Rajin Rambles: The Consumption of Hip-Hop

by Rajin

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I’m a little late in finding this out, but according to Nielson, rap and R&B are now the most widely consumed genre of music in America, overtaking rock music. Everyone who has anything invested in these genres probably has something to say about that, and I’d just like to give my quick thoughts.

Now first and foremost, I am thrilled about this. Fans of anything should want to see that thing succeed, and while success can be a subjective status defined by those aiming for it, hip hop music being the most widely consumed kind of music is at least an objective indication that what people thought decades ago was just a fad is here to stay and continue growing. While there have been many fads within hip hop music, those voices of doubt about the culture and style of music as a whole only belong to the ignorant at this point, those who are in denial about the last 40+ years now. That being said, I know that there are probably some people who are a little upset about hip hop no longer being counter-culture, and see it as having been diluted to get to this point.

The biggest contributing factor to the growth in consumption of the music is that hip hop culture has opened up to everybody. There are white rappers running around everywhere, and it has become normalized (the Eminem comparison has stopped being drawn the way it was for a good 15 years). We are at a point where people like Dustin can start on a blog on the premise of being a hip hop site (although that has expanded a bit), and have me, somebody who is neither white nor black, contribute to it, and nobody would think anything of it. Rappers are coming in with different looks (granted, some of them are fucking stupid to me), as opposed to the almost ubiquitous baggy jeans/hoodie/Timbs combination of the ‘90s/’00s. Hip hop is still a genre that is opposed to change, but it has become far more accepting of new ideas, styles, and looks, possibly aided by the overall mindset of the millennial generation.

In a changing environment, it’s evolve or die. The music industry is in constant shift. Listeners are very fickle in what they like. They have short attention spans and tastes change very quickly. If music doesn’t make an effort to change with it, then it gets left behind. Mainstream hip hop chose to evolve. The choice may not have been supported by everybody, but it happened, and it’s been happening since the beginning. From golden age rock samples with little to no lyrical content, to highly lyrical verses over dusty soul and funk samples, to the heavy orchestral sounds of the G-Unit era, to crunk, and now trap with more emphasis placed on melody in delivery. It’s how the genre keeps from going stagnant, and keeps doors open for listeners to constantly keep coming in.

While this may reek of “selling out” or changing to the point where it’s no longer the same genre, you have to remember. The DNA of hip hop is still present. In fact, and I’m sure I’ve said this before, it’s probably more present than it was 10 years ago. In 2007, the only notable labels that I can think of that really repped the core essence of hip hop are Duck Down and Def Jux (I’m definitely forgetting others). These days the movement of representing what the culture was built on has been a growing one. Sure, it may be in response to the current styles in the spirit of rebellion and keeping that counter-culture feeling alive. However, the interest wouldn’t be generated for this sort of a movement/subgenre if there wasn’t enough listeners of the genre to begin with. We’ve reached the point where people like Westside Gunn and Conway can be signed to a major label. I don’t think that would have been possible even just 5 years ago.

Hip hop is in a good place. It is exciting to see it winning and reaching the level of popularity that it is at right now. While there are a ton of popular subgenres out that many (including myself oftentimes) may have a distaste for, it is only natural for a genre to create subgenres while trying to experiment. There is room for everything now, and hopefully that continues to allow for further growth in consumption and experimentation.

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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.

Rajin Rambles: Personal Top 20 Rappers (Part 2: 10 to 1)

by Rajin

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Welcome to part two of my top 20 rappers list. Last week in part one, I covered slots 11 to 20. You can check it out here in case you missed it. I’m going to be covering slots 1 through 10 this week, if it wasn’t already obvious. Sorry in advance.


10. Scarface
Favorite album: The Fix
Favorite song: “It’s Not A Game”
Scarface has my favorite voice in hip hop. Aside from it being exquisitely deep, it conveys layers and layers of pain and frustration in a way not many others in hip hop do. The soul that Face puts behind his voice is almost overwhelming at times. Face’s music (both solo and as part of the Geto Boys) was quite different from what most rappers were doing at the time. While tons of rappers went around trying to make you believe that they were crazy because they killed people, Face was dealing with psychosis and bipolar disorder, successfully convincing the listener that he was indeed unwell. Not to mention, he is one of the most consistent rappers as far as his albums go. Album to album (as far as his actual LPs go, not the My Homies projects) he doesn’t have any that are really glaringly bad. His solo career spans over 25 years, so to be an artist with that sort of longevity where more often than not a listener already knows any album that comes out is going to be good is a hell of an achievement.

9. Sean Price
Favorite album: Mic Tyson
Favorite song: “Jail Shit” (featuring Rock)
I don’t really know what I can say about P that hasn’t been said in excess in the last 2 years. I got into him through Random Axe, as I was (and still am, of course) really into Black Milk. Immediately Sean stood out to me, which is already an impressive feat, given the fact that he was rapping next to Guilty Simpson. It took me until the summer months of 2015 immediately preceeding his death to actually get out of my rut and listen to his solo discography and the first Heltah Skeltah album.

Sean was a skilled rhymer but he wasn’t a “rappity rapper” and never once pretended to be. He relied on the content of what he was saying, and how he said it. Everything that Sean said sounded tough, especially as he aged and his voice got rougher. He had a vibrant sense of humor, but he always kept his lyrics grounded by being able to sound threatening when saying something hilarious. This skill really developed when he started his solo career. As Ruck he would often have standout verses but when he started rapping under his government name, it was like he became himself to the fullest, and it created something special. He saved Duck Down nearly single handedly, and once you listen to Monkey Barz there is no confusion as to how he did it.

