Biggies not an album dude imo but a combination of martyrdom, anticipated debut/sellout sophomore muddied the waters to the point wheres got a “classic” and a “pandering test marketed jiggy bloated mess”, when in reality theyre both pretty much the same combination of crossover singles, hardcore for teh headz album cuts with Buckwild/Primo etc, token introspective critic bait and a decent amount of filler.
The second albums actually the better one to me, theres stronger writing there like but cos the historys so set in stone I doubt many agree.
I completely agree, though I think that, as always, half of the problem is the old-guard hip hop fans. Every dumbshit that thinks there hasn’t been a great album in the last decade. Every dumbshit that thinks tri-state east coast records are inherently superior to all other rap. Every dumbshit that desperately endorses washed-up rappers who are putting out pandering, old-man bullshit just to pay off back child support.
It’s basically created this new generation of equally loathsome children who are desperate to see the great creative minds of this generation elevated to those of the previous, and as a result, want their vindication now, before it happens naturally. This is exactly why it was so dangerous to pretend that “BE” wasn’t the lukewarm toaster strudel it so obviously was. Suddenly, the people who are listening to newer rappers are like “Our guy will never get on unless we evangelize and myth-build just as crazily as the last wave”. Unfortunately, that just turns into a drive to compose demographically micro-managed, paint-by-numbers, everything-for-everyone dreck.
But nobody ever wants to say the guy they’ve been hyping for three fucking years finally came out as a major label still-born, so they champion it regardless. Thankfully, Kendrick was able to over-come that pressure cooker and put out an incredible fucking album regardless, but 150,000 kids in Supreme Box Hoodies have too much of a chip on their shoulder to just be happy with that; instead, they want to lynch anyone that isn’t ready to put him on the Goddamnn rap Mount Rushmore between three old rappers they probably listen to a lot less than they claim to.
Would take issue with you calling “Flockaveli” the ONLY retail album you would give classic album status to in the last few years, but you know just listing recent albums I like is kind of pointless. The kind of sad thing that you touch on, but really isn’t part of this article at all is how some of these small music movements may never actually see a physical retail release and might only exist on the internet and few mixtape CD-Rs that are bootlegged. I mean beyond the F.L.Y. album and maaaaaaybe OJ Da Juiceman’s album, were there/have there been any albums that represent the Swag Rap movement that has been around for years. I know Travis Porter put out an album, but it certainly wasn’t a best representation of what they are capable of doing or of that particle genre.
As for your actual article, I mostly agree. Though, I’ll say the constant push of artist talking about their “ALBUM”, when they are unsigned and probably won’t have a real “ALBUM” drop also seems connected to this line of thinking, where mixtapes have value, but are still undervalued by the artists themselves.
One of the shitty things about the abundance of choice we have is that people feel the need to call it a classic just to convince people to listen to the record. It’s almost not enough for something to be really good. I mean, I hear people talk about how Boardwalk Empire is a really good show, but it’s pretty well established that it’s not quite as good as Breaking Bad, Homeland, and Mad Men, so I don’t watch it. Granted, committing to an hour every week is different than committing and hour to listening to an album once, but the same decision making process is at play.
I really like that you brought up the different ways that an album can be classic. How flaws can and are a part of them. People from the Illmatic school of thought like to disqualify an album from classic status for having one song they don’t like so much. As if the thing that could eventually prevent My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy from qualifying is you not thinking the last 3 minutes of “Runaway” go on a little long.
One more thing, on the note of rappers that now *try* to make classics, it really was the success of past rappers that made them think they could get away with it. People watched Nas rhyme over a production dream team and thought they could do the same thing. Then we got all these incohesive records with the “hottest” beats. People saw Big and Jay effortlessly flip back and forth between radio songs and street anthems and then we got Jadakiss solo albums.
No consideration of the fact that “Illmatic” was also the forebearer for Beat Head-Hunting whereas most of the albums before then were dependent on ONE stock producer? Technically Nas had great chemistry with all his producers, but it did lead to a lot of awkward trend chasing. (Culminating in Nas himself taking a beat from The Neptunes that BLATANTLY copied Timbaland, as opposed to trying to thrive in a Pharrell-crafted vision for Nas.)
But isn’t this just sort of a more specific reiteration of the whole rockism v. pop discussion going on nowadays? I understand that there is less of a perceived need to declare, say, Taylor Swift’s latest album a classic as there is to bestow the same title on good kid maad city (to use your example) in rap circles. Nevertheless, there’s this constant tension nowadays between those who deem certain things capital a art and those who are just like “hey if I like it who gives two shits about taste.” For some reason artists have conflated somberness/seriousness/consciousness (ugh) with quality which is just so not true. Like leave me alone with your IMPORTANT work and let me just jerk and headbang and BOW BOW BOW. (Not to say that there isn’t a place for this kind of stuff; it just shouldn’t be the only thing that merits five stars or 9.5/10 or whatever high grade you want to use).
