Yesterday, I finally got around to reading Krum’s piece “Is Hip Hop Finally Dead?” while riding the subway back home from work. At the time, I was playing my iPod’s Recently Added playlist, which is pretty much exclusively hip hop—last month’s major releases like G.O.O.D. Music’s “Cruel Summer,” recent mixtapes like A$AP Mob’s “Lord$ Never Worry,” stuff from earlier in the year that I’ve finally gotten around to downloading like Action Bronson’s “Blue Chips,” Theophilus London’s “Rose Island Vol. 1,” and, yes, Waka Flocka Flame’s “Triple F.” The six releases are diverse, to say the least, from the grittiness of A$AP Mob and Waka, to the throwback stylings of Action Bronson, to the arena rap of “Cruel Summer,” to the totally out-there and new sound of Theophilus London. They’re exciting too, and they show a genre thriving, despite the eye-popping recent emergence of house music.
I can’t speak to the success of house. My neon shades have mainly been ironically worn at ‘80s themed mixers, and I haven’t made the leap yet from hearing the word “Molly” and not immediately thinking of a girl’s name. I suspect, in the back of my mind, that the genre will go the route of disco in a few years, although I know that by saying this I’m opening myself up to a thousand YOU JUST DON’T GET IT messages from concert-goers in an irritable mood thanks to those pesky decreased serotonin hangovers.
But I can speak to hip hop, and to that I say, it’s doing pretty f*cking well. Here are five reasons why.
1. It has Kanye West
He’s egotistical, he’s borderline delusional, he’s a jackass (thanks, Mr. Obama). He’s also on the cutting edge of what music can be— “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is the best album, period, of the last five years, and “Watch the Throne,” for all its materialism and over-the-top bombast, is a mind-bending collection of dark tracks, rock influences, and batshit crazy samples. His open lyrics have allowed rappers to talk about stuff that would have gotten them laughed out of the industry in the early ‘90s, and now you’ve got guys like Rick Ross for Christ’s sake able to rap about insecurities. (Although Ross is yet to do a song on how he feels to have B cups.)
Like Kanye or not (and I sometimes secretly hope he and Kim K. will go Sid and Nancy on us), he’s the most exciting person in music.
2. It has Odd Future
And A$AP Rocky, and Theophilus London, and a ton of other young exciting acts that can go in any number of directions over the next few years. I love Odd Future’s punk attitude—when I saw them last year, I’m pretty sure they hated me and everyone else in the audience, something I’ve always weirdly respected—and I like how Tyler, the Creator has shown he has the talent to do just about anything he wants, including the genre's needed "f*ck you" tracks. Consider him the perfect counterbalance to Cudi, Drake, and the moody rappers. Consider him also one of music's brightest young acts.
3. It has the Internet
Which has allowed the success of A$AP and Odd Future and allowed guys with just a computer microphone and beat maker to record tracks, upload them online, and completely circumvent the top-down system of the record industry. You can make it big now without a producer. You don’t even need to be from anywhere important. The Internet is is the equivalent of 17-year-old Biggie freestyling on a street corner and millions of people hearing it. We’re just at the beginning of this phenomenon.
4. It has long-since moved past just party music
Right, right, Avicii, not ‘Hova, gets the kids going now. But let’s get real: The best music has never been played at parties. It's always found in the albums. Even back when rap made up the dominant party jams—think Nelly, think Lil Jon—the genre was producing songs that haven't really stood the test of time. The music today that's not meant to be played at parties, like "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," will stand that test.
And one more thing: Just because house has recently taken over the party jam demo, it hasn't cut into how rap is selling. 5 out of the top 15 albums of 2011 were hip-hop records. None were house.
5. Its old guys still have it.
Nas just came out with his best album since “Stillmatic.” Jay-Z is in the process of selling out eight straight nights at the Barclays. Whenever Dr. Dre comes out with “Detox,” it’ll be the biggest album of the year (even if that year’s 2016). The old guys are aging well, selling records, and still not compromising their artistic integrity. They’re showing a willingness to collaborate with young guys both for their own success and for the good of the genre—witness, say, Kendrick Lamar and Dr. Dre’s excellent track “Compton” that just came out today.
I’m actually excited to see a successful rapper hit 50. I think they’ll be able to make it work, just as Springsteen and other rockers on the tail ends of their career have. House guys—on the other hand—I don’t know. Maybe I just need to be chemically more upbeat about their chances.