8. Ice Cube
Favorite album: AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted
Favorite song: “Hello” (featuring MC Ren & Dr. Dre)
I really wanted to start this off with a very dated “Are We There Yet” joke but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Anyways, Cube is arguably the most essential “political” rapper. While what he rapped about wasn’t strictly about politics, he included a ton of social commentary in his music that brought to light the struggles of living in Compton. He spoke about street life in an incredibly descriptively. Not in a typical story-telling way, mind you. It was more in how he said what he was saying. His delivery was aggressive and he generally wrote from a point of view perspective, so his stories were more like his inner thoughts during his experiences rather than him just recounting what he’s been through. It was a revolutionary style, as (to my knowledge) most storytelling in hip hop was based on rappers speaking on past experiences rather than acting out events as though they were currently happening. Cube was also one of the first ultra-aggressive rappers that I can think of. He took the aggression displayed by acts like Public Enemy and elevated it to a whole new level, often shouting at the top of his lungs. He channeled passion and anger into his music like no one before him, being a clear influence on other passionate rappers such as 2Pac, Eminem, and Killer Mike.

7. Raekwon
Favorite album: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…
Favorite song: “Criminology” (featuring Ghostface Killah)
Raekwon arguably has the greatest solo debut album in all of hip hop history. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is a beautifully done concept album. It established himself as one of the greatest storytellers to grace hip hop, which is something that has not changed in the entirety of his career. He is with a raspy delivery that makes him sound like a grizzled vet telling stories of his war days, and the ability to make anything sound dramatic via hyperbolic analogy and unheard-of slang. In addition, with Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II, he managed to do what no other rapper has been able to do by getting good post-Wu-Tang Forever RZA beats pulling off the “sequel to a classic” that so many try but ultimately come up short on.

While he has struggled with a few of his non-Cuban Linx albums, albums such as Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang and The Wild, have managed to be very enjoyable releases. The thing about Rae is that his skills have never shown any sign of declining. While some of his albums have been underwhelming, his rapping has never been the weak point of any project he’s been involved in. To this day he is perhaps the only person who can say some of the ridiculous stuff he says and have it sound carelessly, luxuriously cool.

6. Rakim
Favorite album: Don’t Sweat The Technique (with Eric B.)
Favorite song: “When I B On The Mic”
There is not a single rapper in this day and age who doesn’t have Rakim in his or her DNA. His influence on hip hop very often taken for granted these days. I don’t think most in my generation even give it a second though. However, if anybody cares about hip hop in the slightest, they need to always keep in mind: Rakim completely changed the writing style in hip hop. Before Rakim, rap music was NOT the writing-driven genre that it is now. He broke past the simplistic rhythms and rhymes, and brought the concept of the multi-syllabic rhyme, complex vocabulary, and laid-back delivery (used to put the main focus on listening to words rather than vibing to the mood) to the table.
There’s really not much else for me to say. Aside from the originators, Rakim is hands-down the most important figure in hip hop for his essentially ubiquitous influence on the genre.

5. Black Thought
Favorite album: How I Got Over (by The Roots)
Favorite song: “When The People Cheer”
Black Thought is one of maybe 3 rappers I can think of who have gotten consistently better with each passing year of their career without exception. There’s really not much more that I can say past that, either. He started out as a good emcee, but nothing really special, and matured like scotch in a barrel for the next decade and a half until he became someone whose verses were jaw-dropping. His delivery got more powerful as his voice changed with age, his flow got more impressive, his pen got sharper…he took his time and became something special. He had room to grow and he took full advantage of it, then burst past it. And this is a smooth curve upwards. There has been no discrepancies whatsoever. He’s become the rapper where it’s almost annoying how you already know he’s going to steal the show on a song with someone else and it won’t even be a contest. It’s awesome.

4. Pharoahe Monch
Favorite album: Desire
Favorite song: “Agent Orange”
As half of Organized Konfusion, Pharoahe Monch was vastly ahead of his time. He was using flows that I don’t think anybody else at the time had even conceived. To this day, they sound fresh, and some of them actually still sound ahead of our time now. He broke his flow up, fell into non-traditional pockets, rhymed like a maniac, and told very creative stories alongside Prince Po, such as speaking from the point of view about a fetus that is about to be aborted on “Invetro” and of course, speaking as a bullet on “Stray Bullet” (the beginning of the trilogy that would also include “When The Gun Draws” and “Damage”, both solo Pharoahe songs). As a solo artist he unfortunately suffered from Rawkus’ complete inability to function as a label with even C-grade management, with uncleared samples in “Simon Says” halting the production of Internal Affairs (making it a very expensive album to buy these days, one that will probably be my most treasured CD when I can afford to buy it). He has since recovered, however, and has released several great projects since then. He continues his own personal innovation, both conceptually and musically. To my recollection he’s looking to start a band. If it ends up happening, I’m very interested to see where he goes next.

3. Redman
Favorite album: Dare Iz A Darkside
Favorite song: “Noorotic”
Redman is potentially the most charismatic emcee that I have ever heard. Since his appearance on the Hit Squad song “Headbanger,” Red has had an infectious delivery, off-kilter flow, and ridiculously funny lyrical style that immediately made him stand out. His flow, along with that of fellow Hit Squad members Das EFX, seemed to signal the end of the stereotypical simple ‘80s flow and rigid delivery, as he played with different patterns and sounded much looser, yet more dynamic. He threw one-liners out like they were nothing, and spent no time on letting them sit before moving on to the next one to keep the listener engaged and entertained the entire time one of his songs was being played. Being that he was a student of EPMD, he has always had a funky sound to his music. Whut? Thee Album is quite possibly the funkiest east coast album ever made; it sounded almost like the east’s response to the growing popularity of g-funk in the west, done with a rougher edge that tends to come with the east sound.

Red’s charisma has allowed him to do what lots of other boom bap-heavy rappers from the early ‘90s hasn’t been able to, and he has made his sound still feel fresh, even while doing very little to change his overall vibe; Due to his utterly buoyant personality, he can make beats that could be classified as dated sound current, and these days he’s begun to feel like that stoner uncle who relentlessly cracks jokes every time you see him..

2. Ghostface Killah
Favorite album: Supreme Clientele
Favorite song: “Mighty Healthy”
Album for album, Ghostface Killah is the most consistent rapper of all time. Out of 12 albums, he’s released only one that I didn’t feel a majority of tracks on, that being Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry.

