Hip-Hop Is Full of Thugs

Ever since the murders of young men like Oscar Grant and Trayvon martin, a lot of awareness is being built up for America’s 400+ year relationship with “minorities”, particularly black people. Fast-forward to 2015, black pride is probably the strongest it has been in this whole generation. And hip-hop, one of the most dominant forces in our modern society has reflected this in a truly powerful way.

Rappers have stepped up to the political forefront as champions for the cause for equality. Killer Mike has appeared all over news channels, sharing his articulate insight on the current sociopolitical climate

As he has, very fervently, in his music

As he has, very fervently, in his music

Him doing so has created a powerful visibility for a number of things, namely the Run the Jewels brand and the movement. Needless to say, hip-hop is proud.

Another example of engaged rappers is Talib Kweli. The legend has been sharing wisdom all over his social networks, as well as appearing on CNN. Just follow him on social media to see this.

In fact, social media has been a pivotal point in this new movement, as we see many celebrities and artists share their thoughts and feelings in a way that has never been shown and shared before. Twitter posts by artists surrounding incidents around police brutality or screwy media quickly hit headlines. Anything you see on the internet quickly spurs huge conversations, for example, Azealia Banks’ fiascos.

Most profoundly of all, this has leaked into the music of many artists, underground and mainstream. The commentary presented in Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” video is powerful and potent.

Many have taken his last album to be a “pro-black” composition, although it’s moreso a story of Kendrick Lamar’s revelation after conquering his bouts of depression and simply brushing and bumping past the concept of “pro-black”. And his messages has transcended circles of hip-hop into mainstream media, albeit misconstrued. Big name artists team up to make posse tracks. Up and comers deliver powerful passion of these incidents hungrily. Benjamin Starr, for one, deserves a huge mention that’s packed with black pride and empowerment from front to back.

It’s refreshing to see that as much to see that things have evolved and changed, a lot has stayed the same. Hip-hop is still the voice for those who wouldn’t have had one otherwise.

Watch the lyric video for “Thuggin'” by Glasses Malone

Wonka Wednesdays

Ill Doots’ Sly Tompson has something for your ears. Wonka Beats is a collection of instrumentals deftly built with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory samples alone, to the point to where you wouldn’t even realize the limitation (if you want to call it that). With these tracks, a challenge is issued. The Wonka Wednesdays series where “every rapper with a set of balls is expected to go the f** in”.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Check it out:

If you’ve got bars, download it here, and swing it to illdoots@gmail.com

Hunger on Ice

Last year Meechy Darko of the Flatbush Zombies had a lyric that went, “sometimes the artist becomes bigger than the art that he presents.”

This is a vivid painting of the landscape of the current hip-hop fandom. But this has been written about before, not only by ME, but also others. That is the cause, the following is the effect.

I haven’t been a fan of an artist in years. I’m a fan of rap music in general. I’ve loved lots of music over the past few years, and have even been impressed with many who create it. However, I haven’t been a fan of any particular artist. In my experience with listening to rap music religiously for nearly the past decade (and even being more than casual before that), I have heard many artists that have released excellent, beautiful, genius works of art. Music. Then I hear the same artists somehow lose that sense of musical genius or poetic intellectualism or scorching passion in subsequent projects. It’s a loss of hunger. A vast amount of these artists “make it” and suddenly can’t eat no more. They get fat and lazy, and their hunger is gone.

A lot of excuses fly up when these subpar compositions are released as well. Label problems are probably the most prominent excuses of them all. That proves that the focus isn’t on the music though. The only reason why anyone would want to sign to a label is for money. When a label tells an artist, they need to make this or that type of song, it’s because they want to make money off of that artist’s song. This doesn’t go to say that one shouldn’t try to make their music marketable, but if that rapper is truly great, they wouldn’t have to sacrifice the integrity of their craft for a bit of “cash”.

When these musicians are on the come-up, they develop a brand for themselves with their hunger. Many of them slack off once that brand is well-established, and it is further enabled by hype-puppeted fans. Ergo the quote from the introduction. This furthers the “rap for the money, and not for the love” institution.

