It’s 2012 and we are well on our way to a Rap Renaissance. Hip hop is reaching its own age of enlightenment. It has passed the pubescent age of angst and awkwardness into an expanding creative arena with a strong sense of identity. Lyricism, flow, and content have taken a backseat to a rapper’s ability to create environment and embody a character.
Six years ago, Nas released the single Hip Hop is Dead and set the hip hop community into a frenzy. All of a sudden every hip hop fanatic, whether they agreed with Nas or not, questioned the credibility of the genre. Hip Hop was having an identity crisis. More conscious artists like Lupe Fiasco, Nas and Mos Def began having a larger following. This opened the door for underground artists who tended to also have more concept based lyrics, they were becoming more and more popular.
This popularity and the expansion of the internet enabled many of the lesser known rap artists to become more accessible in other parts of the country. This caused the popularity of indie hip hop to grow exponentially. Many people looking to pursue rap took full advantage of this open door and began publishing their own music online.
Lil B (also known as Basedgod) is quite possibly the king of rap self-promotion. The california native has created over 155 MySpace pages to contain his songs. Lil B mumbles and yelps his raps over well produced percussive hip hop beats. He raps with a broken rhyme scheme, makes reference to himself as god, and pauses in his verses to think of his next move. Lil B’s music is uncomfortable, awkward, and hard to follow, but people are completely obsessed with it. In April, Lil B lectured at NYU. “Life is Hard. Kinda.” He tells the college students. Sound advice from a man who writes songs about eating ass. Lil B has a knack for establishing culture in his music. Fans are familiarized with many of his ridiculous quotes, colloquialisms and dances. His environment is catchier than his actual music.
Rappers signed to larger labels have followed suit. Kanye West announced a collaborative album done with his G.O.O.D. music label mates. The album drops September 18th but already has four singles on the US Billboard Hot 100. His website homepage has displayed the newest updates for the project. All of the single covers have textured crimson words reading the title of the track surrounded by black. The abrasive album art prepares fans to listen to similar rap music . ‘Mercy’ begins with a shrieking Jamaican patois over heavy bass and a repetitive synth. The chorus is slowed down, and a deep voice taunts us and informs that ‘our girl’ is giving rappers handjobs in a lamborghini. The newest single, ‘Clique’ features Big Sean, Kanye West, and heavy hitter Jay-Z. This beat begins with a stuttering sample forming a hiccuped percussion. Big Sean introduces the song “Ain’t nobody fucking with my clique, clique, clique, clique..” The song’s percussion hits like it’s out of breath at steady deep exasperated rhythm.
Kanye’s music as of late has become scary, but every song works very well together. It’s horror movie rap. Kanye has understood the importance of remaining original and consistent in order to create a sense of style. He creates a culture much different from that of Basedgod’s, but one that is just as memorable.
Rappers have also begun emphasizing and finding comfort in their identity. Nicki Minaj is known for explicit sexual lyrics and makes references in her music to hitting on women and men. She has created multiple recurring characters which develop through her body of work. Although her raps are very controversial, there is no denying that a sexually confident bisexual female rapper will open up doors for more artists.
Diplo recently signed Zebra Katz, an openly gay rapper, to his side label Jeffrrees. His first hit single ‘Ima Read’was acclaimed as the official song of Paris Fashion Week this summer after Rick Owens used it in one of his runway shows. Mykki Blanco is another openly gay rapper on the rise. Mykki is also an artist and poet and aims to include this in his music. He let’s his art spill over into any project, but he wants his fans to know he is always the same. “My art stands alone. I am definitely the art world’s post-Generation X promo baby.”
The idea of creating a character through rap music is not a new one. Flavor Flav has been wearing giant clock necklaces and viking helmets since the 80s. But, hip hop has become a lot more since then. We have rappers like Lil’ B and Zebra Katz who are internet phenoms of rap, and rappers like Kanye West and Nicki Minaj who top charts constantly. Every facet of rap has progressed into a more artfully charged scene.
Rap music has overcome an uphill battle in order to gain it’s respect, but with it’s new more socially progressive trends I see it venturing into some appealing territory. By rappers instilling a sense of individual culture and identity the listener can live vicariously through hip hop. Although some of it may not be relatable, it is fun to live in that world for the three minutes the song is on. More progressive views and acceptance towards female and gay rappers will bring more great music to the table. It is interesting to see what has become of modern hip hop. I see it as existing proof of lessening racial tension in the country. A genre that has always been dominated by black males is now open to LGBT, female, and white rappers. There is still a lot of great hip hop to be released. The future of the hip hop will open up doors in and outside of the hip hop community.