Rajin Rambles: Time to Defend Dust Again…

by Rajin

dust

Despite what the title may imply, I’m not gonna spend any time or energy speaking about music I don’t like in this piece. I’m sure I’ve done that enough, and it would probably look tacky at this point (it was actually probably always tacky). However, I really don’t like the attitude that I’ve seen some people carry, about the past belonging in the past and being irrelevant. Right now, hip hop is at an “age,” so to speak, where it’s made an incredibly long journey from its roots. There’s very little now that resembles the music that artists like Run-D.M.C. were making when rap music was just first exploding onto the scene.

For this reason, I feel like some “dated” sounding material being released could be constructive. The argument that I’ve seen come up is that we’ve seen certain styles of music done before, so there’s no real reason to see them again. While I understand that point, and even agreed with it to a certain extent until fairly recently, I don’t think it necessarily has to hold true. I’m just barely over half of hip hop’s age and while I don’t have any official figures or statistics, I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that a huge chunk of the audience is in my age group. I also don’t think it would be inaccurate to make the claim that most listeners in my age group really don’t give a shit about what was happening 30 years ago. While I think it’s irresponsible for writers and media personalities — who are theoretically supposed to have respect and knowledge for the history — to approach hip hop with that sort of attitude, I don’t think I can blame a casual listener for feeling that way. There’s so much music being released these days that if you’re not somebody extremely passionate about it, it’s hard to find the time to both keep up and go back in time no matter how accessible everything is now. The pool of music just continues to grow, which makes the task of wading through it all that much more imposing.

This is why I feel like what LL Cool J is doing on his Rock The Bells radio show is so essential. It offers a quick and easy way to take a look back through the history of hip hop and rap music. You get to listen to the hits that came before your time, and build an understanding of where the music been and how it got here. All coming from someone who everybody recognizes for one reason or another, who also happens to be someone who took part in solidifying this music as something more than just a fad.

With where hip hop is now, I strongly believe that there could be some benefit in revisiting styles and sounds without tailoring anything to 2019. It’s clear that there’s room for anything in hip hop. We have seen boom bap, a style that most people consider to be outdated, make a powerful comeback in the last few years. Granted, it isn’t generally the type of boom bap you would see in the ‘90s. It still exhibited a bit of evolution; at this point, boom bap today is far from being “throwback,” and I find it a little annoying when it gets relegated as such (I can’t say for sure, but this more than likely contradicts stuff that I’ve said in the past). It quickly picked up where the ‘90s left off, and is now sonically something very different than it used to be. It feels like a natural progression, but it doesn’t necessarily bring anything from the past back.

I would love to see someone from the ‘80s come out and make something that sounds like what they were making back then, but brought into 2019. Kool G Rap is still around out-rapping people over 30 years into his career, but that’s not necessarily what I’m talking about. I want to hear something like EPMD rapping over funk samples and bringing back the feeling they had on their music before their first breakup, or LL shouting boasts over loud minimalist production. I feel like it could be interesting to see music like that released in this day and age. Such a large portion of today’s rap fanbase has no idea what hip hop sounded like before the ‘00s. I find that gaining an understanding of what happened in the past could add to one’s overall understanding of the music in general — at least that’s how it’s worked for me. Re-examining what’s happened in the past could open up new pathways in the future, possibly to styles that hadn’t happened in the past due to technical limitations and such. In a way, I feel like it would almost be like taking a few steps back stylistically to attempt a net movement forward. At worst, it would end up just end up reinforcing that the past should stay in the past.

You kind of see that with artists, in a way. I’m going to use Cypress Hill as an example. They came onto the scene with a very dark, hazy sound, courtesy of DJ Muggs drawing from psychedelic rock as a source of inspiration and samples. This remained the case, for the most part, through their first four albums; their formula was seldom changed. They essentially just made the same sort of music for four albums (which isn’t a criticism – those are four of my top five Cypress Hill albums). However, by the time Skull & Bones came out they largely abandoned everything that they had built their brand on and moved on to other styles. They messed with the current trends going on in west coast hip hop at the time as well as, regrettably, nu-metal. In the years to come, they would also try out reggae-influenced sounds, and even have an album without any Muggs production at all. Cypress Hill decided that they wanted to try new styles out after spending the better part of a decade using what was essentially the same style, and that’s fair. An artist/group is at full liberty to make whatever creative decisions they want to. Last year though, they decided to go back to their roots for their latest album, Elephants on Acid. This saw them returning straight to their Temples of Boom days of making dark, murky, and psychedelic music. They felt more at-home making this sort of music than they had in 20 years. From here, they can go in whatever direction they want to, but it’s clear revisiting what was familiar revitalized them for the most part.