A tastemaker’s duty is to completely obliterate artistic credit for hype and acceptance of artists’ laziness. This will ensure hunger is maintained from passion and not just struggle or lack of recognition.

Unstoppable

Art by Mya Carmichael

Rap gets so much flak. Ever since NWA, and even before, rap has just been incriminated constantly as something that’s so negative for society. It’s been seen as a main and even sole contributor to gang violence, promiscuity, vulgarity, etc. All rap isn’t the same, and everyone knows that, however it’s still looked down upon the same by most of society. All of this is to try to knock rap off its pole position.

In its humble beginnings, rap was more of a party music. After that, though, it evolved to a conscious and political style of music, and has remained so since. Rap has subjects about literally everything, good or bad. Things like police brutality, gang violence, drugs, urban struggles/oppression, and so on do not get talked about in other genres as much. In [roots] reggae you get a lot of religious and government critical lyrics, but that doesn’t add up to the widespread consciousness of rap. Despite this, rap has been painted as such a negative thoughtless, violent, and negative culture of music. Even now you’ll have people talk about how “everyone listens” to Gucci Mane, Chief Keef, etc. even though Kendrick Lamar and Macklemore (both conscious rappers) are some of the highest selling recording artists in the game right now. The “nobody wants to hear that type of stuff” excuse isn’t applicable anymore, and hasn’t been in about a good decade.

As Jermaine Dupri said, rap songs have more lyrics than other songs. Rap songs have floods of literary devices, poetic techniques, and figures of speech. In fact, some rappers abilities rival those of major poets. A naysayer would love to mention songs that have repetitive lyrics or simple and vulgar lyrics (that are debatably not even rap songs) and say that is the norm for the genre.

One of the main premises of rap is “who is the best MC?” The culture of rap is so competitive. Being the most clever with your wordplay or rhythmic and intricate with your flow is the most ideal things in this genre. In other genres where two singers may collaborate with one another, the reaction would be “oh what a pleasant sounding duet.” Whereas in rap it’s “this guy had the better verse, he killed that track.” Though these are generalizations, you don’t really find the latter situation in an R&B or pop or rock song. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is ones opinion, but as far as its impact on culture, it shows that having real thought and effort behind a rap artist’s music is important to the listeners as well as fellow artists.  The hip-hop culture is very critical, and (barring few situations) we hold artists very responsible for everything they say and do. For recent example, the situation with J. Cole making a comment about mental retardation in his rhymes.

Stop trying to ostracize and incriminate something that you are ignorant to. We are so passionate and hardworking over this, why try to break us down. If you don’t like it, don’t listen, and as Kanye said, “don’t talk.”

For another look on the hip-hop culture, check out this Emmy-nominated documentary by Byron Hurt:

Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes

Who is Hip-Hop?

Rap music and the “modern hip-hop culture” was born in the United States of America. Today, it is not only a large international culture itself, but a large part of American pop culture. From the music to the fashion to the dancing, hip-hop is everywhere. However, the culture as we know it was created by a movement started by people such as DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Marley Marl, etc.

These are obviously black men.

However, just because the iconic pioneers of a culture with a poorly documented history are black men doesn’t mean it isn’t something for everyone. Those who respect, appreciate, and uplift the art, intentions, and culture of hip-hop are hip-hop.

        Rap music, mainly through corporate involvement and commercialism, is viewed by the ignorant majority as a genre of flaunting wealth, being misogynistic, and being “thugged out.” This gutter, grimy, rugged façade over rap is viewed as black supremacist, homophobic, violent, and having the previously named characteristics (by outsiders of course). Such accusations have been placed on the music since the late 80’s/early 90’s. Spin magazine mentioned Public Enemy being called homophobic in a magazine issue. Public Enemy is known for their socially and politically progressive content. While some are accusing and discrediting of this image, some seek to identify with it. An example of one who does this is Lord Jamar. Though, Lord Jamar does have a respect for hip-hop, LJ respects other races being in hip-hop. He generally has a progressive agenda, but he obviously has a homophobic chip on his shoulder.