Besides, I think the Internet has exacerbated this problem of “classic”izing music. Twitter/Tumblr/FB/etc reinforce this impenetrable groupthink that allows for no criticism (see: Lupe’s fans). And then of course there’s all the listmaking which, I know, has been around for ages but is probably valued more highly in this click-hungry era (ie listicles make for internet traffic goldmines).
Which is all to say, as dalatu noted above, it’s a damn shame because there are some terrific sounds that people don’t hear enough of and may never have the chance to hear because of the ever-looming imperative to make something classic.
(On that note, would it be possible for you to point us readers of CB in the direction of some more slept on stuff because why not)
It just seems like part of that eternal chip on the shoulder for rappers and hip-hop fans, right? Wanting to make a classic and be mentioned on some future VH1 documentary seems to be partly about still trying to convince people that hip-hop is a legitimate art form. I definitely see that in certain hip-hop fans who will at some point feel like they’ll have to defend their music taste. And then they’ll turn to the “classics” to do so.
“hey if I like it who gives two shits about taste.”
The sadinteresting thing is that canons are the enemies of taste. as they solidify and people become increasingly reverent to their peaks taste basically ceases to exist. i mean these kids being like ILLMATIC/REASONABLE/READY TO DIE/THATS IT or JAY IS THE UNQUESTIONABLE GOAT or whatever are the least tasteful people on earth. taste is personal, there’s no consensus on whether mustard or ketchup is better for a reason. the taste of the hive isn’t taste at all.
one of the reasons i fuck with odd future and tyler in particular is how they and he have so precisely fenced off their own musical standards. yes it’s narrowminded and annoying when he goes off on some BAGH IDGAF ABOUT WU-TANG I GREW UP ON FAM-LAY diatribe and there are probably more mature ways to express that opinion but god this fucking reverence to the same two dozen albums and artists is so incredibly uninteresting. and fam-lay is fucking great and more people should be talking about him.
the people i know who i generally consider to have the best taste in the world (and anybody who reads my shit knows that this is not a complement that i would throw around lightly) will always without fail whip out something totally horrible and botb and incongruous now and again. having “bad” taste sometimes and being completely secure in it is part of having taste.
“still trying to convince people that hip-hop is a legitimate art form.”
“No consideration of the fact that “Illmatic” was also the forebearer for Beat Head-Hunting whereas most of the albums before then were dependent on ONE stock producer? Technically Nas had great chemistry with all his producers, but it did lead to a lot of awkward trend chasing. (Culminating in Nas himself taking a beat from The Neptunes that BLATANTLY copied Timbaland, as opposed to trying to thrive in a Pharrell-crafted vision for Nas.)”
YES i actually made a similar point that got cut for space in the pitchfork piece. Part of the problem is just that rap started getting so broad around the very moment illmatic dropped. So where you once had 10 producers working roughly in the same lane you now had a batch of dudes all chasing different aesthetics and demographics. I mean the difference is the difference between ready to die and life after death, you know?
i remember reading an old source interview with canibus (lol) where he was talking about how he considered illmatic the last old school rap album and i also remember scoffing at it when i did (because i scoff at everything canibus does or says), but today i think there’s actually some credence to the idea if you interpret “old school rap” as the period when rap was still a unified singular new york based entity. i mean obviously weird regional scenes were bubbling up at that point already but illmatic seems completely oblivious to them in a way that very little that came after it could afford to be. (I seem to remember folks saying that the original illmatic promo was floating around for like a year prior and there’s no citation for it but the wikipedia entry dates the sessions at “92-93” which means it is entirely possible that they had started recording it prior to the release of the chronic. maybe someone who has one of the awful books that have been published on the album can confirm.) with ready to die being the first big east coast record to explicitly draw influence from death row, rap-a-lot, etc. most new york rap music that immediately followed it seemed like either a purposeful embrace of or active reaction to all of that – the tensions btwn big v bcc and ghost and rae, the melee at the source awards, etc. part of illmatic’s legacy is that it was the last “pure” new york rap album, probably also why a pub like the source was pushing so hard to make that legacy happen. their house was falling.
Is it a stretch to say that about Meek? Not that I disagree, but “I think he thought he needed [a classic album]” does seem like a stretch out of context.
