December 26, 2009
THIS WEEK IN HIP HOP
In terms of rap music, 2009 has been both utterly depressing and magnificently awe-inspiring. Through the years, music has slowly become more and more diverse but also more and more fragmented. That fact has never felt more palpable than now. Think about it: in 2019, what will we think of 2009? A decade from now, what song from 2009 will we be able to say “Now THAT was our song”? What song will come on the radio unexpectedly in 2019 (if we still even have radios by then) and unite us all in head-nodding, booty-shaking, lyric-mouthing merriment? It’s a scary thought to think that 2009 might not have contributed anything more to the collective hip-hop canon (if we still even have that by 2019) than Drake’s “Best I Ever Had.”
On the other hand, this fragmentation has led to a ton of really great music. Since we aren’t buying records en masse anymore, most artists kind of stopped giving a fuck about scoring radio hits and have taken rap into bold new territories. DJ Quik busted out the world music crates. Mos Def crafted a cohesive album with approximately one and a half hooks altogether. Gucci Mane came up with 1,000 synonyms for his jewelry. Ghostface Killah formally legitimated the art of “Rap & Bullshit.” Some kids from LA revived hyphy while doing the Running Man backwards in bright skinny jeans. Fuck, even Soulja Boy started experimenting with backpack rap. Yes, God exists. And he’s got his swag turned on.
But before we jump into this “Best Of” list, an editorial note: this is one moonlighting critic’s personal taste in rap, which carries with it plenty of limitations. Not the least of which is time and energy. Try as I might, it takes special circumstances for any one person to really keep up with rap. This is not at all a definitive list. It’s merely a jumping off point to share good music with you. Actually, I’m hoping fellow Jezebel Music rap head, Matt, tells me I’m completely full of shit and then clues me in on everything I missed. And I hope you do the same for me too. (For “The Best Rap Albums of 2009: Part 1” go here.)
5. Juicy J | Hustle Till I Die
For Three 6 Mafia, 2009 was the year that the group went back its horrorcore roots (after all, “Three 6” = “666”). DJ Paul released an album called Scale-A-Ton. Juicy J dropped Hustle Till I Die. Imagine about 15 variations on the main theme from The Exorcist. Then set that to Southern rap drum programming. That’s the meat of Juicy J’s album. This is dark, heavy gothic crunk full of dissonance, minor chords and keys, ominous strings, and a level of aggression that, rather than letting up, usually only intensifies. Juicy J is an extremely dynamic producer. His beats frequently mutate mid-song into more exciting – albeit more grotesque – abominations. “My Niggaz” slows from an energetic bounce to a menacing, sledgehammer-like thump. The minimalistic “Purple Kush” consists of little more than some tinny drums, pulsating bass, and incessant chanting…until the second verse when guest rapper Gorilla Zoe raps through a bass-heavy voice filter…and then the third verse when grim church organs creep in, turning a relatively fun weed track into something wholly unsettling. Hustle Till I Die will get you amped to beat the crap out of someone and use their blood in a demonic ritual.
More on The Best Rap Albums of 2009: Part 2
October 31, 2009
THIS WEEK IN HIP HOP
Despite what many people think, hip-hop has as many sub-genres as rock or jazz. On top of the geographical distinctions that are found in rap from the West Coast, East Coast, South, Midwest, and internationally, there is also Gangsta Rap, Backpack rap, Popular Rap, True School Rap, Hardcore Rap, and the topic of today’s conversation, Horrorcore Rap.
At one time this genre was limited to fringe groups who had very little respect from the rest of the Hip-Hop world, such as The Insane Clown Posse and Twiztid. Yet, in recent years Tech N9ne has risen through hip-hop’s ranks to be one of today’s most successful independent rap artist. Like many of the world’s best musicians, his music refuses to be classified in just one genre. He has a better flow than practically any esoteric backpack rapper to have lived, has recorded songs with the top names in Gangsta Rap such as 2pac, Scarface, Ice Cube, E-40, and his own Strange Music Crew consisting of Big Scoob, Kutt Calhoun, Skatterman & Snug Brim, and Krizz Kaliko. Yet at the same time he has strong roots in Horrorcore. For example, he used to perform shows while wearing a priest’s outfit, with spiked bright red hair and a white cross painted on his forehead. Combine this with songs such as “Trapped in a Psycho’s Body,” “Tormented,” “Real Killer,” and albums called Anghellic, Misery Loves Kompany, and Killer, and it is clear that he is one of the few people who does not have to do anything out of the ordinary to scare the status quo on Halloween.
More on Halloween + Quality Rap = Tech N9ne