I feel like this same sort of thing could go for rap music as a whole. The genre has been exploring many different sounds for decades now, and I feel like the time may be right for it to take a second and revisit its roots. While in general, music has become a lot more complex and detailed since the days I’m talking about, I believe it would still be worth exploring.

I don’t know. These are just some stray thoughts and I don’t think I really even said anything here. But I’ve felt like this for a while now. For the first half of January I was listening to almost nothing but ‘80s rap. I wanted to get familiar with the history of rap music and see how it developed. See how regions outside of New York developed their own sounds. Observe how rappers who would be considered vets by the early ‘90s had to adjust to the rapid innovation and change in the landscape, and compare that to how vets do it today. So much has been left in the past with no trace of it around now, which is understandable enough. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that in a time where accessibility is at an all-time high, it seems like the history of hip hop is focused on less than ever; for that reason, I feel like it wouldn’t be the worst idea to try reminding people where things started. I’d like to see some older artists show everyone what gave new artists a platform to begin with.


Final edit: Dustin

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Rajin Rambles: 2018 in Review, and Beyond

by Rajin

rajin2019

So I’ve kinda been AWOL for most of this year. I’ve been struggling with some pretty bad writer’s block for one reason or another. I just wanted to use this piece as an opportunity to shake the rust off and give my opinions on hip hop in 2018 that I — as someone who was raised a soft suburbanite — can’t and don’t expect any readers to take seriously.

I mentioned in last year’s recap that I felt hip hop was in a state of limbo, and that rap music didn’t seem to know where it wanted to go. In some ways I think that still holds true. It seems like commercial rap is clinging on for dear life to the trends that’ve had the genre in a stranglehold over the last two or three years. Rappers both new and established seem petrified at the idea of leaving the comfort zone that has established itself, because nobody knows where to go next. Melodic trap lives on for better or for worse…and from what I can tell, it’s actually gained some footing back in the game. Last year I got the sense that there was a bit of exhaustion in regards to that sort of music that I no longer seem to find. People seem like they’re totally satisfied with the prevailing trends remaining firmly in place, which I can’t knock since everybody has their own tastes; however, I’m a little disheartened by the stagnation. I also can’t pretend like I’m not sick and tired of the representative sound of hip hop being so sanitary and watered-down when the music was built off a spirit of defiance and grit.

This is all anecdotal though. I can’t say for sure whether my observations are actually accurate; all I can say is I’ve been hearing a lot of Travis Scott and Drake, and it’s made me want to “accidentally” crush my own windpipe.

Fortunately for those who have tastes that aren’t exactly satisfied by that sort of music, an almost comical amount of projects were dropped by underground rappers this year. It reached the point where, unless you are in certain settings, there was really no reason for you to pay attention to anything going on that you didn’t like. In the maybe three pieces I’ve written in the last year and a half, I’ve spoken a countless amount of times about the new-age boom bap movement that has taken root in the underground. For some reason, this time last year I figured that this movement’s growth would merely be incremental. Couldn’t tell you why, and at this point I feel pretty fucking stupid for ever holding that belief. The flood gates have been opened and they’re not shutting any time soon. Last year this particular scene was still budding, but this year it’s clear to anybody with the ability to use a computer that the underground is alive. It’s stronger than it’s been in 15 years, maybe somebody should let DJ Booth know.

In the last 12 months, I’ve become familiar with a lot of newer artists. Daniel Son, ANKHLEJOHN, CRIMEAPPLE, Asun Eastwood, and Eto have caught my ears the most. That’s not to take anything away from anyone else, but a huge chunk of my favorite albums this year were released by these guys. Since mid-2017 and even earlier, they’ve released a metric fuckton of incredible projects with shocking consistency. Artists have seemingly upped their output this year…which is also something I’d like to talk about. They’ve been releasing project after project, with many ending 2018 with upwards of four or five; in the past, I likely would not have been thrilled about it. I would have said something about oversaturation serving to dilute the artist’s overall impact for me. I’m not sure that’s how I feel anymore though, at least not with certain artists. More attention is being paid to structuring a body of work. I partially credit the return of vinyl and cassette for that. If people are making albums that they want to release on an analog format, they put a greater effort into trimming the fat and eliminating filler. You can’t just skip a track, so every song needs to serve a purpose. Generally, this results in projects being compact and packing a punch. In comparison to when artists were dropping three 70-minute long mixtapes a year in addition to an album, projects don’t end up sounding as rushed or bloated. That is mainly where my ambivalence toward this practice stemmed from. Having several shorter projects in a year is a great way to accomplish the same thing without sacrificing quality control, and frankly I would quite like it if more of my favorites started releasing more regularly.

