hip-hop

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.

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...

Music Critics Vs. The "Streets" by Bug One

   The release of Kendrick Lamar's new album  Damn.  has once again shown me the huge differences between how music critics digest albums and how the "streets" digest music (by the term 'streets' I'm referring to the general public of rap fans currently buying music). Let me first say that I thought this last album by Kendrick was phenomenal. And from everything I've read online, most of the music critics out there agree with me or at least felt the album was well above average. His perspective, approach, creativity and voice is much needed in the genre of mainstream rap that has grown increasingly materialistic, shallow, hedonistic, and savage.     But unfortunately, the vast majority of young (and not so young) rap fans I talk to about the album really aren't feeling it. For my 9 to 5, I'm in and out of grocery stores all over the south side of Chicago staffed with fellow black men between the ages of 18 and 40 and naturally we get into discussions on current events, politics, and of course music. The overall reception of the album was unenthusiastic and the overall opinion of Kendrick was that he was a "weirdo rapper", "not black enough", "doesn't go in hard enough", "too laid back", and I even heard one guy say he "wasn't savage enough" and attributed his fame and record sales to "niggas on the west coast". Everybody has their right to an opinion (especially with something as subjective as music), but I just don't know what album they were listening to! Now I heard similar complaints about Kendrick when he released  To Pimp A Butterfly  about him being too weird and not giving the streets what they want to hear and I disagreed then too.      It's all made me wonder why the streets hardly ever embrace the same music that music critics hold in such high regard. Is it because they live different types of lives so feed off different types of vibes? Is it that music critics get their music for free so aren't as demanding and picky as far as what they want to hear? Is it that they've listened to sooo much music due to their profession that they are more welcoming to left field, artistic risk-taking? Do we need more music critics that are actually from the streets or even still "in the streets"? Are cats in the streets dumbed down so much by everything else classified as rap that a Kendrick Lamar comes off...well, weird? I really don't have the answers. I wish I did so this article could be longer. But I do know what I like, and I do know I vibe with all of Kendrick's releases heavily. He's 4 for 4 currently on his first 4 LP's, which hasn't been done in rap in a loooong time. And I do know that rap music that's universally heralded by critics (as of lately) usually gets dissed or ignored by the majority of the hood, but I kind of blame that partially on the extinction of record stores.     What do ya'll think? Do music critics just have bad taste in hip hop? Do I? Do street cats just not want to hear weirdo rap? Am I polling the wrong people? Is there such thing as music people  want  to hear but also music people  need  to hear? What do ya'll think? 'Cause I ain't got the answers, Sway.

   The release of Kendrick Lamar's new album Damn. has once again shown me the huge differences between how music critics digest albums and how the "streets" digest music (by the term 'streets' I'm referring to the general public of rap fans currently buying music). Let me first say that I thought this last album by Kendrick was phenomenal. And from everything I've read online, most of the music critics out there agree with me or at least felt the album was well above average. His perspective, approach, creativity and voice is much needed in the genre of mainstream rap that has grown increasingly materialistic, shallow, hedonistic, and savage.

   But unfortunately, the vast majority of young (and not so young) rap fans I talk to about the album really aren't feeling it. For my 9 to 5, I'm in and out of grocery stores all over the south side of Chicago staffed with fellow black men between the ages of 18 and 40 and naturally we get into discussions on current events, politics, and of course music. The overall reception of the album was unenthusiastic and the overall opinion of Kendrick was that he was a "weirdo rapper", "not black enough", "doesn't go in hard enough", "too laid back", and I even heard one guy say he "wasn't savage enough" and attributed his fame and record sales to "niggas on the west coast". Everybody has their right to an opinion (especially with something as subjective as music), but I just don't know what album they were listening to! Now I heard similar complaints about Kendrick when he released To Pimp A Butterfly about him being too weird and not giving the streets what they want to hear and I disagreed then too. 

   It's all made me wonder why the streets hardly ever embrace the same music that music critics hold in such high regard. Is it because they live different types of lives so feed off different types of vibes? Is it that music critics get their music for free so aren't as demanding and picky as far as what they want to hear? Is it that they've listened to sooo much music due to their profession that they are more welcoming to left field, artistic risk-taking? Do we need more music critics that are actually from the streets or even still "in the streets"? Are cats in the streets dumbed down so much by everything else classified as rap that a Kendrick Lamar comes off...well, weird? I really don't have the answers. I wish I did so this article could be longer. But I do know what I like, and I do know I vibe with all of Kendrick's releases heavily. He's 4 for 4 currently on his first 4 LP's, which hasn't been done in rap in a loooong time. And I do know that rap music that's universally heralded by critics (as of lately) usually gets dissed or ignored by the majority of the hood, but I kind of blame that partially on the extinction of record stores.

   What do ya'll think? Do music critics just have bad taste in hip hop? Do I? Do street cats just not want to hear weirdo rap? Am I polling the wrong people? Is there such thing as music people want to hear but also music people need to hear? What do ya'll think? 'Cause I ain't got the answers, Sway.

