Rajin Rambles: I Am Not a Dusthead!

by Rajin

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I love Snoop Dogg’s new “Mount Kushmore” single (which features Redman, B-Real, and Method Man). The production is in a beautiful throwback G-funk style that is impossible to not bob your head to. Each emcee laces his verse with witty rhymes and a slick, grin-inducing vocal performance. It gives you essentially everything that you’d want out of a collaboration with these ’90’s legends.

Now as I was listening to the song earlier and thinking all of that, something occurred to me. I think I tend to give off a vibe where I’m exclusively about ’90’s hip hop/rappers who are currently in their mid-40s. I started to feel a lot like a stereotype – like a nostalgia-hunting “real” hip hop head. In the year and two months of my piss-poor pieces on this site, I don’t think I’ve ever really discussed younger rappers. I go back and notice that at most I’ve mentioned Kendrick Lamar a couple of times, and maybe Danny Brown a few times. Well, to be fair my first article is about Prof, who’s basically the soundtrack to the weekend of a guy in his mid-twenties running around getting drunk and fucking anything that moves. However, most of my pieces tend to talk about and gush over guys who tend to come be from the ’90’s era of hip hop (and primarily from the east coast, at that).

I want to make it abundantly clear right now, in case I haven’t done so yet: I’m not someone who acts as though this generation of rappers isn’t as good as rappers from the ‘90s. My tendency to generally talk about older hip hop artists rather than new ones stems from me listening to them longer and knowing them a lot more in-depth than newer rappers coming out. I also have a habit of being turned onto artists late; I’ve mentioned before how it happened with Run The Jewels.

After all of this, I started thinking about something that comes to mind all the time when thinking about the current state of rap music…although, thankfully it seems like less of an issue as time goes on, so this piece may be rendered pointless in a few years’ time. Regardless, I feel like this fetishization of the ’90’s is pretty counterproductive to the development of the genre. I’ve sort of discussed this in the past, but I want to get a little more specific with it for a moment. People tend to use the stereotypical modern styles of trap and mumble rap that get pushed by hip hop publications for easy clicks as a scapegoat for why they refuse to listen to anyone who came out past the early ’00’s. Not to take anything away from those styles of music, but there’s a whole lot more that my generation has to offer than just that. Demonizing those styles gives them overblown and unwarranted levels of hatred, and it neglects and dismisses the music that other young rappers come with, which is completely unfair.

Take Joey Bada$$ for example. He’s a couple of months younger than I am, only 22 years old. He’s probably somebody that most fans of old school hip hop would love to listen to, since he started his career making rugged boom bap music reminiscent of guys like Nas or Black Moon. Doing this awakened the nostalgia in people, and got people interested in what he had in store to “bring hip hop back” (I don’t know if anyone actually said that, I’m just assuming).

Now, I’ve actually seen criticisms, by fans, thrown at Joey’s new All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$ album because people are talking about how he’s going pop on it. The thing is, he’s not. He’s just setting the more hardcore boom bap style aside to grow into his own artist with the message he wants to spread. He’s maturing. He’s certainly not abandoning that style; he’s just putting a new style to the forefront, and toying with more modern styles at places. But when you mess with the nostalgia factor that attracted people to your music, you risk upsetting them.

You start off with boom-bap. Over time, that changes a bit, and people get upset. They cling onto what they are familiar with, and decry what starts coming out afterwards, as opposed to looking to see what will come next. This is what is happening to Joey Bada$$ (on a small scale, overall his album has been received pretty well. I certainly liked it), and it’s what has happened to hip hop as a whole.