I’ve also noticed that producers have been branching out a bit more from the minimal style that Roc Marciano, The Alchemist, and Daringer used to pioneer the sound of this movement. I’m pretty glad about that, because for a little bit I was afraid that people would overdo the minimalism and make it feel stale. I’m once again relieved that I was wrong. I have to give a huge shout-out to Futurewave, who is pretty handily my favorite producer out right now. His work on Pressure Cooker and Physics of Filth is just utterly astounding. It’s everything I love about hip hop. I also want to mention Big Ghost Ltd.; while I’ve enjoyed his work for a while now, his beats on Aguardiente and especially Van Ghost show that he’s continuing with the steady incline he’s been on essentially since coming out as a producer.

This year hasn’t only been about new artists though. I’m very happy with a lot of vets. Roc Marciano obviously comes to mind — he released three albums that I really like, with Behold A Dark Horse putting up serious competing for the position of my favorite album in his discography thus far. One of those albums, Kaos, was produced by the legendary DJ Muggs, who’s had a remarkably strong year himself. He’s actually been on a hot streak since his album with Meyhem Lauren last year, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be ending anytime soon; in addition to Kaos, in 2018 alone he released a strong Soul Assassins album, an EP with Meyhem, reunited with Cypress Hill for their best album in two decades, and is set to release albums with Eto, CRIMEAPPLE, and Mach-Hommy next year. Black Thought finally released some solo projects and while they were a little lacking in substance, he made it perfectly clear that he is the most dangerous emcee on the face of the planet. Shad and Blueprint released utterly gorgeous records. People may clown me for this next statement, but they can fuck themselves. I think Eminem brought it with Kamikaze. I consider that to be his best and most genuine album since 2002, which absolutely shocked me because Revival was the epitome of a career-ending album. Royce 5’9” also released his best and most personal album to date this year, alongside a strong PRhyme outing with DJ Premier.

He’s been hyping up a Bad Meets Evil reunion album at shows overseas lately, so I’m really hoping that’s something we see next year. Unrelated, but I’m looking forward to the next Run The Jewels album, too.

Of course, there are a number of vets who once again didn’t release the albums they’ve been promising for years now. At this point, I should know better than to expect Redman, Ghostface, and Busta Rhymes to drop those records…but I’m a moron. Overall though, despite a few of my earlier complaints I found 2018 to be the strongest year hip hop has had since I’ve been a fan. There truly is room for everything in this day and age, a while that lends itself to music and artists I’m really not a fan of, it’s also led to some incredible material and future legends. I hope to be more active next year than I was this year to offer my unsolicited opinions and takes…just like all of the hip-hop writers for whom I hold a seething hatred, because the way things are going I only see good things in store for 2019.

Rajin Rambles: CDs Leaving Shelves

by Rajin

emptycdshelf

Recently, Best Buy announced their plans to cease the sale of CDs in their stores by this summer. While I had a couple of CDs from family before I started collecting, the first time I bought a CD for myself was in 2009, at the Best Buy closest to my house. I would say that the bulk of the CDs that I have bought were bought at that exact Best Buy, actually. I can’t say I like the chain (at all), but I would be lying if I said it didn’t play a substantial role in the painstakingly slow growth of my collection.

I understand that Best Buy needs more room for TVs and phone kiosks, so keeping floor space for CDs when sales are continuing to drop doesn’t make business sense. However, as someone who is passionate about purchasing physical media, I am saddened by this news. While lately I’ve generally shifted away from CDs towards vinyl and cassettes, the easy access to CDs at a store 5 minutes away from home is without a doubt what helped foster my interest in collecting physical media. I can’t help but feel that the removal of CDs from a store like Best Buy will stop that from happening for other people. I’ve read that Target may be planning on only selling CDs by artists and labels with whom they have special deals with, which makes it even more unfortunate.