Rappers That I'm Calling It Quits On by Bug One

   Sadly, anyone who's been a fan of hip hop music for as long as I have, has most likely come to grips, at some point, with the fact that one of their favorite artists, perhaps someone they've been influenced by for years and grew up listening to, has fallen off or just ain't what they used to be. I go through this once every 7 or 8 years, and the following is a list of one time favorite rappers/artists that I've realized I just need to call it quits on. The reasons for each one may differ: lack musical output, lack of good musical output, a change in style, or just plain ole' getting outshined by other artists who do what they do (or did) better. And this does not mean I don't view these artists as dope artists! Some of them are my personal favorites. It's just the writing on the wall is spelling out to me that I probably should not, or won't, be buying anymore music from them.

1. Mos Def (AKA Yasiin Bey)- Mighty Mos Def was once a part of the Mount Rushmore of avant-garde MCs (along with Talib Kweli, Common, & Pharoah Monch) who spear headed the lyrically driven independent rap scene in the late 90s. He's got 2 undisputed classics under his belt with his solo debut Black On Both Sides and his collaborative LP with Talib Kweli under the Black Star name and is still in my personal top 10 of greatest MCs. But since Mos' last LP (2009's The Ecstatic), and changing his name, Mos has been busy with everything but rap, such as acting, activism, and bouncing back and forth between the States and South Africa. Yasiin Bey announced he was retiring from making music after releasing one last album (so technically he's calling it quits on us, we're not quitting him) with producer Ferrari Sheppard and released 2 new singles from the already delayed project that had a bizarre, electro-rock flavor to them. Nothing against left field sounds, but it just didn't measure up to his past work. If that was any indication of where he's going creatively, I hate to say it, but his best work is long behind him.

2. KRS-One- He's paid his dues, gifted us with classics, and made his indelible mark on hip-hop music. But lately, I haven't been feeling this elder statesman of rap mainly because of his ill advised decision to defend and excuse fellow hip hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa amidst numerous allegations of sexually abusing and assaulting teenage boys in the 80s. He even said those who want Bambaataa to answer for his alleged crimes should quit hip-hop. I wasn't there when all this stuff went down allegedly, so of course I can't say what happened, but the evidence doesn't look good for Bam. And for KRS-One to give a full throated defense of this man, and make it about hip-hop, is irresponsible, obtuse, inadvisable, and makes me not want to hear any new music from this man.

Krs-one.jpg

3. RZA- He will always be in my top 5 greatest producers of all time, but the Abbot just doesn't have that magical touch anymore. After dropping the ball on the last two Wu Tang LPs, production-wise, favoring experimental and cinematic soundscapes over his grimier, darker, simpler, signature sound, I can't say I would buy anymore albums produced by him whether they're solo products or Wu affiliated.  

4. Lupe Fiasco- It hurts me to say this about my fellow Chicagoan. At one point, about 12 years ago, Lupe seemed poised to take over the game with his uncompromising, intellectual lyrics over slick, radio friendly production. The rap game had also evolved at that time to the point where Lupe's nerd-chic style was a welcome breath of fresh air amidst the hip-hop uniform of white tees, over-sized throwback jerseys, & New Era hats. But since 2007's The Cool, Lupe has not been able to give us consistent LPs that match his earlier work. A brief mixtape here, a musically off-center LP there...next thing you know, he's accumulated a pretty dare I say, average discography. It also doesn't help when you go around saying that your own albums aren't that good, even to you!

5. Slaughterhouse- I was so excited back when this group formed. It was a lyrical rap fan's wet dream seeing MCs Crooked I, Joell Ortiz, Royce Da 5'9", and Joe Budden form this supergroup. All these guys were proven, lyrical heavyweights in their own right, so if you combined them, and throw the support of the Shady/Interscope records juggernaut behind them, what could go wrong??!!! After releasing a handful of projects featuring ill-fitting beats over their aggressive flows, that never really lived up to the hype behind a group like this, and reportedly stalling their next release due to nitpicking and various other reasons, the group's overall momentum and buzz has seemed to fizzle out. I'm still pulling for these guys to get it together as a group, but to be honest, they all seem more focused and appear to perform their best on their solo projects as opposed to as a group.

6. Kanye West- Do I even need to explain this one? For me, part of the appeal of rap music is being able to relate to the lyrics and topics the MC is speaking on. Kanye at one time, I felt, provided a much needed voice in hip-hop for middle class black kids who grew up in the city and have an appreciation for certain "non-hood" things. Now, he's just that weird second cousin of ours who's won the lottery, moved out to the suburbs, is self absorbed, alienated from any kind of struggle, and likely voted for Trump. 

