Hip Hop: The State Of The Nation

by Colin Bugler and Elliott Boekhoff

Colin Bugler and Elliott Boekhoff round up the world of Hip Hop in the first half of 2013.

Resurrection
Resurrection. The word being applied to the re-emergence of hip-hop over the summer of 2013, marked by releases from some of music’s biggest names, and the rise of a new generation of talented artists. Here we’ll be taking a look at some of the latest developments from across the genre.

So far, Snoop Dogg has metamorphosed into Snoop Lion with varying degrees of success, Drake has won best rap album at the Grammy’s, Method Man has announced that Wu Tang Clan will be getting back together for a new album, and we’ve had new albums from Kanye, Kid Cudi, J Cole and Talib Kweli.

Born Sinner: The Rise of J Cole
J Cole’s been on the radar since announcing himself as heir to the throne of rap with a killer verse on Jay Z’s A Star Is Born, Cole himself being virtually unknown at that point. Established as the centrepiece signing to label Roc Nation, and following a successful debut album, Cole World: A Sideline Story, Cole’s second LP, Born Sinner, has been one of the most hotly anticipated albums of 2013, with a rushed released date designed to coincide with that of Kanye West’s Yeezus. Possessing a rare lyrical and musical talent, with the majority of the production on both albums his own, the rise of J Cole as a major player in the industry is summed up in a series of verses by none other than Nas himself, on a remix to Cole’s jazz-tinged Let Nas Down. Following up on Cole’s claims that Nas hated his first single, the response is nothing less than beautiful; a true passing-of-the-torch moment.

So you ain’t let Nas down
It’s just a part of the game, becoming a rap king,
You ain’t let Nas down.
Here’s the crown, pass it to you like nothing, now
You ain’t let Nas down.

Kanye and Kid Cudi
Indicud was Kid Cudi’s fourth studio album that saw a return to his fusion of rap and electro indie sounds from his first two LPs. Like Man On The Moon and its sequel, you feel as though you’re on an intergalactic journey; it’s an album you want to listen to from start to finish to get the most out of it.

Kanye’s recent release, Yeezus, also utilised a similar electronic sound, although with a much darker, more aggressive feel; this suits Kanye’s somewhat controversial lyrics throughout the album. Hold My Liquor in particular sounds very similar to the instrumental backing in Alive from Kid Cudi’s first album. Kanye has said in the past that he doesn’t like the direction hip hop is taking – referencing the influence of indie rock on it, which could explain why Kid Cudi left his record label, G.O.O.D. Music, earlier this year.

That new Bada$$ kid
On the back of his highly successful 2012 mixtape, 1999, Brooklyn’s Joey Bada$$ has been a breath of fresh air in the industry, eschewing the commercially popular rap-pop crossover style of Drake, Miguel and Lil’ Wayne for a more traditional hip hop approach. Now collaborating with the legendary DJ Premier and up-and-coming producer Statik Selectah, as well as with his Pro Era crew, we’re excited by Joey’s most recent mixtape, Summer Knights, as well as the promise of more to come. Touring with Pro Era at the moment, Joey’s also remained independent of a label, allegedly turning down an offer from Roc Nation. Oh, and he’s only 18.

Magna Carta Holy Grail
Jay Z’s album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, is now available for the consumption of the general public after a long debacle involving a Samsung exclusivity deal. Jay himself noted that the situation was “not cool”.

Jay Z’s evolution from artist to entertainment mogul has been clearer than ever this year, with Hov extending his influence to Hollywood as executive producer to Luhrman’s Gatsby, sparking political controversy on a trip to Cuba, touring with Timberlake, and laying plans for a new album. Set to be released on July 4th, Magna Carta Holy Grail will likely follow up on the themes addressed in recent projects such as Gatsby, and by Jay himself on previous records – the dark side of the pursuit of power and the nature of wealth and money. Released photos of the lyrics to the album’s title track read:

One day you here
One day you there
One day you care
You’re so unfair
Sippin’ from your cup
Till it runneth over
Holy Grail.

Other News
Hip hop legend, KRS-ONE, has recently voiced his opinion on the state of hip hop, blaming corporate media for segregating certain rappers (he names Talib Kweli and Chuck D from Public Enemy) from the mainstream. He even goes so far as to say that corporate America is “corrupting the souls of our rappers and children”.

Another legend, Scarface, recently talked about hip hop being too “white” and losing its cultural identity, placing blame on the “old ass” executives of big record labels. He is obviously referencing the old white executives of these big record labels and not necessarily white rappers – although I’d be very surprised if he’s a fan of Macklemore.

Other Highs
Speaking of white rappers, Mac Miller’s latest album, Watching Movies With The Sound Turned Off, has just landed. It is certainly more down tempo and less playful than his previous albums/mixes (e.g. K.I.D.S), perhaps due to being influenced by his new friends from Odd Future, and the critically acclaimed Kendrick Lamar. If you liked Blue Slide Park, but maybe want something a bit more chilled, then you should definitely check this one out.

Another mix to check out is Acid Rap by Chance The Rapper, which has been getting lots of hype within the online hip hop community. It is currently free to download from Datpiff.com, which is a great website to go on, especially if you like hip hop and free music. Acid Rap is Chance’s second mixtape and is quite simply awesome. He fuses a myriad of different styles masterfully – you’ll find a bit of brass, piano, synth, and electro, which all combine to create a cool acid jazz sound. Born and raised in Chicago, his sound is somewhat influenced by Kanye West, and is tipped to be the next big thing in hip hop.

We’ve also witnessed the recent arrival of Yeezus, with some moments of brilliance, including a sublime sample of Nina Simone on Blood On The Leaves. We’ve heard Talib Kweli’s latest LP, with High Life outstanding, as well as his collaboration with electronic wizard Derek Vincent Smith (aka Pretty Lights) – the recently released Around The Block. With that in mind, there’s hope for hip hop’s latest generation, and plenty of reasons to be excited for the coming year.