer Mike to form rap duo Run The Jewels. El-P's sound has evolved and become incredibly diverse over the years, so I'd be anxious to see what he'd cook up for Big Juss and Mr. Len. As a group, they never shied away from speaking on politics, religion, family structure, and commercialism, so given the current, modern climate in Trump's America, I'm sure they would have plenty to say. Their only full length project, Funcrusher Plus, is also regarded as one of the greatest independent rap albums ever. Big Juss' solo album didn't have much replay value from what I remember, and it was clear El-P's production kind of forces the listeners to be attentive to their dense flows. I don't believe Mr. Len ever released a solo project, but I'm really curious as to what they would churn out.

Jay-Z's 4:44 Critical Acclaim, Explained

By now, unless you've been living under a rock, in a cave, on the moon, and your fingers in your ears, you've heard Jay-Z's latest album 4:44, or at least heard the reviews and commentary on it. Mainly, how much of a "grown" and "mature" album this release is. Over the course of the LP, Jay highlights the benefits of things like generational wealth, good credit, and investing in things like art and real estate. Concepts that are very foreign to a lot of young black men who listen primarily to rap. He also is very open and honest about personal shortcomings and his family dynamic. To put it bluntly, this was a very unconventional rap album and a very unconventional Jay Z as well. It was an creative left turn for him as an artist, and a thematic Russian roulette as far as rap albums go. Already, I'm hearing disc jockeys and critics placing 4:44 as one of Jay's top 3 albums, and some are even putting it at numero uno. That's saying a lot considering Jay Z is considered one of the best to ever touch the mic, and this is album #13 for him. After having a week to digest it properly, I can say I was pleasantly surprised by the album, but don't want to be a prisoner of the moment and put it on a pedestal prematurely, but I do think it falls on the more favorable side of Jay Z's discography.

But on to this business of how "grown" this album is. Let me first say that the definition of "grown" is extremely relative, especially within hip-hop. 4:44 has earned that label due to it's touting the aforementioned themes and avoiding hanging it's hat on what 99% of the rap world prides itself on: promiscuity, partying, pills, money, clubbing, violence, frivolous spending, and stunting. So kudos to Jay Z for that. But to perfectly honest, Jay Z isn't the first MC to record a "grown" album if you were to go by that definition. Granted, Jay Z is first rapper of his stature to do so, and maybe that's why he's being looked at like he's reinventing the wheel, but for years the Commons, Mos Defs, Talib Kweli's, and countless others have been putting out music that by any definition would be considered introspective and mature. But...we know how it goes. Because those artists and others like them haven't achieved the level of wealth Jay Z has, their opinion's and in turn, music, holds less weight. People of all races, but in particularly the black community, equate wealth with talent, business acumen, intelligence, professionalism, and credibility. These other "lower level" rappers also don't have the stature to partner with another major corporation to wholesale their album in advance sort to speak. So when Jay Z speaks, the world listens. And he chose to use his moment in the spotlight to impart some gems on the minds of listeners. This is something that is just not simply done (or is extremely rare) by rap acts who are on and popping right now. In fact, if Jay had released 4:44 as his second album, instead of his thirteenth, it might have been career suicide (especially considering there's no real radio single on here). Sure, back in late 80s and early to mid 90s golden era of hip-hop, who had numerous groups and artists who were instilled with a sense of black pride, spirituality, and knowledge of self, but hip hop has been going the way of the savages for a good 15+ years now. Some would argue longer. So when you hear people say "It's about time a rapper made a grown, mature rap album!" they're really talking about rappers among the current crop who are getting radio play and magazine covers, right now.

As for the rest of the rap world, hopefully they'll take notes. Maybe they'll put forth more of an effort to rap about adult things without fearing their sales going down the toilet. Maybe they'll experiment more and rap about family life as opposed to club culture. Maybe they'll encourage younger listeners to show more soundness of mind financially. Listeners will go on whatever journey you take them on as long as it sounds good.  Jay Z and many others who've come before him just proved that.

Best Hip Hop Albums Of The Year, So Far...