“but god this fucking reverence to the same two dozen albums and artists is so incredibly uninteresting”
Noz, if you’re reading this, I would like you to know that since I started reading your shit a while ago my head has opened up and digested things that I didn’t judge before I heard them, but normally would have. You’re always talking about some shit nobody else cares/knows about, because you have a legitimate interest in it. But now I feel like this is obvious and I should have just kept this to myself, but I typed too long and must not waste all my work
I’m enjoying reading your thoughts from the 30,000 ft view. One thing that popped into my head, which I was wondering if you thought about, is how this singular idea of how to approach a rap (debut) album applies to groups. A group like Little Brother were explicitly reaching back to the Native Tongues, G-Side get compared to ‘Kast/UGK/8 Ball & MJG, there were some Odd Future/Wu comparisons, your TDE/Heiro pairing, but it seems like there is no One Album to Rule Them All for groups that I don’t really understand.
man, well-written and -reasoned piece as always but I have been feeling like your line of argument since GKMC dropped is borderline concern trolling. Kendrick’s album being good (or even classic!) is not a zero-sum game. To that end, I think it’s a classic for a lot of reasons that you mention here and elsewhere, and being all like “we will just have to see” is a cop-out. But more to the point, just because, like, Illmatic! doesn’t mean that the west coast or south or guys that only made 12″s were any *more* maligned than it would have been otherwise. Canonizing shit does indeed create limitations, but only for stuff that would’ve otherwise made it into said canon. Like, dudes will value Da King And I less. Illmatic doesn’t obscure singles-only artists, or guys from Tennessee, those things are already somewhat obscured and would continue to be in the absence of a Very Important Rap Album having come out. Illmatic gives people who value cohesive album-oriented rap a flag to fly, but it’s not like in absence of that, these self-same dudes would be into Ball & G.
Like, if GKMC’s “classic-status” critical designation makes fewer people cop Pluto that is because they would originally have only bought Pluto because someone said “this is a really Cohesive Rap Album” – those are likely people who would not have “gotten” Pluto to begin with, and are only buying in because they’ve been told they’re supposed to.
“Is it a stretch to say that about Meek? Not that I disagree, but “I think he thought he needed [a classic album]” does seem like a stretch out of context.” Watch the youtube linked above. He basically says that word for word to Nas.
Jonny – There’s not much to “GET” with Pluto, millions of people love that album for its songs and energy and emotions, not its concepts or execution or storyline. The fact that Kendrick is the accessible artist in this conversation says a lot about how people process rap music. I mean I know we are descending into old potimist/rockist territory here but surely it’s a bit silly that rap has become such a rockist genre on paper.
Besides what I am arguing is that this shit hardwires the biases you are basing your argument on. I’m not really sure how someone who likes music and rapping in particular couldn’t instantly love Eightaball & MJG imo they made some of the most incredible music ever recorded and time has proven that through impact and longevity. I don’t believe for a second that an unbiased human could find no joy in their shit. The canon, at least on a national level, is incongruous to this definite truth that i cushioned with an imo just to be nice.
Bding – I think the crucial difference is groups don’t really exist anymore. As much as I love it when all of Black Hippy raps together their ends are a lot different than outkast or ugk or even wu. it’s more of an infrastructure similar to the way a record label functions. every man for themselves at the end of the day. i mean look at q’s insistence that he doesn’t want to do a hippy album.
the need for a classic album seems directly tied to the same impulses that killed the rap group. individuals want to be stamped as legends. being a member of a group or having a large catalog of well respected but not revered records makes it harder to do this. there’s a reason that everybody knows Del today but nobody knows Phesto. (Well there are a few reasons but you know what i mean.)
I always find it so sad when rappers direct their energies towards nostalgia. For me one of the things that makes rap great is that one a whole, imo, it’s one of the least nostalgic forms of music around (granted that I don’t really know any other form of music like I know rap). Everyone picking up a guitar in 2012 have basically given up the concept of doing anything profoundly new, and this does not seen to be considered a problem in guitar-music-circles (again, I don’t really know those circles like that but from what I gather). But picking up a mic and rapping into it hasn’t gotten stale yet, in itself. So it’s just such a waste when young people try to emulate people who were young before them, instead of just being young and doing new things with the new perspectives that comes from just being young (I mean youth has that potential at least).