Speaking of younger rappers who may incite some feelings of nostalgia, let’s talk about Oddisee. Oddisee is essentially the spiritual successor to groups such as A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, with some Black Milk thrown in for good measure. He has clearly studied their styles and adapted them for his own, making music that is similarly jazzy and positive. However, he doesn’t make music that emulates the music that he grew up listening to, but rather, it sounds like the next logical step that those groups would/should take. His music is probably what those groups would sound like if they debuted in 2012. He’s innovating in that style, for better or worse. And that’s not to mention his actual emceeing ability, which is arguably at a higher level than anyone in Tribe or De La, due to the natural progression of hip hop pushing the requirements for being an exceptional emcee further (Important: Please note that I am not saying that he is more iconic or is a better act than Tribe or De La).

Another one who you could look at is Jonwayne, who brings to mind Biggie as far as his charisma and vocal delivery go (not to mention his physique). However, he’s got a totally different lyrical style and vibe, speaking on problems that many of us in our twenties can relate to, such as alcohol abuse when things feel like they’re going too fast and you’re falling into a pit (I can personally attest to that). He frames it in a way that no rapper that I’ve heard from the ’90’s has been able to, because that sort of vulnerability in hip hop didn’t fly in that time period.

And then there are guys who don’t necessarily bring to mind older acts. Flatbush Zombies are from the same area that Joey Bada$$ is from (surprisingly, Flatbush), yet they sound nothing like him. They have some NY flavor in their music, but they sprinkle in some trip hop and trap. They have taken influence from tried and true styles and mixed it with what is going on nowadays to create really unique music that could not have existed in the past, while remaining something that I think any old school hip hop fan who doesn’t write off modern music could enjoy. Or there’s Milo, who goes even more into an alternative and abstract direction, with distorted and synthesized keyboards and a laid back yet still slightly aggressive method of rapping.

This list, honestly, could keep going on, but I think I’ve made my point by now. There is a plethora of music still coming out these days by newer, young artists, who are either pushing forward with older styles and innovating in those lanes, or are trying completely new styles entirely. You just need to know where to look, and put in the work rather than dismiss hip hop today entirely. Thankfully I have Dustin, who does the work for me and forces artists onto me.

I don’t know. Maybe what I’m saying is really repetitive. Maybe I’m just a sensitive, triggered millennial snowflake. I certainly don’t want to sound preachy or anything. I just wanted to voice the opinion that this generation has rappers who are truly worth listening to, beyond the obvious picks such as Kendrick Lamar. Most people know this, but all too often I will go onto a webpage talking about an older rapper and will see a discouraging amount of people disparaging current-day hip hop. I don’t think it’s a healthy mindset.

While I’m not at all fan of Lil Yachty in even the slightest, I think he’s well within his rights to say some of the things he says when he gets criticized incessantly. It’s the same as when parents tell their kids “oh you kids have it so easy, in my day…” (I normally tune out after I hear the beginning of that sentence). It seems like people constantly need to be reminded that like all other generations of music of any style, this generation has a plenty for everyone. And like all other generations of music of any style, this generation has plenty of bad music as well. People just don’t like remember the bad music that was released in the past.

I primarily wanted to write this up really quickly today to assuage my fears of being someone who’s musically stuck in the past (that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with that! Like what you like and don’t be ashamed about it – just don’t be close-minded), but the overarching message I guess I want to get across is that disregarding the new because you think you don’t like it without doing some digging makes no sense. It’s certainly not something that I would want to do, as it would work against me as a contributor to this site, and as a person. By nature I’m a very stubborn, stuck-in-my-ways person, but I try my hardest to be as open as I can be. I think if everyone who says hip hop died in the mid-‘00’s tried too, they could find some stuff that they really like.

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Album Review: Jonwayne – Rap Album Two

by Dustin

rapalbumtwo

8.5/10

For a handful of years Jonwayne was an incredibly prolific underground artist. As an instrumental genius he dropped wave after wave of beat tapes, video-game inspired soundtracks, and rare odds-and-ends that fans happily ate up. Once moving into the rap scene, his series of Cassette mixtapes sparked interest among the alternative rap community; Jon’s rich voice and subdued delivery paired excellently with his Dilla-inspired production. Stonesthrow, his label at the time, seemed like the perfect home for his style. This culminated in his 2013 debut studio rap album, accurately named Rap Album One. Though it seemed as if Jon was still finding his voice on that record, the potential was evident and it was met with generally positive reviews. It seemed as though Jonwayne was destined for big things.