Here we are already at the halfway point of the year, and 2017 seems to be shaping up a lot like 2016: police are still killing unarmed people of color with no consequences, celebrities continue to bite the dust,  comic book heroes dominate the box office, politics continues to show us white skin and money take priority over everything... but fortunately the year has been shaping up to be a pretty decent year for hip-hop music as well.

Here are the 10 best hip-hop albums I've heard this year so far. By the end of the year, this list will likely change and I may have a whole different 10 albums, or maybe it might be the exact same albums, who knows?! But if you haven't checked out these releases yet to come out this year, I think you won't be disappointed if you did.

10. Insight & Damu The Fudgemunk- Ears Hear Spears: veteran Boston MC/producer Insight blesses fans of true school, boom bap hip hop with a no-frills, no-filler 10 track album featuring stellar production from D.C. producer Damu The Fudgemunk accompanying his effortless rhyme flows. This album sounds like it was frozen in time in 1996, and then was released today. A must listen for fans of boom bap!

9. Substantial- The Past Is Always Present In The Future- Maryland lyricist and underground veteran Substantial comes out of nowhere with this moody, yet very mature sounding LP that will impress any head who needs to hear some real grown up rap. While this album is not as heavy on the comedic, battle ready punchlines of Substantial's earlier work, he switches gears a bit and is more introspective, spitting rhymes about his past, parenthood, and the trajectory of black peoples' progress in America. Definite sleeper.

8. Nick Grant- The Return of the Cool- South Carolina lyricist Nick Grant blesses fans with another consistent project that combines witty, razor sharp, punchline driven lyricism with radio friendly production that will keep heads nodding and hips shaking. As one of the most underrated and underappreciated MC's in the game, Nick Grants proves on song after song why everyone needs to be put on notice about this dude.

7. The Underachievers- Renaissance- Flatbush, Brooklyn duo Issa Gold & Ak The Savior embrace the melodic, dusty, boom bap production (which has been making a comeback these days) for their appropriately titled Renaissance album.  Rhyming about life lessons as well as smoking really strong weed, they are a group that you can chill out to but also know to take very seriously when the mood calls for it.

6. Talib Kweli & Styles P- The Seven- Never judge a book by its cover, because while the album cover for this looks like it was done by a 6 year old with only 3 crayons, what's contained on here musically is a true work of art. It's an EP, so while it's runtime is not as long as a full length LP, it's straight to the point with no frills and filled with clever, well thought out lyrics over hardcore, boom bap flavored beats. Talib delivers for the conscious rap fans and Styles delivers for the street rap fans, yet they compliment each other perfectly while speaking on the same topic on the same song, but through two different prisms. So there's something on here for everybody. Don't sleep!

5. Venomous2000 x Trilian- Sounds of the Great Ones- This album truly came out of nowhere for me; it popped up in my recommended album feed in my Bandcamp page and I really dug the album cover and decided to check it out. And boy, was I pleasantly surprised! Venomous2000 drops track after track of dope, battle ready lyrics over Trilian's aggressive, polished production. Fans of Dilated Peoples, Wu-Tang, Redman, Cannibal Ox, etc. will appreciate this brand of increasingly rare hip hop. Contributions from Inspectah Deck, C-Rayz Walz, The Artifacts, Reks, and Shabaam Sadeeq also give this album a punch as well.

4. Raekwon- The Wild- Wu-Tang wordsmith Raekwon comes back strong his seventh solo LP. On this release, he utilizes a variety of classic old school break beats as well as lush, soulful Motown era samples that give the album a definitive vintage feel. But there are moments in the album where Rae shows he can still hold his own amongst the current crop of spitters and dips his toe into the more contemporary sounds of the day and invites guests like Lil Wayne and G-Eazy. Not to mention, the autobiographical dedication to Marvin Gaye he does is worth the price of admission alone.