Since the beginning of his career, Ghost has had a way with words that nobody else from Wu-Tang Clan has, besides maybe Raekwon. The way Ghost writes, it’s almost like he can’t help himself but tell stories and paint pictures. It’s almost like his default, which is something I don’t think I can say for any other rapper. He’s absurdly descriptive, and the dynamic nature of his delivery just adds to it. His delivery is just so powerful; it’s part of what separated him from the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan. It’s a lot more soulful than that of any of the other members, and it allows him to express vulnerability and passion just as easily as it does anger and toughness like the rest of the group. This ability serves to further engage the listener in the stories that he tells by making it more relatable and playing our sympathies, as well as exhibit a huge amount of diversity in his music.
The way his artistry has matured is very commendable too. He has matured far better than how most other rappers do, because he’s allowed his style to grow more thoughtful the same way a person should as they age. His albums since Twelve Reasons To Die have all displayed an evolution into a more cinematic style, done as though the producers aren’t just producing albums, but rather scoring movies, and he’s reciting scripts rather than lyrics. While they may not match his classics Ironman, Supreme Clientele, and Fishscale, it is the perfect direction for him to go in.

1. Eminem
Favorite album: The Marshall Mathers LP
Favorite song: “The Way I Am”
Surprise.
Everyone knows Em. There’s no need to go in depth. In his prime he was the sharpest, wittiest rapper I have ever heard. I don’t think another rapper has ever had a run like he did from 1999-2002. Since returning from a mid-to-late ‘00s slump due to opiate abuse, he managed to once again make good albums like Recovery, Hell: The Sequel with Royce, and The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (which does not deserve its title, no matter how much I love the music). There is absolutely no telling where he’s going next, which is both exciting and terrifying.


And that’s that. You probably could have guessed most of those, based off what I’ve written in the past, but now my top 20 list is official…at least for the next couple of days before it changes, like it did even during the process of writing these pieces.

Rajin Rambles: Personal Top 20 Rappers (Part 1: 20 to 11)

by Rajin

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I was thinking sometime in mid-January about how I didn’t yet have a top 10 rappers list, like most other hip hop bloggers do. Naturally, upon realizing this, I decided to make a list and got very carried away with it. I ended up with a top 20 list, and we decided to split up to make it easier to sit through. Here’s the first part of my top 20 list, where I’ll be covering slots 11 through 20.

Trigger warning: There will be rappers whose inclusion (or lack thereof) and placement may be deemed blasphemous by some. Viewer discretion advised.


20. Big Pun

Favorite album: Capital Punishment
Favorite song: “Fast Money”
In Pun’s short run, he was arguably the best lyricist doing it. He was pushing boundaries in rhyme that few had done by then. He was capable of making entire lines rhyme, and he seldom compromised content while doing so. His rhymes would come one after another nonstop; there are rappers a third of Big Pun’s size who don’t have nearly the breath control that he had. All of this isn’t to say that Pun was just an exceptional battle rapper making songs. He was full to the brim with charisma, which set him apart from many other rappers. His mic presence reminds me of a more energetic, livelier Biggie. His style on Capital Punishment would prove that he was as capable of making a horrorcore street tale or a smooth radio hit as he was making a typical lyrical song. By being able to do this, he managed the rare feat of making an album as long as 24 tracks that didn’t feel like it was too bloated, while still keeping a cohesive feel to it. His career was far too short and it would have been interesting to see him develop even more as an artist.

19. DMX
Favorite album: It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot
Favorite song: “Stop Being Greedy”
DMX prays a lot, and barks even more.
But in his early career, there was a hell of a lot of good material in between all of that. He somehow managed to release two arguable classic late-90s hardcore rap (borderline horrorcore) albums in the same year — during a time when Puffy was dancing around and stealing samples that would end up forcing him to pay an obscene amount in royalties — and have them each go multi-platinum. DMX’s music was completely raw and animalistic, which I think was part of the allure. He appealed to the side that most of us hide under our inhibitions; the side that contains the pure rage that most of us are forced to stuff down due to social norms and/or the risk of being put on Worldstar, as well as the wounds that we tend to cover up. Everything about his music was completely genuine. Unfortunately, it seemed like this ran dry by X’s fourth or fifth album, and well-documented drug and legal problems started to get in the way of X’s career. He hasn’t been able to fully recover since, however, that doesn’t diminish the brilliance of his first three albums.

18. Killer Mike
Favorite album: R.A.P. Music
Favorite song: “Reagan”
Mike is essentially the modern-day Ice Cube. His delivery, style of social commentary, and even artistic sound (at least on R.A.P. Music, produced by El-P) is reminiscent of those in Cube’s early career. However, Mike does actually go deeper into politics than Cube ever really did. Given his real-life experience working in elections since his youth, Mike has true insight into the political system that he so often tears to shreds, both in the booth and out. This sets a clear distinction between him and other political rappers, as many just tend to rap about conspiracy theories that they think their audiences want to hear about. Aside from just that, Mike actually knows how to make good music, again differentiating him from most other political rappers. He mixes wisdom with attitude and passion, and creates art that compels you to listen, as opposed to dull lectures over Snowgoons beats. His passion bleeds through his music, and creates one of the more powerful deliveries in hip hop currently. I do feel like he didn’t fully realize his potential until he met El-P, but once he did, he was finally able to take part in something special, both R.A.P. Music, and Run The Jewels (possibly my favorite duo).

