“I like every genre except rap and country.” Those words have seen to become so common it is almost a cliché. Let me take that back, it is a complete cliché and reveals an unfortunate truth; we as music listeners are quick to write off entire genres due to bad experiences with them.
Most of the time, the complaints with hip – hop are variations on some of the same ideas.
1) All hip – hop is about dealing drugs, itemizing women and bragging.
2) All of the music behind the rapper is repetitive percussion created by computers with snippets stolen from other pieces of music.
3) The genre is a largely uninventive genre.
4) This all takes no musical talent.
For years I ascribed to these opinions. Quietly told myself that hip – hop was not even music and all rappers were doing was talking. That was until 2009.
Christmas that year I had received Kanye West’s “Late Registration”, an album that literally changed my life as a musical student. All of the complaints I had were absent from this album or were contextualized in ways that revealed the appeal I never understood. I heard songs like “Addiction” exposing a man struggling in the face of constant temptation, mostly sexual, in the wake of success. Stories (“Drive Slow (feat. Paul Wall and GLC)”) of being enchanted by a life of care free living that seems so beautiful on the outside but is truly filled with disillusionment and unplanned pregnancies. Or on “We Major (Feat. Nas & Really Doe)” friends venting to each other the stress they have, such as their daughters inhabiting a world of men who act like them. Kanye as a lyricist displayed personability rap was capable of creating that I had not seen in other genres.
A few months another two album (well, one was a mixtape) helped hip – hop reveal itself more to me, Drake’s “Thank Me Later” and Lil Wayne’s “Da Drought 3”. Drake took a ballsy step with his highly anticipated first album, favoring a stark, minimalist sound. Spare synth, understated piano chords, unsaturated snares; these elements created the perfect atmosphere to accompany Drake’s reservations with fame. So much for uninventive. On the surface “Da Drought 3” just seems like a senseless bragfest yet a close listen reveals an excitement and a sense of “off – the – cuffness” liken to jazz. Lil Wayne’s whip – smart rhymes and clever references have an undeniable energy regardless of the bragging.
So, with these three releases being from three of the most high profile rappers of today, it seems clear that there is probably something invalid about the complaints. This is definitely because they are assumptions and not logical issues. With any musical genres, the entirety of it cannot be distilled into a small bit of assumptions. The proof is growing each day. Take a look at two of the most talked about rap releases of the past 7 months, A$AP Rocky’s “Live.Love.A$AP” and Action Bronson’s “Blue Chips”. Each are fantastic and offer interesting ideas unique to them. A$AP Rocky with his keen ear for spacey, ambient and ethereal beats and Action Bronson for his clever jokes told through creative rhymes, making him feel like funny guy you always wanna hang with. These, with the aforementioned albums, shatter the misconceived notions many assume is fact.
These ideas and many more I wish to discuss in length over the next year. Hip –hop is in a beautiful place. With artists expanding the fabric of the genre in so many directions, hip – hop is becoming a large and varied world easy to find a place in. The culture and content is not as specific as it’s reputation makes it seem. It is just another genre, and a damn good one at that.