3. Murs- Captain California- Mid City, L.A. veteran Murs has been blessing the underground masses with dope underground music for 20 years now, and on his 15th LP, Captain California, he returns to his roots sort of speak with cleverly written songs about everything from hollering at females to gentrification to just having a bad day in the hood. Most of the songs on here are stories, so it makes for a very entertaining listen. The production has backbone but is still easy on ears enough that it doesn't take too much attention away from the one you should be listening to the most, the MC. Check out this album, but if you haven't already, google this man's discography and check it out. Because this album is merely a tip of the Murs iceberg.

2. Joey Badass- All Amerikkkan Badass- Joey is an MC that I have been rooting for since I heard Survival Tactics back when he was only 17 years old. From the jump he embraced the grimey, boom bap, laid back production that was the signature sound of 90s golden era hip hop to compliment his steady fire flows. But being so young at the time, you didn't know if he was going to be a one-trick pony and fizzle out or grow with his art. Fortunately Joey B eludes the sophomore slump with delivering a concise, consistent, and sonically diverse album that tackles race relations in America in a way that I have not seen done since the days of Mos Def and dead prez, and definitely don't see from many of his peers.

1. Kendrick Lamar- Damn. This should come as no surprise that this album made the top of the mid-year list. Ever since he entered the game, Kendrick has demonstrated a consistency that has not been seen in 10+ years from hip hop artists and shows no signs of slowing down or falling off. Damn. is an album that is deeply insightful, reflective, and socially aware but at the same time radio friendly and melodic enough to compete with all his rap contemporaries.

This Black Panther Trailer Tho'....

So the other day I'm watching game 4 of the NBA Finals (hoping Golden State finally puts Cleveland out of their misery) and a teaser trailer comes on for Marvel Studio's upcoming Black Panther movie. It starts off with an interrogation scene with two white guys discussing the fictional nation of Wukanda, and I'm thinking I'm in there store for a typical run of the mill movie trailer, but once it got past the introduction and got to the meat of the sandwich, consider my wig totally flipped!!  This was hands down, the most impressive trailer for a superhero movie I have ever seen. And I've watched alot of superhero movies and trailers. I totally hope that the overall mood of the final cut of the film was captured in that trailer. The colors, the action, the acting, the atmosphere, the conflict, and overall feel of this movie teaser had me screaming at the TV "Shut up and take my money, Marvel!!" And this wasn't just because I'm some comic book nerd/man-boy. What I potentially see with this film, or what I think I'm seeing with this film, I just have never seen done before: a superhero movie with a  black  hero,  black  supporting cast, set in a  black  country, but designed for a  mainstream  audience.  Sure, we've seen movies with black superheroes before ( Spawn, Blade  and  Hancock  come to mind), but with those films, the heroes still existed and operated in a majority white world, and in most cases had a white love interest playing opposite to the main character. I don't know what will be laid out in the Black Panther movie, but in the comics he marries Storm. We've also seen black superheroes in superhero movies, but they've often been relegated to sidekicks and background characters (See: Falcon in  Captain America , Bishop in  X-Men Days of Future Past , or the ill-fated Darwin in  X-Men: First Class ) who bite the dust early or are an afterthought. We've also seen movies with black protagonists and black supporting casts, but these films could be classified as blaxpoitation films in their earliest stages in the 60s and 70s and even though modern films with those descriptors have shed the "blaxpoitation" label, it is pretty clear that they were made with the intent of only (or at least a majority) black people seeing these movies (See:  Meteor Man, Black Superman, Shaft, Dolemite ). They also fell victim to being creatively and artistically lazy and falling back on stereotypical characters of what white mainstream audiences assumed black people acted like and talked like.  With this  Black Panther  movie, what I assume I'm seeing is a movie with a strong, super intelligent, super rich, black protagonist operating in a black setting in the world, interacting with other strong, black characters both good and bad. I also assume I'm seeing black African culture being embraced and featured in a positive and progressive light as opposed to the usual image of a bunch of poor, culturally bankrupt savages who need a white savior or saviors to elevate them out of the stone age. This is what I think I'm seeing. For all I know T'Challa's love interest in the movie may be a Kardashian or a Jenner and the studio is doing their best to keep that mess a secret until the movie drops, but if what I see in this teaser is any indication of how awesome the film will be (or the soundtrack, I peeped that Run The Jewels playing in the commercial), then my expectations are super high. Look out Meteor Man, black America may have a new official superhero sitting on your throne soon!