“Bill Clinton is the first black president” has 3 million results in google’s search engine, “Bill Clinton is a white president” gets none. Time and time again people love to identify by race, but in the end it’s a fruitless pursuit.

WATCH THIS (specifically 13:00 mark)

tl;dw It’s not whites that aren’t allowed to push agendas in the house of hip-hop, but people who aren’t hip-hop.

There is such value put on outsiders speaking on hip-hop. Ones who should be considered Noble Amateurs, and those who shouldn’t are being reversed. In the Wikipedia article of Kanye West’s Yeezus album, the critics listed are USA Today, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, etc. None of these critics listed are hip-hop critics. None of this press specializes in hip-hop, or was born through hip-hop (except SPIN to a degree). No Vibe, no XXL, no Source magazine listed on Wikipedia. And the masses still gobble this up, and truly value these ratings, despite the actual reviews listing a plethora of rudimental “bars” (not to say the album was trash, peep the review). This is a vivid representation of why scores aren’t as important as descriptions. This sacred and coveted “5-stars!” is reduced to repetitive quoting of underwhelming lyrics.

A lot of these issues boil down the the celebrity obsessed culture in America. An incredible amount of music consumers have fetishes on the music artist(s) (who are also celebrities) whose music they like. When a new artist comes up in today’s pop culture they are glorified regardless of content. This is why rappers like Trinidad James remain popular. The “one-time wonder” is now dead because of this. The mass commercialism in hip-hop causes artists to become bigger than their art. According to KRS-ONE, hip-hop boils down to four main elements. Emceein’, Deejayin’, Graffiti, and Breakin’. Emceein’ is utterance, Deejayin’ is cutting, scratching and mixing, Graffiti is self-expression through visual printed art, Breakin’ is expression through dance. All of these things are arts, so if artists are becoming bigger and more important than that, they superimpose on the culture. The true picture of hip-hop fades into the background, especially since the history of it isn’t well documented or researched.

Knowing these things, to have someone with powerful love and respect for hip-hop denied for something as simple as the color of their skin, their origin, nationality, or anything is absurd. Recording artists who speak for the people should be readily accepted into hip-hop. In a specific example: Macklemore, a hip-hop artist that has a respect for the culture, and speaks for the people with songs like “Thin Line” (My bad, I meant “A Wake” – itzme) is hip-hop undeniably. This way of living is for anyone who will embrace it.

In light of things like the Grammy’s and things like that, keep in mind who is and isn’t Hip-hop. The only way to truly uplift the culture is to focus on the people within it that actually have love and respect for it.

Hip-Hop Analysis: The Three Skills of a Rapper – Delivery

itzme3

The third of the three main core skills of a rapper is delivery. Delivery is the simplest of the three forms of rap skills, but arguably the most important. The vast majority of all popular, high-selling, “mainstream” rappers ALL have great delivery. So to the inexperienced listener, everything they say sounds nice despite how meager their lyrics or techniques are. Actually, creative delivery can even be off-putting to some people and distract them from a rapper’s other skills. This is evident in people’s reactions to artists like Danny Brown, Chance the Rapper, and Flatbush Zombies.

I’ve seen and read many times from various people and media advisors that it’s optimal to catch the audience’s attention in the first 15 seconds. If, in that time period, you come across as off-putting, dull, weak, etc. then people aren’t going to want to continue listening to you. Part of this is an attitude expressed in one of my other articles, but the other part may be a bad delivery on the rapper’s part.

There are many key points to what can be considered an effective delivery, although the concept of it is somewhat relative (mostly because of creative nuances). The first and most widely applicable key is projection. As stated before, this is relative, sometimes projection is preferred, sometimes it isn’t; but the latter situations are mostly for theatrics and creativity. When one projects, their words are much clearer. People aren’t struggling to figure out lyrics; the engineer has more to work with, the speech comes across as confident and strong.