It’s clear that album sales are no longer going to be what they were. While I absolutely do not care about album sales, I’m very concerned about lesser-known artists and how they will probably get the short end of the stick. It’s been like that since streaming became a widespread thing. However, if CDs really are going to be pulled from stores, and with streams counting for so little as far as sales, either a new algorithm needs to be set up or else artists are just going to be screwed out of money even more severely. Those that were able to manage to even get their CDs in a store in the first place likely benefited quite a bit from doing so. Taking this option to get their music out there away hurts them.

I’m also concerned with what will happen to mainstream albums. The art of making an album subjectively seems as though it’s taken a hit in recent years with the continued growth of streaming. We all remember when Drake pretended a bunch of songs he threw together and sold was a “playlist” and not a bloated and overlong album. It was pretty clear that it was meant to be background noise 22 tracks longs for the extra streaming revenue. This doesn’t seem like it’s only limited to him, either. Jhene Aiko also released a 22 track album last year, Chris Brown released a 40-track monstrosity, and the new Migos album had 24 tracks. To me, all of this points to a trend in mainstream music where acts who know that they’re going to get a lot of streams are just going to milk that out for all it’s worth, and release massive albums that maximize their numbers, and ultimately, their revenue, at the cost of the actual quality of music they’re releasing. The effort and creativity it takes to structure and sequence an album could very well get thrown out, with artists opting to release projects that could end up as a pile of songs with no direction or purpose.

I don’t want to seem like the disappearance of CD is going to spell out doom for the music industry. However, I do think it’s irresponsible to essentially gut one of the easiest and most convenient ways of buying physical music. Of course, Best Buy and whatever other chains decide to follow suit don’t care, and they have no reason to. I do want to say, though, that I’m hoping this inspires people, ranging from avid collectors to those who might just want to pick an album up here or there, to visit their local record stores. While I’ve been picking up music when I can for close to 9 years now, it took until last month for me to step foot in a record store. That isn’t a good thing. Record stores are generally small businesses that survive solely on selling music, unlike chains like Best Buy and Target. I decided, even before this news broke, that I was taking my business away from said chains and putting my money into record stores, sites like UGHH, and other independent sellers.

Which reminds me, actually. When thinking about this, I can’t help but keep in mind that vinyl and cassette purchases have been on the rise over the last few years. Cassettes are still VERY niche, though, so that may not hold as much significance, but the fact that vinyl sales continue to grow does inspire a little confidence in me that physical media is still a factor in the music industry. What’s more is that there are some independent labels and artists who have not only sold vinyl and cassettes, but have used them to thrive; a label like Daupe Media comes to mind. I have no real understanding as to why this might be the case, but perhaps as ways of buying physical media continue to disappear, people become more interested in it as a novelty, and end up becoming collectors themselves. Who knows.

I know with me, my end goal is to essentially create a library of hip hop albums in various forms of physical media, as a way to preserve the music that has helped shape me. I feel like as avenues of purchasing physical albums go away, this sort of thing only becomes more and more important. I think any self-proclaimed lover of music owes it to themselves, and the artists they say they love, to pick up an album and dedicate space to it, to immortalize it. I’ve probably made a big deal out of nothing, because people can always go to Amazon to get the music they want, but I do feel a kind of way about this. Like with everything else (and possibly more so, given the cheaper options), physical media in music seems very much to be an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of product to most people. I believe that the further we go to remove it from stores where you can see and browse through it, the less people will consider buying it to begin with. That’s not something I’m very happy about.

Rajin Rambles: Wow, I’m Trying New Things!

by Rajin

new thingas

Over the past few months, I have been trying to break out of my musical rut. I kind of felt like, while there’s a hell of a lot of material under my preferred subgenres of hip hop, I was still limiting myself from having a full comprehension of the genre. I already know for the most part what I actively dislike, but there were also certain styles that I was unfamiliar with, but thought I would dislike or wouldn’t click with me, so I just wrote them off. Styles that I guess would be considered to be more “avant-garde” or abstract. I was pretty wrong. This piece is going to kind of serve as a continuation of sorts to a piece I wrote at around this time last year, Hip Hop: My Replacement Girlfriend, just to catch everyone up to this stage of the continuous development of my taste in music (or lack thereof, I’m sure, in the minds of many readers).