So the other day I'm watching game 4 of the NBA Finals (hoping Golden State finally puts Cleveland out of their misery) and a teaser trailer comes on for Marvel Studio's upcoming Black Panther movie. It starts off with an interrogation scene with two white guys discussing the fictional nation of Wukanda, and I'm thinking I'm in there store for a typical run of the mill movie trailer, but once it got past the introduction and got to the meat of the sandwich, consider my wig totally flipped!!

This was hands down, the most impressive trailer for a superhero movie I have ever seen. And I've watched alot of superhero movies and trailers. I totally hope that the overall mood of the final cut of the film was captured in that trailer. The colors, the action, the acting, the atmosphere, the conflict, and overall feel of this movie teaser had me screaming at the TV "Shut up and take my money, Marvel!!" And this wasn't just because I'm some comic book nerd/man-boy. What I potentially see with this film, or what I think I'm seeing with this film, I just have never seen done before: a superhero movie with a black hero, black supporting cast, set in a black country, but designed for a mainstream audience.

Sure, we've seen movies with black superheroes before (Spawn, Blade and Hancock come to mind), but with those films, the heroes still existed and operated in a majority white world, and in most cases had a white love interest playing opposite to the main character. I don't know what will be laid out in the Black Panther movie, but in the comics he marries Storm. We've also seen black superheroes in superhero movies, but they've often been relegated to sidekicks and background characters (See: Falcon in Captain America, Bishop in X-Men Days of Future Past, or the ill-fated Darwin in X-Men: First Class) who bite the dust early or are an afterthought. We've also seen movies with black protagonists and black supporting casts, but these films could be classified as blaxpoitation films in their earliest stages in the 60s and 70s and even though modern films with those descriptors have shed the "blaxpoitation" label, it is pretty clear that they were made with the intent of only (or at least a majority) black people seeing these movies (See: Meteor Man, Black Superman, Shaft, Dolemite). They also fell victim to being creatively and artistically lazy and falling back on stereotypical characters of what white mainstream audiences assumed black people acted like and talked like.

With this Black Panther movie, what I assume I'm seeing is a movie with a strong, super intelligent, super rich, black protagonist operating in a black setting in the world, interacting with other strong, black characters both good and bad. I also assume I'm seeing black African culture being embraced and featured in a positive and progressive light as opposed to the usual image of a bunch of poor, culturally bankrupt savages who need a white savior or saviors to elevate them out of the stone age. This is what I think I'm seeing. For all I know T'Challa's love interest in the movie may be a Kardashian or a Jenner and the studio is doing their best to keep that mess a secret until the movie drops, but if what I see in this teaser is any indication of how awesome the film will be (or the soundtrack, I peeped that Run The Jewels playing in the commercial), then my expectations are super high. Look out Meteor Man, black America may have a new official superhero sitting on your throne soon!

Concept Albums Are A Dying Art, Here's A Few You Should Check Out

A concept album can be defined as an album with a unified theme. In other words, it could be an album where a story is told from the first song to the last, or contain a few songs connecting a particular theme or story. Or it could an album where the performing artist(s) delve into a whole different personality or persona and pretend to be such over the length of the album.

In today's day and age, with so much emphasis on hot singles, concept albums (especially hip-hop concept albums) are quickly becoming an endangered species. Albums as a whole have grown less important with the mixtape revolution that began to spawn circa 2002, allowing artists to stay connected with their fan base by dropping material as frequently as they wanted as opposed to having to wait for some record label A&R telling them when their album was finished and they could have it released. Most recently, we've seen the newer format of the "playlist" being released by artists which have been loosely defined as a "soundtrack to one's life"??!!? Whatever. Sounds like a cop out just in case the body of work is disappointing, it can struck from the official discography. Music consumers as a whole seem to have shorter attention spans and don't want to invest 60+ minutes hearing out an artist lay out a theme/story, unless that artist already has a lot of equity built up with that listener; and sometimes even then it works extremely well, and at other times it can fall flat (see: Kendrick Lamar & J.Cole). And to be honest, it is a lot easier creatively and artistically, for a performer to put out an easy-on-the-ears single accompanied by album filler, as opposed to a body of work of 10+ songs that's meant to be consumed as a whole. 