Next up is inflection and intonation. Ideally this is used to express emotion. The way the lyrics are stated in the song should make it sound totally believable. “I’m so sad” in the same regular speech you used to rap all your other lyrics isn’t cutting it (again unless intentional for an artistic reason). In a song, a rapper could be talking about anything. They could be saying the most ridiculous story, and with a great delivery they sound completely believable. In the song “I Wonder Why”, by Rick Ross (who has an excellent delivery, btw), the man is wailing “I WONDA WAIII” and “STAN’ YA GROUWWWWN” in the studio like the man about to break down and cry in desperation. Was he likely to be that emotionally motivated? I doubt it, but he sure sounded like it.

Yea….

Last point is the actual voice of the rapper. The aforementioned rappers in the first paragraph are rapper’s that use really weird voices most of the time, but depending on the tone of the song, they change their voice to match. In “30” Danny switches his voice from his high-pitched squawk when he’s talking trash to forceful ranting when he’s mentioning his personal struggles. In “Bath Salt” the Zombies’ delivery are very eccentric and over-the-top, but on a beat that’s more smooth and relaxed, like “Chuch” their deliveries are more toned down. Another great example is one of Eminem’s best tracks, “Stan”. Throughout the whole song, Eminem demonstrates excellent delivery.

Em gets angry, he gets sad, surprised, at all the appropriate moments. Another thing to note is that Eminem usually has a much different rapping voice than he uses in the song, he sounds much more whimsical in songs like “The Real Slim Shady” and whatnot.

And like my other skill descriptions, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Using sprechgesang, having a singing voice, and managing speech impediments are some more of the many different facets of rap delivery.

Read up on lyricism and technique as well.

itzme Feature Analysis

Collaborations are without a doubt one of the biggest aspects of hip-hop. Some people will base their consideration of buying an album almost entirely on who they see on that tracklist after “feat.” Lots of folks been put on through such, etc., blah blah. This is hip-hop. Everyone has their own perspective on features, and the popular opinion shifts (or rather swings back and forth) from time to time. Some people think few, to no features are best, some people like seeing a plethora of their favorite emcees on an album. Well ya’ll know I’m bout to tell ya’ll my opinion on featuring artists.

Features should always complement (or supplement) a song. All artists have their own style, their own niche where if you put them in with a certain sound or concept they will make a song feel complete or have a powerful impact on the impressiveness of the song. A lot of artists just stuff features into songs randomly just to have them fill out a verse for them or just to force a collab.

Ya’ll can be cool with each other without forcing collaboration. Musicians should always keep that chemistry and that niche in mind when inviting someone onto their track or working together with them to make it.

Another big problem with grouping together on songs is having a business mind about it. Sure, if you trying to make it get a big single, etc. then maybe it’ll be smart to throw Birdman on your song. But if one is really trying to be a cold artist, then they gotta think about music… artistically. Art should never be allowed to be sullied for social status, money, or whatever else. A lot of these rappers sacrifice the quality of their music for these things. All respect to Trinidad James as a person, but he should have no musical role in a song for anything but a joke. You look at a lot of interviews, when the guy was first blowing up, and every rapper and their mother was saying “they wanted” to work on music with him.

Such a situation is only used as an example.

The way features are really supposed to be used, and generally how I personally judge them in say.. reviews and such, is how I said before. Posse cuts are kinda an exception because there is a competitive undertone to them 90% of the time. A good example is Kendrick Lamar’s magnum opus, “Cartoon & Cereal”.

In that song Gunplay’s voice and delivery blended in perfectly to the theme and sound of the song; additionally, it contrasted Kendrick’s in a good way. His life experiences also fell in line with Kendrick’s for that specific concept, so the song worked out perfectly. Another great example is “Tougher Colder Killer” by El-P.

With his maestro-esque production, he had this cipher-like cycling verses between him, Killer Mike, and Despot. That stuff keeps listeners hooked in and excited to hear the song.

Take note.

itzme