17. Method Man
Favorite album: Tical
Favorite song: “The Purple Tape” (featuring Raekwon & Inspectah Deck)
Arguably the standout member of the Wu-Tang Clan on Enter The Wu-Tang, Method Man has had a very distinct mic presence from the beginning of his career. The duality of his delivery, where it’s chill and laid back yet at the same time menacingly raspy, has always been compelling to me. He can rap softly into the mic so he may seem relaxed but it’ll sound like he’s growling at you. That hazy, blunted-out growly style is the perfect complement to Redman’s ADHD. His style is best heard in a group setting where he can just sit back and steal the show on a song, however, as a solo artist, he has had difficulty being able to translate that into full albums. Tical was a classic, and while his other LPs are decent for the most part, they have not lived up to his potential. However, he has remained very consistent as an emcee, with no real declines in his skill to be noted. He can still handily take a track like it’s nothing.

16. Big L
Favorite album: Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous
Favorite song: “Danger Zone” (featuring Herb McGruff)
I don’t generally like the idea of listing rappers with such a small body of work on top artist lists, but I really couldn’t help myself with L (and Pun, for that matter). Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous is nuts. There’s really not any more to say about it. It’s one of my favorite albums. While there wasn’t much to it beyond just straight emceeing, his raw skill was at least a decade advanced. He sounded so effortless the way he slaughtered every verse and his punchlines were hilariously ruthless. If he was allowed to grow, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would have been a LOT higher up on this list. Big L was the dictionary definition of emcee to the highest degree.

15. Xzibit
Favorite album: Restless
Favorite song: “Losin’ Your Mind” (featuring Snoop Dogg)
Xzibit is one of the first rappers I started listening to once I started listening to hip hop. From the first time I listened to him, I found myself drawn to his voice; since I was just starting out with hip hop, I had never heard a voice on a song as gritty and raspy as his. Xzibit was always one of the edgier west coast rappers that I’ve heard. It was almost like he was an east coast rapper who just happened to rap over Mel-Man’s Dr. Dre’s style of production rather than boom bap. Xzibit very rarely spits a weak verse. He always comes with a raw power and conviction in his voice, and he’s got a great knack for hilariously aggressive one-liners. His choice of production tended to be a bit spotty; while he would end up with plenty of songs over killer beats, his albums would always have several songs that came up short with their production. Regardless of the fact that he never did that classic that he was very well capable of making, he is a great and far-too-underrated emcee.

14. El-P
Favorite album: I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
Favorite song: “The Full Retard”
Since this is just about rappers, I won’t talk too much about El’s production (at least not yet…*wink* [or not]). However, I will say that El’s diversity as a producer is directly reflected in his rapping. He is an immensely creative emcee. His lyrical style is such that a listener can hear what he says and take a different meaning from it than the next person who hears it. He keeps things open-ended and words his lyrics in very unique ways. The progression of his style from his days in Company Flow to the Def Jux days was interesting to see, as he went from someone who was very influenced by EPMD’s style of rapping (particularly Parrish) to someone who started ignoring conventional pockets and just rapped the way he wanted to. That style got too chaotic at times on Fantastic Damage (if there’s a pun there it wasn’t intended), but he refined it and perfected it by the time I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead was released.

As El’s career progressed with Run The Jewels, his mic presence started to change. Perhaps it was a result of recording with Mike, who has the dynamic voice he has, but by their second album he had developed a tangible cockiness in his voice that makes it almost impossible to not enjoy any of his verses on their brag tracks, and it’s only becoming more prevalent.

13. Nas
Favorite album: Illmatic (shockingly)
Favorite song: “Represent”
There isn’t very much that needs to be said about Nas, honestly. He started his career out with what a great number of people would argue is the most legendary and essential hip hop album of all time. Even if he had released terribly weak albums like I Am… and Nastradamus for the rest of his career, that would still be enough for him to be comfortably placed in top 25 lists at the minimum. However, he has still released a handful of great albums aside from Illmatic, and to this day sounds hungry when he pops up on guest spots. His work speaks for itself.

12. Busta Rhymes
Favorite album: When Disaster Strikes
Favorite song: “So Hardcore”
From the start of his career, as early as “Scenario”, Busta Rhymes has been a legendary guest artist. It seems like every year he’s featured and throws everybody for a loop over how easily he makes taking over a track seem. He’s got an off-the-wall charisma and a delivery that can go from wacky, to smooth and carelessly confident, to as big and powerful as his gut arms at the drop of a dime. And that’s not even mentioning his wide variety of flows that never fail to catch listeners off guard. As an emcee there are not many who can out-rap Busta Rhymes.
Busta is one of the greatest rappers without a top-to-bottom classic to his name. For somebody who has a reputation for stealing the show every time he’s on someone else’s song effortlessly, he tends to be unable to translate that to full-length solo albums. They generally have a lot of great songs interspersed with dull, meandering songs, which leads to albums that are overlong and bogged down by filler. However, that’s not to say that all of his albums are bad; his first three in particular are fun listens and generally embody everything that people love about him. With a bit a tweaking, each of them had potential to be a classic album.

11. Kool G Rap
Favorite album: 4,5,6
Favorite song: “Blowin’ Up In The World”
I wasn’t alive during Kool G Rap’s prime, while he was recording with DJ Polo and even his first solo album, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was considered the best rapper ever at that point. He had studied the quintessential lyricists at the time like Rakim and Big Daddy Kane, and upgraded basically everything to become a whole new monster. The tricks he was pulling with his lyricism and his flows in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s were so intricate that in 2017, the age of the underground rappity rapper overcompensating for mumble rap, I can feel more astounded by what he was doing than what is going on now in many cases. His gritty, soulful delivery is what sets him apart. He’s got a deep voice and it very much added to his presence, especially on the mafiaso rap he started delving into as a solo artist. His commanding presence made it incredibly easy to believe that crime lord character.

Speaking of his which, G Rap wasn’t just an innovator as far as flow went. He is essentially the originator of mafiaso rap. He was the one who opened the flood gates for rappers like Raekwon and Biggie to come and start telling the sort of crime stories that they told. I feel like, just because he has slowed down his output, he doesn’t get much of the credit that he deserves among people my age, which is ridiculous. Kool G Rap is in the styles of more rappers than you would think.


That’s it for now. Stay tuned for the rest of the list, coming in a week or so (depending on when Dustin decides the site could use another fluff piece out of me that contributes nothing to our growth).