7. Jay Electronica- This one hurts me the most, and there is a part of me that is still willing to spend $15 on whatever album Jay Elec drops, whenever it drops. Jay has always struck me as an artist's artist's artist, a man who will be uncompromising with his music, but most of all, a lyrical beast who could put 95% of the rap game to shame. But unfortunately, homie just doesn't seem that interested in putting out music at the moment. He blessed us with phenomenal features, freestyles, and mixtape tracks as early as 2007, but after a few years of waiting for an official release...well, we're still waiting.  Maybe he doesn't want to dip his toes in this crazy, fraudulent rap industry? Maybe he's uninspired? Maybe he's just uninterested? Maybe whatever album he had in the works got mired in record label/A&R interference? Maybe he has bigger priorities on his plate right now? But this unofficial state of retirement he's in doesn't bode well for hearing an album from him anytime soon.

Picture courtesy of Google

Picture courtesy of Google

Mumble Rap Ain't My Cup Of Tea, But...

by Bug One   

 I got to say- I'm getting a little tired of hearing heads my age and older complaining about it. They have no rhymes, no vocabulary, they repeat the hook over more than half the track, it has no connection to the elements of hip hop culture, and even most of the beats sound the same... I've heard all the complaints. And all the complaints are valid. But my fellow aging heads need to give it a rest. The newest, most popular crop of MCs (and I use that term loosely) aren't my cup of tea personally and their music doesn't speak to me, but it doesn't have to. Hip Hop music has always been driven by the tastes of urban youth, and to be honest, I'm a thirty-something 9 to 5er, husband, and father who's already taking cholesterol medication and planning to move out to the suburbs as soon as I get my first win fall of cash. I don't sip lean. I don't pop pills. I don't turn up. Heck, I don't even think I've stepped foot in a club since 2009. Getting my brakes done and my front porch weather proofed is my idea of a productive weekend. So I recognize I'm not part of that young crowd that the Lil Yatchy's and Uzi Verts and Travis Scotts are making music for. Let the youngin's do their thing and have their music.

   Hip Hop music itself is almost 40 years old at this point. Just the music. B-boying and graffiti art are even older. But think about Rock music when it was 40 years old. From the 50s to the 90s, it's sound evolved and changed drastically. You had classic rock, heavy metal, soft-rock, folk rock, progressive rock, grunge, alternative, punk, the list goes on...all these sub-genres of rock n roll had their time, scene, and poster children that were representative of whatever they were being labeled as. The same thing  happened with Jazz. Between the 1920s and1960s we saw the emergence of swing, big band, free jazz, ragtime, bebop, Afro-Cuban, modal, and cool jazz and they all made significant contributions to the genre.  Now I'm not saying I believe mumble rap  is going to make a lasting impression and in the year 2037 there will be documentaries made on the genius and impact of the Slime Season releases, but I am saying no genre stays recognizable and forever identifiable by it's initial audience. Looking at what's happened with other genres in the past, it's really not all that unfathomable that hip hop will, and has, split into several sub-genres. We've seen boom bap, g-funk, backpack, true-school, conscious, southern, trap, crunk, and now whatever this newest stuff is called.

   I personally like hip hop to have banging boom bap-ish, soulful beats with substantive, conscious lyrics sprinkled in with battle ready bars (I have The UN's U N Or U Out bumping in the background as I write this). But I recognize that's not what everyone wants to hear. At the same time, fellow heads and casual rap fans who often complain about the current state of rap music have to put their money where their mouths are and buy and support what they deem to be real hip hop. I'm tired of seeing 35 year olds buying Drake and Future albums so they don't look old and out of touch, and then turning around and saying "Whatever happened to all the real hip-hop? These cats wouldn't be allowed to exist if 2Pac was still alive!"

   As far as these new mumble rappers not paying respect to those who came before them, it's annoying and bothersome that there's a disconnect between rappers who are popping now and the aging class of rappers who paved the way for them and made it possible for these kids to live off their "craft". But let's be honest, most people don't idolize those who came 20 or 30 years before them. Most people look at whatever was being made during their coming of age as the standard. There's no way I will convince my parents' generation that 90s R&B could hang with, or be better than, what was being made in the Motown/Chess records era. Nor do I need to.  Every generation has their idols. I grew up on Wu Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, Fugees, De La, Mobb Deep, Snoop, The Roots, Black Star, etc., and while I have a respect for who and what came before them, I don't own a single album by Whodini, Just-Ice, or the Ultramagnetic MCs (with the exception of a few singles from a golden -era rap compilation CD). I did my research and due diligence on the Slick Ricks, Kool G Raps, and KRS-Ones and even copped most of their discographies, but some cats I just never got around to. I'm saying that to say these mumble rappers shouldn't have to know every Nas verse or list Biggie and 2Pac in their top 5 dead or alive. Cause they didn't grow up on them. Something could be said for the lack of respect shown to the greats, but that's a topic for another day.

   In the meantime, let these kids rock out. Let them live. Let them grow. Let them mature. Cause one day, they'll be us.