(When I talk about nostalgia I do not refer to the sampling, covering, referencing that is a fundamental part of rap. That’s not nostalgia to me that’s just a way of appropriating the culture your’e in, in a very un-individualistic way, compared to ideals an ideas of The Artistic Genius creating Singular Unique peaces of art.. Meek Mills album is way more nostalgic, in precisely the way you’ve laid out Noz, than any random Nola rapper chanting over a the same drag-rap-beat still in 2012. I’m not after “new” as in “not referencing anything else”, it’s more of a sense of direction, of at least looking at whats around you instead of whats behind you. imo.)
Andrew – I love Future, you know that – but by what metric are you implying that Pluto is the more successful album when it has sold half of what GKMC has done in its first month? Are album sales “rockist”, as you seem to be implying of the format itself? I have no doubt that Future is more popular in certain corners of this great nation and these hip-hop internets, but unless you are measuring youtube hits as the “realest clicks in the game” (tm Spelunk) I’m not sure where you’re going with that. I mean, these are two very different records that deserve not to be compared to each other this way and I was just grabbing for an example of something I think is a strong “album” but is not being written about as a “classic”… anyway, I digress. Future has higher charting radio hits and Kendrick doesn’t really have a single on his record. I don’t think it’s fair to accuse the latter of succumbing to nostalgic puritanical rockism because he expressed his vision in a different (and arguably more successful) medium.
The premise of my argument is that bias already exists in humans, let alone rap listeners. You don’t have to have been an avid reader of The Source (or current reader of [insert biased/rockist rap site here]) to have felt strongly that, to use my example above, Da King And I is more “classic” than Young Bleed. I can guarantee you that plenty of people felt that way without the aid of rockist rap writers and mic ratings. I can similarly guarantee you that plenty of people who love music and rapping are not Ball & G fans. This does not include me, but I assure you they exist. That bias isn’t the result of XGau or Coates or PassionOfTheWeiss. It is bigger than and independent of those forces. To the extent you feel it is your mission to correct that kind of bias (and bless you for it) you are simply attempting to expand the canon, not destroy it.
Rap on paper is inherently rockist. Embrace the dark side.
I can guarantee you that plenty of people feel that young bleed is more classic than da king & i. I can similarly guarantee you that plenty of people who love music and rapping are not *insert a great ny rap group (mobb deep ?)* fans.
So these bias must’ve been caused by some things, amongst them regional cultural references like the source.
Like youre getting your bias from somewhere Johnathan, you didnt come to these conclusions via the crackle off some 12″. Rap being thought of in rockist terms might have a lot more to do with the only exposure to it for a lot of fans not on the front line(incl myself) being filtered through journos, djs etc who think like that. A lot these intermediaries are more influenced by people who who remember the late 80s or when 5 mics was a big deal than they are anyone at contemporary ground level, where a fair chunk of the actual music is made and grows an audience.
It doesnt mean there arent plenty of, if not more people not as well represented in rap media who dgaf about cohesive albums or whatever.
rap critics, especially early on, not having enough great writers of their own to draw on probably affected it too. where its more appropriate for them to write about an album oriented genre but it led a lot of people astray. Or maybe its just easier to write about like that, idk.
That’s an argument in support of Jonathan’s statement, not against. (Well, not 100% sure you were trying to argue against it, but I’ll continue as tho you were, and angrily…) I think “classics” serve first and foremost as the signifiers and standards for particular groups and styles, like Noz stated, but not (necessarily) limiting how he says. People who like southern, funky, pimp-ish rap can just say “8ball & MJG” or “UGK” as shorthand for the type of music they like and want to hear. Same with “Trap or Die/TM101” being the equivalent for trap music.
If Illmatic didn’t exist, the people who like that NY style, heavily lyrical, jazzy rap would have anointed some other album they could wave as their flag. There seems to be a worry here that apotheosis of Illmatic has been to the detriment of the genre, but the supposed place it holds is overblown. In a lot of areas, *most* rap fans wouldn’t put Illmatic as a favorite, so it’s not as strong a pressure as the piece implies. Yo Gotti still exists even though we have Illmatic-philia. It is a problem that affects big names who want to be “serious rappers” and choking, trying to make an album they have no business doing, but yeah… In widespread terms, like was said earlier, The Source canonizing Illmatic doesn’t steal potential fans from Ball & G, just like Noz calling Flockavelli the only classic in recent years (btw, lmao @ that falsehood) has no effect on the Lupe stanbase.
(This is a great article and makes some great points. I’m not saying there isn’t a lot of truth to it, just another .)
“I have been feeling like your line of argument since GKMC dropped is borderline concern trolling. ”
this is bullshit btw. an argument that favors reflection/consideration over instant reaction/absolute thought is the exact opposite of trolling. the fact that dudes think otherwise is only evidence that the trolls are winning.