Apu Rambles: This Year, and the Future

by Apu

yearend

Well, it’s December 28th (well, probably not when this piece goes up). So I guess it’s the time of year to talk about shit I liked and shit I didn’t like, because I’m a person who sometimes writes for a music blog and that means everybody on earth is just dying for my input even though nobody asked.

There are a fair amount of albums this year that I liked. Tribe’s We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service is what I now consider the pinnacle of a group reuniting and going out. I obviously really liked the two albums I reviewed (Kuniva’s A History of Violence Vol. 2 and Fatt Father’s Veterans Day). I was impressed by Snoop’s Coolaid, and Aesop’s The Impossible Kid was a cool listen, as were Marv Won’s Soundtrack To Autumn, De La Soul’s …and the Anonymous Nobody, and Kendrick’s untitled umastered… I didn’t mind Royce’s Layers and T.I.’s Us Or Else: Letter To The System… And as I sit here that’s all I can think of at the moment of writing this, although I’m sure there’s great music I am either forgetting came out this year or I haven’t had the chance to listen to yet.

However, dope as those albums were, there were only two albums that came out this year that really blew my mind. Albums that I knew were something special from the first time I listened to them; where that feeling didn’t go away after two listens, or three, or ten…

Those albums were Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown, and Run The Jewels 3 by a duo whose name I’ve forgotten.

I think based off that little incomplete list of albums above, it’s clear that that my taste tends to be a little lot more rooted in traditional hip hop. However, it ended up being Atrocity Exhibition and RTJ3 that really stood out to me. Danny’s album in particular is so far from what I normally listen to that I was incredibly surprised at how much I liked it when I was hearing it for the first time, especially given how stubborn and set in my ways I am. It was (and I’m using someone else’s description for it, go ahead and sue me for plagiarism***) some weird industrial post-punk shit, way far away from the end of the musical spectrum that I generally find to be appealing.

Normally, I’m really, really not into industrial hip hop. It’s a little too abstract for my pea-brain to be able to comprehend. Most of the industrial hip hop that I’ve listened to contains weird sounds, and rapping that’s too… out there for me to like. It’s just my personal opinion, I don’t connect to it. So for a little bit, it sort of perplexed me as to why I loved Danny’s album so much. I mean, sure, the rapping was great, but I had never imagined that I would gravitate so much towards the production. However, I listened to it more and more, it started to click.

Danny Brown put his own spin on a typical Detroit sound. There are moments on this album that remind me very strongly of the Fat Killahz. “Dance In The Water” sounds similar to “The Fat Song.” The production on “Lost” sounds reminiscent of something you’d hear Fatt Father and/or Marv Won rap on. “Get Hi” screamed King Gordy. However, they weren’t exactly the same. The production on Atrocity Exhibition was warped beyond our dimension; it sounded like it was what Danny wanted us to think went on in his head when he was on drugs.

That didn’t matter though. It did what many other industrial rap acts that I’ve listened to don’t. It stayed hip hop. It’s a lot harder to blend two genres and stay hip hop while trying to go industrial than it is to just make the jump over into industrial. Atrocity Exhibition did its best to get as far away from typical hip hop production as it could, but it made sure to remain rooted in the genre in a way that was familiar. There are hipsters who aren’t versed at all in hip hop who may get mad and try to tell me I’m wrong and that Danny’s album was so good because he abandoned traditional hip hop, but I couldn’t disagree more. He didn’t abandon hip hop, he just blended genres together, seamlessly, without making it too on-the-nose or overt the way someone like Yelawolf does these days with his terrible outlaw country pop rap.

Danny blended genres and kept a hip hop attitude. In doing so, his album became the most creative, effectively experimental hip hop album I have ever heard and love to the degree that I do.

Then I got to thinking, and it began to make sense as to why I enjoyed Run The Jewels from the very first time I listened to them. El-P’s production generally consists of synthesized drums and distorted instruments, far from the heavy bass and knocking drums of what you’d think of when you think of New York. However, he keeps the gritty, Brooklyn vibe to it. The way the beats are done, it sounds like they’re looped in a way similar to the sampling done by a typical New York boom bap producer, even when nothing is being sampled. In fact, on some songs, particularly “Legend Has It,” “Down,” “Thieves!” and “Thursday In The Danger Room,” the production almost sounds like futuristic boom bap. It’s very unlike what I had originally expected industrial hip hop to sound like, before I started to listen to their music, because I had heard several songs that didn’t sound anything like good hip hop (or music [sorry, not sorry]) to me.

Right now, it seems like hip hop is in limbo, sonically, as far as what the next representative sound will be. I get the feeling we’re going to see the current phase of trap fall out of popular favor in the near future. There’s a lot of different sorts of experimental-sounding music coming out. I think Kendrick may have spearheaded it last year with To Pimp A Butterfly. Although the mumble/trap aspect of hip hop is sinking to new lows with irredeemable garbage being made by guys like Lil Yachty and Desiigner, there’s new climate, where it seems like people are starting to throw new ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks. I actually don’t think there’s been a time like this in hip hop since I’ve been a fan. There’s an air of artistic freedom that I think may be starting to arise with the prevalence of independent acts. Whatever it is, I think we’re going to be coming out of the mumble rap phase, at least in the next 2 or 3 years.

I want to see the next phase of hip hop be the style of industrial/alt-rap that I’ve been discussing. It seems to be catching on as time goes on and the general atmosphere of hip hop becomes more experimental. It doesn’t even need to be done to the degree that it’s done by Run The Jewels or Danny Brown on Atrocity Exhibition. Black Milk, for instance, has been becoming more and more experimental with his production with every release; the distorted keyboards, the bass, the drums, the vibe. It started on his Tronic album, and on his last album, If There’s A Hell Below, it seems like he’s heading in a very exciting direction, while still remaining firmly rooted in hip hop. I want to see more of it.