I think I mentioned in my piece last year that I had gotten into Run The Jewels and Prof in late 2015, and was just getting into Aesop Rock, so I guess I’ll start there. Since then, I’ve gotten a lot more into Aes’s music; I’m a massive fan of his now. In fact, if I had to re-do my favorites of all-time list [which I don’t really plan on doing unless maybe in a tweet], Aesop Rock would definitely be somewhere in the low teens. As a bit of a loner myself, though not nearly as severely as he, I was drawn to what Aes had to say about how he saw the world. That’s not to mention the way he said it, as we all know, the guy loves to just fly over heads of people with his word choice. However, like with Run The Jewels (and later, El-P’s solo work), I was also fairly intrigued by the style of production he’s used throughout his career.

I think getting into acts like RTJ and Aes kind of signaled my first attempt at exploring past the musical styles of hip hop that I usually enjoy, more so than anyone else I had listened to by then. The Definitive Jux sound was the first style that I had heard that I personally considered to be really “alternative”…sure, there were the guys like The Roots and some Native Tongues artists (mostly Tribe) that I would listen to who were considered alt hip hop in their era, but by the time I entered hip hop fanhood, those sounds had become a lot more commonplace, used by household names. They were traditional hip hop to me. Conversely, Def Jux style is, to this day, embodies that “alternative” spirit. That industrial, post-apocalyptic experimental hip hop sound is so far removed from the sonics of conventional hip hop, yet it fully captures its gritty, rebellious nature.

It was between those guys and Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition that really got me reevaluating my listening habits. Like I said at the end of last year, I really didn’t expect that I would like Atrocity Exhibition. That album is WAY past anything that El-P or Aesop Rock has done as far as the weirdness or experimental sounds. The fact that I loved that album really made me sit back and think about why I was restricting myself to more conventional subgenres and sounds. At that time I kind of had the idea ingrained in me that I wasn’t somebody who listened to more experimental rap music. I, stupidly, had boxed myself into certain areas of the genre because I had a couple of unfavorable experiences listening to a couple of experimental artists who probably weren’t too great even in the context of alt rap. But even though I had finally begun thinking about it, I still didn’t really try branching out to styles I was unfamiliar with. I’m a creature of habit.

I would have to say that the next artists that could be considered as deviations from the “norm” that I got into were Ka and Roc Marciano, both earlier this year. They were similar enough to what I was accustomed to so it was easy. Now mind you, I’ve always loved Roc Marci as a guest rapper. He’s one of those guys that when I see his name on an album’s tracklisting I instantly get hyped. However, I never really ventured into his solo material until months after Rosebudd’s Revenge was released. Dustin showed me Ka’s Honor Killed The Samurai album shortly after I saw that he was the subject of a bullshit hitpiece by some stupid non-journalist trying to get clicks at the expense of a man’s privacy, livelihood, and reputation. The album was unlike anything I had ever heard. It was the first time I listened to an album where, for the entire thing, it was just stripped back soul samples with no drums and a hushed delivery that bordered on spoken word.

Rosebudd’s Revenge didn’t click instantly the way Ka’s album did, but something about it kept nagging at me to go listen to it again. The production on the album is ridiculously soulful and just as stripped back as far as the drums go, and Roc’s style of lyricism is so casually slick that I had missed much of what he said on first listen. These guys were my first foray into the minimalistic sound, I believe…if not, then they’re at least the first guys I heard who made me love that sound. I’m usually in love with powerful drums in rap beats so it was almost like a shock for me to hear rapping without them, but I got over it very quickly and came to love this kind of style, provided the artist/producer pull it off effectively. These guys appeal to the Wu-Tang head in me, while venturing to the left. I hope that Metal Clergy project happens.

Also, I just want to say, that since getting into Roc Marci’s music, I’ve been hearing the guy’s style in so many artists that it’s ridiculous how little credit he gets for being a pioneer. I listen to music from certain artists after Reloaded came out and it’s like they heard that album and couldn’t help but emulate that style. It’s only getting more obvious as time goes on, too. He’s had a MASSIVE impact in independent/underground hip hop and people don’t realize it.

Anyways, I think around the same time, Dustin wanted to show me milo. He showed me so the flies don’t come, and I enjoyed that a lot. milo was the first rapper who could fall under the “art rap” category that I ever listened to. I was always under the impression that that style of rap music was less focused on lyricism and more on just being weird and quirky…not to mention made to appeal to pretentious hipsters. milo, however, fused dense lyricism with the quirkiness, which helped ease me into accepting the subgenre, as well as erase my unfair preconceived notions of it. It’s not the artist’s fault that some of their fans are pretentious, plus it’s not like Eminem doesn’t have one of the worst fanbases in hip hop. The music is good, and that’s really all that matters.