So here's part one of a list of hip-hop concept albums that are personal favorites of mine (in no particular order) that I feel any fan of hip-hop would enjoy and be thoroughly entertained by:  

1. Prince Paul- Prince Among Thieves (1999 Tommy Boy Records): Legendary hip-hop sampling pioneer Prince Paul employs the services of Breeze Brewin' of the Juggaknots and his buttery, smooth flow to tell the tale of an ambitious MC on the rise who gets caught up in the treacherous trap of the streets. Breeze effortlessly pushes the narrative over an array of dope, diverse beats and highly amusing skits. Other legends' contributions are sprinkled throughout the project such as De La Soul, Kool Kieth, Chubb Rock, Killa Sha, Biz Markie, Big Daddy Kane, Everlast, Sadat X, Xzibit, and others.

 2. Little Brother- The Minstrel Show (2005 ABB Records): For the sophomore LP from North Carolina trio of Big Pooh, Phonte, & 9th Wonder, they seemed to want to exorcise some demons and vent some frustration with their experience in the entertainment industry (Google "Little Brother BET controversy" or "Little Brother The Source album rating controversy"). What resulted was a masterfully crafted album that used satire to skewer the collective modern black entertainment industry Bamboozled-style. Various sub-genres of rap, "black" television channels, black shopping habits, even the format for the modern R&B single at that time found themselves in the group's cross-hairs with hilarious, but thought provoking results. If you haven't already, please check out the "greatest colored show on earth"!

3. Masta Ace- Disposable Arts (2001 JCOR Records): Juice Crew alum Masta Ace comes back from a seven year hiatus to bless us with this gem of a concept album and just a great hip-hop album, period. Using his simple, straight forward flow and signature vocal tone clarity, Ace lays out a detailed story of a young man released from prison who has to get acclimated again in the streets and neighborhood he left behind while he was in prison for some time. He engages with old, familiar faces who are pulling him in different directions and he ultimately decides to do something constructive with his life while the cast of characters around him eventually meet less than desirable outcomes.

4. The Streets- A Grand Don't Come For Free (2004 Locked On Records): British rappers have never been my cup of tea (no pun intended), but UK wordsmith The Streets lays out a musical page-turner of a plot involving a shady friend, a shady girlfriend, and a missing $1000. His suspicions and reactive nature take him down some twists and turns over the course of the album/story, but it all culminates into a feel good conclusion that doesn't seem too Hollywood nor too iconoclastic.

5. Mr. Lif- I Phantom (2002 Definitive Jux Records): Boston MC Mr. Lif went all out and deep on niggas with his full length debut LP I Phantom. Lif guides the listener into and through the world of a young man coming of age who falls victim to all the trappings of young adulthood before finally repressing his rebellious spirit to go to school, get a 9 to 5 job, and settle down with a wife. Little does he know, the straight and narrow, corporate life comes with its own variety of evils and pitfalls as well. On top of that, Lif also narrates mankind's descent into madness and self-destruction in the most literal way, aided by technology. This album is not for the casual hip-hop listener.

6. RZA- Bobby Digital In Stereo (1998 Gee Street Records): Wu Tang Clan producer and unofficial leader RZA came out the gate on the conceptual tip with his debut solo LP, fully immersing himself into his alter-ego of Bobby Digital. This character seems to be part superhero, part bionic man, part pimp, and part space age rapper. RZA lets his hair down with polished, keyboard and synth driven beats accompanying raps about weak MCs, getting drunk, and chasing women. I admit, that may not sound too left field for a rapper, but it's not what you do, it's how you do it. The flow of the album, guest appearances, and next level production all made for an entertaining trip into one of hip-hop's greatest minds.   

Part 2, coming soon...