That’s not to say that I want to see artists from the 90s try to be experimental just because it’s what’s popular. I want to be clear and say that I want upcoming artists to participate in making this sort of sound. You know how it sounds sort of desperate (bordering on pathetic on occasion) when a rapper 20 years deep starts rapping on trap beats and using autotuned hooks? It’d sort of be the same kind of thing. There’s nothing wrong with staying in your lane and doing what you know, so long as your own artistry doesn’t regress or stagnate. Do things naturally. With rapper/producers it’s different, because producers have a different mindset, so guys like El-P and Black Milk who have been around for a while can get more experimental organically. But I want the industrial/experimental sound to be like how right now with trap, where it’s the sound that most new and upcoming rappers want to jump into and start their [non]careers with.

Busta Rhymes said in a Westwood interview this year something that I found really interesting. He spoke about the acts who seem to be succeeding in making quality music have something in common. They keep their feet planted in the essence of hip hop. They don’t necessarily make the hip hop of the past, but they keep the spirit and vibe of hip hop while venturing out to do their own styles of music. He says that the trap shit that even his own artists do is cool in the moment, but the really timeless, transcendent music being made by rappers is the music that remembers that it’s hip hop. I really like what he was saying, and for the most part, I agree with him wholeheartedly…but what I liked most about the interview is that Bus’ got Westwood to sit quietly without spouting some loud, unfunny nonsense for more than 3 minutes. But yeah, what he was talking about is exactly why albums like RTJ3 (and RTJ’s other two albums) and Atrocity Exhibition are so effective while being so experimental.

I tried to articulate all of this the best I can. I’m not very well-versed in industrial hip hop so I may sound like I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I hope I got my point across. In any case, I’m interested in what the future of hip hop will sound like. If it sounds anything at all like what I was describing then I’m on board.

***I’m sorry, I just wanted to look cool. Please don’t sue me.

Album Review: Fatt Father – Veteran’s Day

by Apu

ff

8/10

Last week was a weird goddamn week. Without going into politics too much because a lot of people seem to get more offended by other people’s political views than they do at an insult directed towards their family, a lot happened in a pretty short amount of time, most of which I don’t think a large portion of the population were actually seriously prepared for. Considering this, it should go without saying that getting some new music at the end of the week was a welcome respite from the Mr. Krabs meme of a week that the country had to deal with. I was personally most interested in A Tribe Called Quest’s new album, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service and Fatt Father’s Veterans Day, which is the album I’m here to talk about.


Veteran’s Day is Fatt Father’s first solo release since 2012’s Fatherhood, a release where I felt like Fatts was starting to establish who he was as an artist. Veterans Day, released on the holiday it’s named after, only serves to further that feeling. Fatt Father came into his own on this release, displaying better than ever who he is as an emcee, as well as the person behind the mic.

The album’s production is handled entirely by D.R.U.G.S. Beats, who you may recognize as a producer on Dr. Dre’s last album, Compton (he produced the “Gone” half of “Darkside/Gone”). Being that he is technically a Dr. Dre-approved producer, this album’s beats are very well done throughout. A pretty big portion of the beats, including “Come On,” “Just Listen,” and “The Greatest” among others, cause involuntary head-nodding, and others like “Shabazz’s Gospel” and “Keep Ya Head Up” create a very tangible mood that draws you in even without having to hear Fatt’s verses. D.R.U.G.S. did a great job at capturing Fatt’s style; the production brings out the best of his distinctive, deep voice, and allows him to explore slightly different deliveries that he hasn’t used as often in the past. The end product is an underground street rap album with production that sounds more professional and sonically pleasing than I’ve found on most projects of its ilk.

Veteran’s Day opens up with a speech by someone who seems to be a war vet, detailing emotions that could be construed as something that’s almost like PTSD. That transitions to the first song, “Shabazz’s Gospel,” a song where Fatt Father, a bit like the vet from the intro, goes into detail about the traumas he faced in his past, from the separation of his parents to the deaths of his brother and his close friend Big Cobb. From there, Fatts goes into topics such as his childhood, love and women’s insecurities, police brutality, loss, and his life in current times.

Crack fiend, crack house, 8 ball, quarter ounce,
Death toll moving up, decent folk moving out,
Lost souls searching for boss roles to shoot it out,
Heart cold, traveling dark roads to move about,
Homicide, gather the yellow tape, spool it out,
Mama’s tears falling on cotton blends in huge amounts.
(Mama’s Words)

What I found to be the biggest strength on this project, as I alluded to earlier on, is Fatt Father’s delivery. He’s always had a voice that stood out; it’s deep and it cuts through a record in a very unique way. He sort of reminds me of a mix of Biggie and Scarface in some ways, the latter having a delivery that very much falls under the description I just gave. But on this album, Fatt Father started to adapt it a bit. He really let his emotion, whether positive or negative, bleed through his vocals on this album. It made the emotional songs hit harder, and the lighter songs like “K.A.M.M.H.” and “Come On” much more fun to listen to. It boils down to Fatt Father’s range as an artist expanding. He was always more willing to explore different topics and styles as a member of the Fat Killahz, but as a solo artist he always kept it gutter as shit. He does that on this album too, but he seems more flexible with what he’s willing to talk about and do.

Of course, as with any album, there’s music that are a little less content-heavy, and more for just vibing to. Some serve as great pump-up songs, such as “Just Listen,” “K.A.M.M.H.” with Ro Spit (this one’s my favorite song off the album), and “The Greatest” featuring killer verses from Fatt Father and Kuniva, and a fairly good verse from Royce da 5’9” that I felt fell a bit short of the energy that was coming from the rest of the track. Then there are songs like “Everybody” and “Never Die” featuring strong verses from Fat Killahz members Marv Won, Bang Belushi, and a too-over-the-top-for-me verse from King Gordy, both of which (besides Gordy’s verse) you can just chill to, listening to some nice verses and smooth beats that would sound awesome on a car stereo system. There is a nice display at diversity while keeping to a general sound on this album.