Dustin had also been telling me forever about Hellfyre Club as a whole, and spoke about how much he loved Open Mike Eagle’s music. He showed me Hella Personal Film Festival and Dark Comedy, neither of which I was too into, yet, I still felt that Mike was very talented and there was just a disconnect between me and the music. To add on to all that, also showed me some of Busdriver’s music (truth be told, I don’t remember if that was before milo and Mike, after them, or in between), which was easy for me because Busdriver has some similarities to Busta Rhymes. In August I revisited those two Mike albums, and while I still didn’t feel Dark Comedy, Hella Personal Film Festival had finally clicked with me. I find that while there are some art-rappers who like to make music that’s artsy just for the sake of being artsy, when an artist pulls it off because that’s who they are it comes across as a lot more natural and less irritating for me to listen to. Just like with anything else. I just had a bias going into it against the subgenre that I’m glad has been erased.

Since then I’ve also gotten into artists like Quelle Chris and billy woods. I was familiar with Chris because I knew that he and Fatt Father are tight…I believe Chris helped to design the cover to Fatt’s grossly-overlooked album Veterans Day. His album this year is hands down the weirdest album I’ve liked. He kind of takes the minimal approach of Rock Marci and Ka on it vocally, but has really weird, trippy, and lush instrumentation all over it. Dustin and I went back and listened to his older material, which was far more along the lines of typical Detroit hip hop, which almost felt less natural to him than the weirder stuff he’s been doing. And billy woods’ Known Unknowns was great. He captures the Def Jux sound that I spoke about loving (thanks to Blockhead and Aesop Rock on production) with a delivery that kind of reminds me of Del tha Funkee Homosapien. It was way off from what I was expecting (I was unfamiliar with him before listening to the album), but I loved it.

And that brings us to today, where (at the time of writing this) I just received CDs in the mail by most of the artists I spoke about here. Now, all of this isn’t to say that my taste has suddenly shifted, or that if you aren’t doing something unconventional that you’re less creative than any of these artists. My taste and primary preferences have remained relatively constant. All that’s happened is that I have been exploring different styles and sounds, usually via suggestions from Dustin, and as a result my palette has expanded to include an enjoyment of music along the lines of the artists I have talked about here. For the most part it’s mainly what I’ve been listening to for the last few months. I just wanted to talk about it, because it has given me new insight into what the music that represents the culture of hip hop can be.

So yeah. I’m gonna keep exploring different corners of the genre, perhaps even stuff that I thought I had pinned down, because what I’ve found in the past few months has definitely not been what I expected in many cases. I recommend other people do too, because I’m definitely not alone in being the kind of person who just sticks to what he likes and doesn’t bother trying something new. I’m kind of glad that something changed in me and I decided to get acquainted with more of the genre, because I feel that if I want to give my opinions on this site, I need to have a complete understanding of it rather than an understanding of a select portion. That’s something I’m gonna keep chipping away at.

Update: Originally I felt like I completed what I was saying, but a few days passed and I realized I had a little more to say. I took a listen to Uncommon Nasa’s new album and sat with it for a little bit, then suddenly understood why a lot of the artists I mention here click with me. It sounds like New York. Everyone who reads this blog knows that I love a New York vibe in my hip hop. It has now occurred to me that a lot of the artists I would have originally considered representative of the NY sound, like Wu-Tang, Black Moon, and Mobb Deep among others, only represent a certain aspect of it. They capture the essence of growing up in and living in the projects, hustling to get by. Guys like Ka and Marci have a similar feel to them but are more abstract about it. The more experimental guys like El-P, Aesop, billy woods, and Nasa represent a different shade of NY. They capture the essence of the cold wind tunnels around towering skyscrapers and overly busy and crowded streets. Both sides feel like work boots, baggy jeans, and hoodies, though.

I’ve kind of felt like this might be the case for a while now, but after listening to Known Unknowns and now Written At Night the obviousness of why I connect with these artists has smacked me in the face and cemented itself in my mind. Clearly, this doesn’t apply for everyone I wrote about here, but it is interesting how the essence of New York can be captured in such vastly different ways. I guess as a resident of NJ I’m a glutton for rap that embodies the east coast.

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.

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.