It’s been years since I last talked about hip-hop on this blog, and I’ve decided now would be a good time to summarize my current feelings about the genre. Some things have gotten better, some things have gotten worse, but it seems to me that far too many people get away with saying they hate hip-hop, or rap, without having listened to anything good to back it up. Even though this sentiment is pervasive, and people who hold it are rarely interested in actually listening to music, I will try yet again to convince them otherwise.
The first thing that amuses me about rap today is that producers have actually taken noticeable steps to appeal to the “we hate rap” crowd. This didn’t used to be the case back when 50 Cent and that brand of gangsta rap were big. Now, on the other hand, we get pop songs in disguise like Whistle, by Flo Rida. I attribute this change in style to the success of Airplanes, by B.o.B. Even Eminem is guiltyof pussying out in the name of this cash cow. I can’t blame producers for doing this, and I won’t even accuse them of giving the people what they want to hear, but I won’t let it go unsaid that this is the hip-hop that tops the Billboard charts more often than not.
Also up there every once in a while is whatever the god damned hell guys like Lil’ Wayne or 2 Chainz are doing. Their music is exactly the kind of thing that I’d forgive people for not liking, and yet people love it. Their music is built to be stupid and frivolous, so I’ve got nothing useful to say about it.
I see a lot of people new to hip-hop riding in on the backs of Kid Cudi, Lupe Fiasco, Tyler the Creator, Childish Gambino, or Watsky(believe it or not). I have mixed feelings about the bunch. Kid Cudi is not bad, but at the same time, I’ve never heard one of his songs and thought it was amazing. With Lupe Fiasco, I think his songs are amazing until I realize he has a habit of doing the same things in each one. I don’t mind him making political statements at all, and he has good flow, but it gets old. The best part of his songs sometimes ends up being the sampling.
Tyler the Creator (and Odd Future in general) is actually pretty damned good. His songwriting is anything but generic, and even among good hip-hop artists, he stands out. Unfortunately, I don’t actually like his music (too raw), but what can ya do. Childish Gambino is also good, but I sometimes get the impression that he’s parodying actual hip-hop rather than being authentic, and it rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it’s just his style, but I’m not a fan. As for Watsky, he’s got talent, but I really don’t enjoy comedy music. Personally, my suggestion for an entry-level underground hip-hop fan is Nas. He’s been around for a long time, and he’s got a ton of consistently good music to look into. He exemplifies what I consider to be the three pillars of hip-hop: rhythm, flow, and meaningful lyrics.
Finally, I proudly present what I’ve been listening to of late, in list format with a few comments and recommendations for each:
- J Dilla. (It’s Like That, Waves) He’s more of a producer than strictly a rapper, but this guy is well-respected for a reason. His beats and music are unique and interesting, and very well put together. I’m sad to say he died back in 2006, but he released a LOT of stuff in his lifetime.
- Freestyle Fellowship. (We Are, Hot Potato) For whatever reason, I haven’t encountered much freestyling during my time listening to hip-hop, so these guys were a refreshing new sound for me.
- The Roots. (Break You Off, The Next Movement) The Roots are a staple whenever I listen to hip-hop, because they are damned good at what they do.
- Serengeti. (Cold, Talk To Me) This guy kind of reminds me of Tyler The Creator, except with more production.
- Nujabes. (Still Talking To You, Eclipse) This should be no surprise. I consider Nujabes to be one of the best hip-hop artists of all time. I instantly fell in love with his music when I got into hip-hop, and it’s still in my head today. It’s one of the reasons I keep coming back to the genre. I also happen to attribute to him the “most clever song name”: Luv (sic). A lot of famous people have died too soon in recent years, but Nujabes is the one I miss the most.