Overall, I’m very happy with Veteran’s Day. I love to see an artist who’s sort of an underdog the way Fatt Father is make an album that displays the sort of effort that a lot of so-called top artists don’t have in their music. Hearing a rapper older than most of the kids coming out make an album that displays hunger that they can’t muster up is just so satisfying to me, and reminds me that even though sometimes bullshit (from both the mainstream and underground) may get frustrating to always have to hear, good music will always be made because there will always be someone who cares. This album just solidifies why I place Fatt Father in my list of rappers who I take a personal responsibility for when it comes to spreading their music.

Apu Rambles: Hip-Hop, my Replacement Girlfriend

by Apu

rex1

Schoolwork, internet connectivity issues that prolong the time it takes to do said schoolwork, a keyboard meltdown, and other things I can use as weak excuses for my inactivity… none of which could keep me from procrastinating and listening to hip hop. Hip hop has been essentially the only part of my personality that I think is appealing in any way at all. However, believe it or not, there was once a time when I wasn’t into the genre, and hardly knew anything about it at all. Can you believe it?! Well, unluckily for you, this half-assed intro leading into a very long piece about me and hip hop is almost done. It’s story time!

Before I really got into hip hop music, I had heard a few songs, but for the most part it was more of what my parents wanted to listen to. So it was classic rock when my dad was driving and pop when my mom was driving. The only hip hop song that I really properly remember is “Gold Digger” by Kanye. I had heard it when it was on the radio once, so it must have been in mid-to-late-2005. None else really stick out in my head, but I do know I had heard some. Those that I did hear, I didn’t really think anything of. They were alright, but I didn’t like them any more than the songs that my dad would play (my mom’s taste in music is garbage). I didn’t really connect with the genre until the summer of 2006.
A friend of mine in the neighborhood who obviously later became a massive fuck-up showed me the song “When I’m Gone” by Eminem. I remember when I heard it, I thought to myself “I’ve never heard a song like this before, what the fuck is this?” It was like a movie in my head, which is something that I had never really experienced when listening to a song at that point in my life. I had never really been so drawn to the lyrics of a song before then. Of course, now, I don’t like the song very much, but back then it was something totally new.

All my life, I’ve been a loser who lives under a rock, so I didn’t know who Eminem was back then. Over the course of the next week or two (or more, who actually remembers details like that?), I was on YouTube looking for more of Em’s music. I think I had found songs like “Without Me”, “Mockingbird”, and “Lose Yourself”. I do also remember hearing “You Don’t Know”, but according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, that came out in November of 2006, so I guess my memory is hazy on the timeline regarding that. Also, fun fact, I didn’t know he was white until after almost 2 months of listening to loose tracks, after seeing one of his music videos.

Anyways, I was pretty enraptured by the guy’s music. No artist had ever really made music that stuck with me the way his did. Later that summer, I went on vacation to see some family. When I was visiting my mom’s side of the family, I was playing Super Mario Bros. with my uncle and I started telling him about how I liked Eminem. Sometime during that week I was there, he gave me his copy of The Eminem Show, which was the only Em album he felt comfortable showing me at that age, although he still did it with a “don’t tell your mom.” I stuck it in his CD player and started listening to it. I enjoyed the holy hell out of that CD. I must have listened to it 3 times straight while my parents, grandparents, and aunts thought I was playing video games with my uncle and brother.

When listening to it, I noticed that there were other people on the songs. Using the booklet with the lyrics, I matched the voices to the names (I don’t recall the back cover having the features listed so I didn’t know that the songs would have other people on them). I liked them, but the ones who really stood out to me were D-12. I think the only reason I was able to do what many other Eminem fans can’t and actually recognize each member is because I spent so much time staring at the lyrics in the booklet. At first, I didn’t really understand why it said “featuring D-12” but then had the verses preceded with the members’ names…I guess I didn’t put together the fact that they’re a group. Anyways, I told my uncle “wow these D-12 guys are awesome, do they have music out?” Of course, he had the Devil’s Night CD. That one was one that he really wasn’t sure he wanted to let me have. I’m sure a decade later, he regrets it. Too bad.

That CD flipped everything that I thought I knew about the world on its head, then face fucked it.

That is the CD that shaped nearly everything about my attitude in the years to come, and totally warped my sense of humor.

It was that CD.

When I listened to Devil’s Night, it was the first time I had ever heard anything that even approached something that vulgar. I was a kid who was an idealist and thought everything in the world was great. Listening to that album shattered that. I was entranced by how this group of 6 guys was just spewing venom at everything they didn’t like, and at some stuff that they did like. Some people lose their innocence when a loved one dies, some lose it when they accidentally walk in on their parents having sex…I think I lost mine when I listened to this CD. With Bizarre being a member, I don’t think I could have avoided it.

So after that I listened to the rest of Em’s discography, I listened to the other D-12 album, then started looking into Shady Records. I really, really enjoyed Obie Trice once I started listening to him. Cheers is still to this day one of my favorite albums and probably the 2nd best non-Em album to be released by Shady, in my opinion (the first being Devil’s Night). I started looking into Proof’s discography too, and listened to Searching For Jerry Garcia. After hearing a couple of verses by Royce da 5’9” on Em’s music, I started looking into his music. For about a year, I was listening mainly to that little circle of 8 Detroit artists.

Obviously, when you listen to early Shady Records albums, you’re bound to hear more and more of Dr. Dre. That led me to checking out his albums. From there, I started listening to more west coast hip hop artists. I don’t really remember who I was listening to though, because I don’t really listen to many of them anymore, but I do remember that I listened to some Snoop Dogg music. That’s where I really started enjoying the G-funk style present on Doggystyle, which I actually quite recently gained a new appreciation for as being possibly the only style of hip hop from the 90s that still sounds like it could have been produced today. I hold the entirely non-unique and pretty basic, pumpkin spice latte/Ugg boot level opinion that Doggystyle is the best-produced hip hop album of all time. Dre and Daz are geniuses for that.