However, not all career paths can be so beautifully lineal. Jon’s mental health and lifestyle choices, namely those involving alcohol, quickly caught up to him. Things soured at Stonesthrow, leading to his departure. After battling through these issues and bringing a semblance of order back to his life, Jon would reintroduce himself to the music scene in 2015 with Jonwayne is Retired and Here You Go. A rap extended play, and a two part beat tape series respectively. After a little more waiting and teasing Rap Album Two found its way to eager ears on February 17th 2017.

As it turns out, the delay for Rap Album Two was well worth it. This record is easily Jon’s most personal work, and the lyrics offer a deep insight into his emotions, feelings, and the struggle of someone recovering from addiction. Though these are topics that have been explored extensively in various genres, Jonwayne makes it special by offering a sense of solidarity to those dealing with the same issues as himself; the most impressive part of this is that Jon manages to present what he went through without seeming as if he was purely seeking sympathy. The lyrics on Rap Album Two are bluntly honest, and he puts his own faults and shortcomings on full display.

The writing style on this album is also quite unique. There are times where Jon abandons conventional rap structures and is more in line with written and spoken poetry. The rhyme structures aren’t always laid out in a simple couplets patter, and his focus is very rarely on multi-syllable schemes. This can take a bit to get used to, but ultimately it’s a refreshing journey away from the expected.

And on the way I know I gave away some friends,
And every day I wish that we could speak again,
But every time I wanna make it right I freeze up,
and the visions of the shadows of my demons who went out of sight,
They went out of sight,
Until now.
(Out of Sight)

Unsurprisingly, the instrumentation on Rap Album Two is superb. Jonwayne established himself long ago as one of the many talented producers to build on the influence of Dilla. The thriving west coast beat scene offered the perfect incubation environment for his style, and it has blossomed on this album. Jon’s production has always had experimental elements mixed in with more classic hip-hop sounds, but he’s finally achieved a sense of balance between the two. The beats are rustic glory updated for modern times. They fit his spoken poetic rap style wonderfully,

And that’s the thing about Rap Album Two. None of the tracks on this album jump out as better than the rest of the group. They all pay together perfectly, and the album is best experienced as a long play. Every song has its place, and they transition very well.

I just cancelled my tour,
I just woke up in bed,
I had last nights dinner on the sheets,
I had a burning in my throat I couldn’t swallow,
I had shuffled to the mirror and saw death over my head,
If i was sleeping on my back I would’ve died,
Jameson in my blood,
Jameson in my eyes,
Jameson on my mind,
I know I need to stop,
But if I’m flying, it’s Jameson on the ride,
This how I’m making money but a cost to my life.
(Blue Green)

There are some moments on Rap Album Two that feel slightly out of place. “LIVE From The Fuck You” and “The Single” in particular are uncharacteristically humorous in the midst of an incredibly serious album. That being said, they do serve a bit of necessary comic relief to cut the tension. Aside from that, Rap Album Two is a juggernaut of cohesion. Jonwayne’s all encompassing creative control shines through on this album, and a meticulous attention to detail is evident. Though none of the songs really jump out on their own, Rap Album Two is a powerful complete listen. It’s the kind of album that seemingly needs to be listened to in its entirety; moreover, it’s also the perfect length for this sort of release at 44 minutes.

Rap Album Two feels like a modern album that captured some of the magic of rap’s golden era. The emotional connection Jonwayne is able to establish with the listener far outweighs any of his technical flaws on the mic. If you’ve been through any kind of struggle in your life, which most have, this album will offer some degree of solace. And it is an absolutely gorgeous listen, if not one that is a little challenging. Welcome back, Jon, and thank you for the album.