pic from cybergorrillas.com
Back in 2005, before David Guetta’s music had plagued the charts and Chris Brown was still America’s golden child (gosh, it seems like another lifetime), hip-hop music was arguably at its commercial peak. We had new artists such as Game, T-Pain and Kanye West, freely mixing with established hitmakers such as Jay-Z and Common. If you took a look at the charts, the dominant form of music was Hip-Hop, whether it be hardcore or more pop-orientated, there really did seem to be something for everyone. The emergence of the South was also something to be celebrated, adding a new style and new artists to the genre, with Paul Wall, Chamillionaire, Mike Jones and Slim Thug spearheading the movement. Then just one year later, in 2006, to much outcry and controversy, Nas declared “Hip-Hop is Dead”. Many rappers, particularly those from the South took offence to the statement, claiming that he was simply out of touch with the current musical climate. Even I at the time, thought the statement was a touch premature and perhaps a slight towards the sudden popularity of Southern Hip-Hop but then again, I was too busy making it ‘snap’ and listening to ‘Laffy Taffy’ to care.
However, fast forward to 2011 and there were grounds to believe that Nas’ proclamation had manifested itself. Save for a few of the big names (Jay-Z, Kanye West and Eminem) sales of Hip-Hop music were at an all time low and the style of the genre had shifted to an entirely new direction with the emergence of several “rappers” that did not seem to embody the lyricism or perfection of artists before. Sure, Waka Flocka Flame, OJ Da Juice (pronounced “Joo”) Man and French Montana can make some catchy songs but really, will we be playing their songs in 20 years time? I highly doubt it.
Gone was the diversity of subject matter and lush instrumentation and in came…
Again, there’s nothing wrong with this type of music. You might even see me getting crunk to some of this stuff occasionally…but there comes a time when you want to listen to something with a bit more substance and I think one of the major symptoms of the declining state of hip-hop was the lack of variation on the mainstream charts. My biggest bugbear with hip-hop in 2011 (and arguably 2012) was that when the majority of the output is like the aforementioned video, it starts to get a little bit (read very)…boring. I remember the days of watching ‘Yo’ on MTV and seeing DMX videos followed by Snoop, followed by Mos Def, followed by Eminem – a whole range of styles of hip from different areas. Nowadays, the south is the dominant form and even rappers who aren’t from the south are adopting this style (shout out to Drizzy Drake).
Nevertheless, Hip-Hop and I have a dysfunctional relationship: no matter how bad she treats me, I still come back for more, sticking up for her when I should really know better and leave her for something more befitting like house music or whatever the kids are listening to nowadays. But during the tail end of 2011 and throughout 2012, I’ve started to notice a few greenshoots of recovery in the genre which gives me hope.
A new wave of hiphop, mixing both old styles, new styles and everything in between has emerged. One of my favourite LP’s has been A$AP Rocky’s LongLiveA$AP. This guy has been compared to Eazy-E as well as harking back to a sound more commonly associated with the 2005 chopped and screwed movement. Lyrically, no new ground is being broken here but when the vibe is so catchy and the flow is so confident, it’s hard to ignore.
The past 12 months has also seen solid releases from relative newbies Childish Gambino (think Kanye for the recession generation), Azaelia Banks (a pre-Young Money era Nicki Minaj mixed with Grace Jones) as well as older, more established hip-hop heads such as DMX, Lupe Fiasco, Rick Ross and the G.O.O.D music crew. However, it has been the last couple of months that have really seen the bar raised for 2012.
Nasty Nas used the experiences of his marriage breakdown with Kelis to spend the year putting in a series of stellar guest appearances before releasing arguably his finest album since 2001’s Stillmatic. Life Is Good was an expertly crafted, well rounded body of work that touched on mature themes as well as Nas’ classic storytelling. Unlike much of Nas’ previous albums, he seemed to have conquered his phobia of choosing good beats and delivered on the majority (Summer on Smash is terrible) of the tracks.
The Kendrick Lamar buzz was an altogether different beast. From building a strong underground following on the mixtape circuit, through to inking a major deal with Dr Dre’s Aftermath/Interscope records, the artist formerly known as K.Dot had the unenviable task of “bringing the West Coast back”. Faced with the kind of pressure and expectation known only by London’s 2012 Olympic athletes, it’s safe to say that with good kid, m.A.A.d city not only delivered but produced one of the finest (if not finest) hip-hop albums of the year so far. It’s not just in the lyrical delivery, the content matter or the beats (which in themselves are all pretty outstanding, but it’s in the execution of the project as a whole. It is designed to be digested in full, rather than as a collection of singles and tells the story of a young Kendrick (a good kid) on a typical day in Compton (the Mad City). For me, it took a couple of listens but from then onwards, I was hooked.
Which brings me to the title of the blog post. This is probably the weakest era in terms of hip-hop music that I can remember. At least in the jiggy era, you still had a healthy mix of hardcore and crossover hits. At the moment, we have an abundance of ignorant music in the charts at the expensive of other topics. Albums like Life Is Good and good kid are like shining lights in this current era of mediocrity, but they do offer hope. It’s usually in times like these that a new movement is born as a reaction to the watering down of the mainstream: think punk as a reaction to Disco in the 70’s, grunge as a reaction to squeaky clean pop in the 90’s and hip-hop as a reaction to social injustices (as well as party music).
Has Hip-Hop as we know it been resurrected? Was it even dead to begin with? rather than being dead, I would say that Hip-Hop is actually starting to show some green shoots of recovery. Here’s hoping that these two albums as well as the artists mentioned earlier see rappers up their game and Hip-Hop regain its diversity and integrity once more.