Of course when you listen to the west coast, you’re bound to find 2Pac’s music. I had heard and read about 2Pac, but had never really listened to. I think he was the first artist since I listened to Em who had given me the same sort of feeling as Em did. There’s nothing that I can really say about 2Pac that hasn’t been said a million times before, but he did really make music that painted incredibly vivid scenarios, and his delivery would fall on you and cave in your chest. I know that I mainly listened to All Eyez On Me and the Makaveli album, because I liked the production on those more than I did on his pre-Death Row music, probably because it was more like the production I was used to hearing. My uncle later gave me his copy of All Eyez On Me, probably sometime like 2010 when I had already been listening to the album for a while. The 7 Day Theory is actually the first CD I bought for myself…in other words, spent my parents’ money on.

It wasn’t long after that when I sort of slowed down with hip hop. I had started to hear more and more of the crunk/snap music that was dominating the game in the mid-2000s. With social media and the internet not being as popular as it is today, it was a little harder to find acts that didn’t take up all the radio play, so I can understand why the whole “hip hop is dead” thing ended up happening, when it never really died if you take a look back at some artists that were out but not being pushed the way a Lil Jon or whoever else was. I certainly felt like that. I sort of stopped looking for new artists to listen to for a good year. I thought I had tapped into everything that hip hop really had to offer. If only I could beat the living shit out of my younger self.

I forget how, but I discovered Redman, the Wu-Tang Clan, and Busta Rhymes all sometime in mid-2009. I think it was a combination of seeing Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2 and Busta’s Back On My B.S. on the iTunes store, and finally looking up who Em was talking about when he mentioned “Reggie” on “TIl I Collapse.” I saw the cover of Dare Iz A Darkside and figured it looked wacky enough to listen to (fuck you, young Apu…even though that’s still a personal top 5 album).

That album is what got me into the east coast sound. It totally changed everything that I was looking for in the music that I liked. I think the fact that it was dark, which was sort of the sound I was into at the time as a rebellion to the ignorantly happy crunk era, is what made that album click instantly with me. It was almost like Devil’s Night and The Marshall Mathers LP in the sense that it had a lot of humor on it but at the same time it had pretty dark music. It managed being funky as fuck, funny, and witty, yet dark, hazy, and gritty (BARZ!), which to this day is something that really impresses me, because I don’t think there is anyone else who can marry those two sounds the way Red did on that album.

Hearing those guys from the east got me more interested in digging into east coast hip hop. I found guys like Pharoahe Monch, Nas, Biggie, and DMX. There was something about the east sound that I started to really connect with. I think it was the rougher sound, which again, was in such stark contrast to the crunk shit turning trap (which I don’t dislike by any means at all, certainly not the way I do crunk). It was different from the polished sound of the west, where even when the music gets aggressive or dark it does so with a sort of sense of style that the east generally forgoes. I told Dustin recently that it’s almost like the musical styles match the climates; the west is warmer and has more beaches and shit, and the people are wearing summer clothes year round so the music has that sort of style, whereas the east gets a shit-ton colder so people are running around in the streets of New York wearing jeans, hoodies, jackets, and Timberland boots, which is reflected in the rugged sound. That was a massive tangent that didn’t need to be made at all, but yeah.

In 2010 I started going through a horrorcore phase. I discovered Tech N9ne through the Seepage EP, which is some of his darkest material to date. From there, I discovered Brotha Lynch Hung, and I rediscovered King Gordy. Now, until I heard Gordy’s verse on “Horns”, I had thought he was a blues singer from Detroit. The only time I had heard him was on hooks for Proof and D-12, on songs like “No. T. Lose” off Searching For Jerry Garcia, and “I Am Gone” and “Mrs. Pitts” off Return of The Dozen Vol. 1. It wasn’t a too far-off conclusion to come to, as he draws quite a bit of inspiration from blues artist Howlin’ Wolf. How fucking wrong I was. I’m not really into horrorcore much anymore, but I still enjoy Gordy and Lynch a lot. Gordy is to this day one of the most unique hip hop artists I’ve ever heard.

Getting into King Gordy is what got me back into Detroit hip hop. I started listening to his group, Fat Killahz, and then guys like Elzhi and Black Milk (who later ended up getting me into Sean Price, through Random Axe). As time would go on I would become a fan of Danny Brown’s as well. I also tried listening to more southern artists because at one point I felt like I was starting to neglect them. I became a big fan of Scarface.

My taste in music stayed relatively unchanged for the next 3 or 4 years, and that leads into about now. I would start listening to other acts, like The Roots, but I didn’t really focus on expanding. But this is also around the time I started talking to Dustin, and he was constantly expanding his tastes (read: constantly becoming more and more of a hipster). But he managed to get me to start listening to Run The Jewels about a year and a half later than everyone else did. Around the same time, I also started to get familiar with Prof before becoming a massive fan of his, and because of the Rhymesayers connection and a push from Dustin, I’ve started getting into Aesop Rock. I’m still looking for other artists to listen to as well.

I’ve left out a lot of the artists that I listen to, primarily because I’m a scatterbrained fuck, but that is basically the main gist of it. Hip hop has basically shaped me into who I am now. I don’t think there’s much that I have a passion about the way I do hip hop. The more time goes on, the more I that passion grows. For the longest it was about how I connected to the music. Then I started to take into account lyricism. Lately I’ve been getting very into the production side. Not in practice, since I’m nowhere near creative enough to do that, but just listening to things as closely as I can to hear how things are put together. I think that’s why recently I’ve gained such an affinity for Just Blaze, aside from the fact that he makes killer beats. The way he pieces some of his beats together amazes me sometimes. I’ve always liked him, but the more I try to dissect in my head what he does, the most I find what he does to be so impressive.

But yeah. I’m basically pussywhipped for hip hop. I don’t see myself losing the passion I have for it any time soon. Fuck it, I’m about to go listen to some right now.

The end. Thanks for wasting your time reading this.