2014 is filled with a ton of big time music anniversaries, especially for Hip Hop. For many of us that came up as pre-teens and teens in the 1990s, it was a transformative decade for Hip Hop, and 1999 was an even more transformative year for the genre. That said, it’s officially been 15 years since Marshall Mathers released his debut album, The Slim Shady LP. What do you even say about this joint? Truthfully, there’s so much to BE said, because a young and broke Eminem would soon have the attention of the entire world with his debut. It was everything that Hip Hop is, isn’t and is supposed to be: alternative, clever, violent, sarcastic, strange, humorous, offensive, grating, maddening and genius. Aided by the long-established brilliance of Dr. Dre, Eminem was able to do what many other emcees could not on songs like “Just Don’t Give A F**k”, “Rock Bottom”, “Bad Meets Evil”, “My Name Is”, “Brain Damage”, “Guilty Conscience” and “My Fault”: create songs that bridged a gap between working class sentiments and mentalities and amazingly dark yet powerful lyrics on everything from his childhood to the struggles of a young, poor father to any twisted, demented idea that came to his mind. And we gobbled it up. I won’t go into too much detail, because those who know remember it very well. Just in case you’re unfamiliar, take a listen to one of the standout tracks from The Slim Shady LP, “Brain Damage”.
25 years ago, Hip Hop was in a different place. In terms of becoming a global popular music phenomenon, the genre had come a long ways from the Bronx where it was created and was beginning to permeate throughout America as the new voice of disaffected and disenfranchised youth. One of the groups that would become synonymous with the rebellious braggadocio of Hip Hop was N.W.A., and their debut album and song of the same name, “Straight Outta Compton”, was their magnum opus. When I first saw Dr. Dre, MC Ren, DJ Yella, Ice Cube and Eazy-E in the video at 7 years old, I thought to myself, “Damn, it must be dangerous as hell in California!” From the block-savvy tough guy image they portrayed (big sunglasses, all black attire, gold rope chains) to their stand-offishness in interviews, it was clear that N.W.A. looked to put themselves as a group in the light of being real gangsters (even though they weren’t even close.) This sample-driven, siren-screeching, drum-heavy composition, with its lyrics filled with ball-grabbing machismo arrogant mocking of lesser foes, is one of the most controversial Hip Hop songs of all time. One of the stories behind both the song and the album is that it caused none other than the F.B.I. to send a letter of condemnation to the group and subsequently its record label, which only helped to fuel N.W.A.’s popularity on a larger, mainstream scale. Soon enough they would be filling stadium seats while kids from both the city and the ‘burbs chanted along with their lyrics. So, thinking about it, maybe Hip Hop wasn’t in THAT different of a place 25 years ago.
Ever since the release of his critically acclaimed mixtape/indie album Section.80 in 2011, Kendrick Lamar has been well on his way to being the next Hip Hop “It” artist to emerge from indie success to mainstream prominence. Pretty much the poster child for both the Black Hippy movement and for Top Dawg Entertainment, Lamar is leading a charge of artists that include Jay Rock and Ab Soul that are continuously making strong name brands steeped in intricate lyricism and sincere yet diversified wordplay in new millennium Hip Hop.
Even though he had already recorded and released material through T.D.E., Section.80 was his coming out party to heads across the country. Now, having been blessed as the next big thing in Hip Hop by everyone from Dr. Dre to BET, Lamar just released his proper album debut with Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City.
Kendrick Lamar is the personification of Hip Hop in the post-Hip Hop generation: not confined by generational, cultural or regional boundaries yet still maintaining a brazen arrogance and pride that can only be a product of Compton, and a flow style that combines a plethora of different kinds of Hip Hop music from the last 10-plus years. From the sprinklets of social consciousness peppered throughout his rhymes that pays homage to old school East and West coast artists like Public Enemy and N.W.A., to the rapid-fire linguistics that remind listeners of Midwest rap heroes like Twista and Bone Thugs and Harmony, to the screwed and chopped voice manipulations that are a clear ode to the South. Kendrick refuses to have himself of his music marginalized into a box, and that desire to break away from the mold is constantly on display throughout Good Kid… .
Undoubtedly one of the best tracks on the album has to be “M.A.A.D. City” featuring West Coast O.G. MC. Eiht. Kendrick’s jittery, quivering yet focused flow about a day in the life in the Cali streets paired with a beat that starts out simplistically enough, then rolls into a vintage low-rider banger that harkens back to the heyday the West’s sometimes forgotten heroes Spice 1, Mack 10 and Eiht himself, will be enough to get even the most staunch Kendrick Lamar hater to nod their head. Also effective is “The Art of Peer Pressure”, a standard romp-through-Compton adventure that quickly evolves into Kendrick detailing the elements of drugs, violence and theft that gets him engulfed in the street life, and how both sides of his guilty conscience try to pull him in conflicting directions as he struggles with both his own inner demons and the desire to impress his homies.
On Good Kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick does better than many of his peers at finding that ever-elusive balance between radio jams and introspective songs that are heavy on reality. The current radio favorite “Swimming Pools”, along with “Poetic Justice” featuring Drake and “The Recipe” with Dr. Dre, will all bring the emcee more casual fans that may not have been following his career progress until now, while “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” finds Kendrick contemplating the questionable choices he’s made and their impact on those around him, with his own brand of gut-wrenching self-deprecation and pity fully on display, and might just make believers out of those same casual fans.
Simultaneously, Kendrick pays more than enough homage to some of the West Coast’s most well-loved Hip Hop institutions, from sampling Janet Jackson on “Poetic Justice”, to the shades of 2Pac heard on “Sing About Me…”.
The greatest thing about Good Kid, m.A.A.d city is not only that it’s refreshingly cohesive and simultaneously multi-layered, but that it displays so many of the contradictions that Hip Hop too many times doesn’t want to admit that it has. True, other artists like Drake, Kid Cudi, J. Cole, Lupe Fiasco and others have been effective at doing this as well, but many times they seem to revel in them. Kendrick realizes and embraces those contradictions, but he doesn’t glorify them. He simply puts them on display as real as he knows how, and the end result is this body of work. While it’s very much a departure from Section.80, Good Kid… stands on it’s own as arguably the best concept album of 2012.
It’s that time once again…time for the Forbes magazine annual list of the 20 richest emcees/artists in the Hip Hop game. Topping the list this year is Dr. Dre with his staggeringly profitable venture with Jimmy Iovine, Beats by Dre, which have become a premiere status symbol for Hip Hop heads. celebrities, DJs and trend followers every where. Hisham Dahud, a Senior Analyst for Hypebot.com, recently completed a story on the Forbes list. Notable names include Dr. Dre at #1 with over $100 million in before-tax earnings. Diddy, Jay-Z, Kanye West and Lil Wayne round out the top 5 with $45 million, $38 million, $35 million and $27 million dollars earned respectively. Even Wale was named a “Cash Prince”, having raked in $5 million from concert tickets and album sales. And because of it, Forbes recently interviewed Wale:
Other emcees that made the list include Drake, Nicki Minaj, Birdman, Ludacris, Pitbull, Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, Mac Miller and Tech N9ne. This year’s top 20 list brought in a combined $415 million dollars in , which came in no small part from outside music ventures, personal branding and product endorsements. Read the Hisham Dahud’s bull story here.