If you’ve listened to any hip-hop in the last ten years then at some point you’ve probably asked yourself ‘what the fuck am I listening to?’
It’s easy to be confounded when you have such variability, the rap game in 2014 consists of polar opposites. The idea that Lil B can coexist in the same realm as someone who dropped Illmatic, or that Yung Lean can be a phenomenon in the same breath as Kendrick Lamar, is an oddity unique to hip-hop.
A better question to pose yourself would be ‘what exactly am I not listening to?’ Because none of this is new, it’s an underlying trend.
Rappers have been pushing the envelope on breaking preconceived notions of the genre for years. Take artists like Blowfly, Too $hort, Andre 3000, Kool Keith, Ol Dirty Bastard, or MF DOOM. What’s changed since the cultural cornerstone started seeping into the ears of people around the world is the internet. Now with a potential audience of three billion people, new ideas have an unparalleled access to willing listeners.
The shift into what we can call hip-hop in the 21st century didn’t actually begin in 2000. It started in 2004 after Kanye West released his seminal,The College Dropout. The face of postmodern popular music, West managed to buck trends left behind by the 90s with his forward-thinking production and the emotional fervor and vulnerability of his music. There’s a reason they call him the black Beatle, if Kanye succeeded at anything, it was ringing in individual aestheticism. He was able to take grandiose themes and ideas, condensing them into something easily digestible for the masses, and intrinsically, even if subtly, influential to budding creatives. In essence, he reinstated a sense of self- confidence to the notion that you could create something different.
What followed was a cultural shift, the scene came to the realization that Kanye had been channeling in his music. Combined with burgeoning platforms to discover and distribute content, complete creative control over artistic expression was developing into something unique and ambitious.
The mainstream saw the evolution of more eclectic figures, Richgang, theYoung Money Cash Money roster, Maybach Music, 1017 Bricksquad, Glory Boys Entertainment, A$AP Mob, artists that would have left you bewildered 10 years ago.
On the flip side, the underground was churning out DIY movements that blew the traditional tropes of hip-hop out of the water. Groups like Odd Future proved that you could garner a massive cult following with limited resources, good music, and creative marketing. Internet mixtape pioneers Das Racist and their cohort of rappers and producers entirely terraformed the hipster hip-hop scene. Wildly experimental artists like Death Grips, members of the Hellfyre Club, post Def Jux El-P, Shabazz Palaces, and even Danny Brown, began creating noises that we’d never heard.
If there’s any genre that gets flack for amendments, it’s hip-hop. The shift from the old school into the new is a constant point of contention simply because people can’t wrap their heads around change. It’s easy to dismiss something as trivial when your basis is
a preconceived ‘golden age’ of what was perfect, but the 90s ended 14 years ago. Being rooted in the idea that anything that deviates from the norm is blasphemy is something that only stifles creativity. Hip-hop in recent years has produced some of the most creative and diverse records in the history of the genre, something unachievable if it weren’t for shifts in attitude. Approach contemporary hip-hop, whether it be meme-rap, the Billboard Top 40, or a lone mixtape, with open mindedness and a will to discover. If you don’t, you might be sleeping on some of the most exciting and inspired music available today.