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Music Revolution 2011: Return of Rap’s Golden Age

Lupe Fiasco is a leading MC looking to reclaim rap music's respectability and versatility, along with fellow MCs like Reks, Saigon and Pharoahe Monch.

Good morn’ or evening, friends.  1986 marked the beginning of what’s now known as the Golden Era of Rap.  That year saw the release of Run DMC’s seminal opus Raisin’ Hell, the debut of Eric B. & Rakim with “Eric B. For President,” Whodini cut the last of their classic singles, “One Love,” and a Brooklyn punk-band-turned-rap-trio called The Beastie Boys dropping License To  Ill.  Despite the growing draw that hip hop music was receiving, MCs in those days still did what they could to distinguish themselves from others; keeping their sounds unique and their rhymes versatile and progressive.  15 years later, it seems that the average 21st century rap artist only wants to, as The Notorious B.I.G. once said, “rhyme a few bars so I can buy a few cars, and I’ll kick a few flows so I can pimp a few hoes.”  Rap music is the new disco; dominated by producers and executives looking to cash in on images and formulas.  Both Lupe Fiasco and Saigon experienced public conflicts with Atlantic Records for not fitting their mold; Outkast MC Big Boi jumped Jive Records after the label told him his solo debut, the critically acclaimed Sir Lucious Left Foot, was too artistic to be marketed and suggested he make a record like Lil’ Wayne’s “Lollipop.”  Ironically, Big Boi’s new label, Def Jam, was criticized by label-mates Nas, Shyne and Big Sean, due to label head L.A. Reid’s alledged lack of promotion of their records.  But fear not!  Over the past 12 months, Hip Hop artists have finally said “enough is enough.”  You probably wouldn’t know it from the radio alone, but another Rap Renaissance is on the horizon.  Artists like Pharoahe Monch, Lupe Fiasco, Saigon and Reks are all making music that about more than “money, hoes and clothes.”  Here are some examples of how rap is back:

“Clap (One Day)” – Pharoahe Monch
Queens MC Pharoahe Monch has been doing his thing for more than a decade.  Other than appearing on two film soundtracks (Charlie’s Angels, Boiler Room) and Madden’s 2002 NFL video game, Monche has remained fairly underground with his complex rhyme style, releasing only two albums and one mixtape.  March 22nd will see the release of Monch’s ambitious third album, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades).  Judging by the three singles, the album will be a lyrical assault on political taboos and socially indifferent citizens.  This 10 minute video for “Clap” shows the type of scope and subject matter when can expect from W.A.R.  

“Mascara (The Ugly Truth)” – Reks
Reks, an outspoken MC from  the Boston Area has impressed the likes of hip hop super producer DJ Premier.  After two CDs, Reks has dropped Rhythmatic Eternal King Supreme, a third album full of “boom bap” production from Premier, Pete Rock and main collaborator Statik Selektah, creative samples and confident, unapologetically political commentary from Reks.  Perhaps his most profound statement on the CD is “Mascara (The Ugly Truth),” dealing with the still relevant issue of black identity crisis.  

“The Greatest Story Never Told” – Saigon
“We need a leader like me to get us back on track.”  Saigon, a Brooklyn born MC, is taking the responsibility by the horns in the title track of his major label debut album, The Greatest Story Never Told.  Working with hit-making producer Just Blaze (“Rock the Mic,” “Girls, Girls, Girls,” “Oh Boy”), Saigon has decided not to wait for somebody else to bring rap back where it needs to be, and exposing the music as another form of modern-day slavery and oppression.

“Words I Never Said” – Lupe Fiasco
Since his 2006 debut Food & Liquor, Lupe Fiasco has been seen as an antidote to all the material, sex driven mainstream rap scene.  Always viewed as a cerebral MC, making his fans think about what he’s spitting, his label, Atlantic records has been trying to, as one of his songs suggests, “Dumb It Down” to reach a wider audience.  His third CD, Lasers, was ready for release in 2009, but Atlantic wasn’t pleased with the dark, outspoken direction is was going.  After a two year battle, Lupe compromised, allowing Atlantic to have input on some of his beats and a new, somewhat watered-down Lasers was released last week.  Still, they couldn’t keep the Chicago native from spitting some incendiary venom on tracks like “All Black Everything,” and “Words I Never Said.”

“AssMilk” – Tyler, The Creator Featuring Earl Sweatshirt of OFWGKTA, aka Odd Future
Nine teenagers from LA who call themselves Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (Odd Future for short) are on some other shit.  Sorry, but there’s really no other way to describe them.   Each with their own styles, flavors and flows, all of them completely over the top with their subject matter and behavior, Odd Future is the freshest sounding rap music of the past 15 years.  Imagine taking Eminem and Biggie’s most outlandish, offensive rhymes and then multiply them by 10,000.  Listen to this and find out for yourself.

“In The Ghetto” – J. Period Featuring Black Thought, Rakim & John Legend
It’s not just the new jacks doing the heavy lifting.  Some of Hip Hop most revered and respected MC are stepping their game up as well.  After the success of the three time Grammy Winning collaboration with John Legend, Wake Up!, The Roots and Legend lend their talents to an accompanying mixtape, Wake Up! Radio, hosted by DJ J. Period. Only featured on two tracks during the Wake Up! album, Roots MC Black Thought asserted himself as the main voice of the 32 track mixtape, shedding more light on the detiorating black community in America to the soundtrack of old school soul, along side his band-mates, and rappers like Common and Dead Prez.  The centerpiece of the mixtape is “In The Ghetto,” a reimagining of the Eric B. & Rakim track of the same name and beat.  The R blessed the track with a brand new verse to fit the times, making for a legendary moment.

That’s just a small example of the direction that rap music is headed, and with upcoming albums from artists like Jay Electronica, Talib Kweli, J. Cole and others, Hip Hop has hope.  Instead of hoping that major labels with grant them some artistic freedom out of the kindness of their hearts, rappers are forcing the issue, making music on their own terms.  Sure there’s some red tape, and there always will be, but the scissors are only getting sharper.

Thank you for listening, and remember: Black Americans may only be 1/10th of the country, but that tenth is talented.

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Categories: Music Revolution
  1. Jacki
    March 17, 2011 at 2:36 am

    Nicely done as usual, Matt! I was recently in a semi-heated conversation with a young rap listener (23), about old school vs. new school. I criticized some of today’s rap artists having silly, stupid lyrics about nothing but killing, pimpin, drinking, drugging, etc. Not all mind you; I do like Kanye for one. However, my point was his generation is eating up this junk like it’s the last supper. Talk about “dumbing down” the industry! He promptly informed me that the mainstream, mediocre rap of today is only fluff – killer beats and nonsensical lyrics with no soul. He states he’s more interested in underground rap; that it’s truer in form and more “real” than what record companies are spewing out. He readily admits underground doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, but he as a true fan, realizes the difference. I’m thoroughly impressed; he “doesn’t drink the Kool-Aid”. Cousin Jacki

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