In reading this write up (and the ensuing comments) about Pitchfork’s shift in rap coverage from undieground/nerd-rap to what they give the cringe inducing “trap-hop” label. I honestly don’t read Pitchfork enough to go on record with an opinion (I just know that I’m not their target audience), so I can’t vouch for them. And while I’m sure no one would mistake what I do with this site as being even remotely Pitchforkian, I think you can probably trace a similar trend here (and on the internet as a whole). This could be attributed some nerds embarrassingly seeking to bolster street cred, or maybe they’re being ironic, but i suspect it has more to do with the fact that yakpack rap has gotten so boring and dudes are looking for something else.
I’ve always tried to take a nonpartisan approach to covering hip hop. But it’s hard to show love to certain facets of the underground when they seem to be striving for mediocrity. It’s not that I’m hating, I would like to like this shit, but I just don’t feel it. But in the interest of not coming off as a complete hater (or at least coming off as a well informed hater), and, more importantly, preventing more “YO DOOD WHY DON’T YOU TALK ABOUT LITTLE BROTHA THEY ARE SO DOPE” emails, I’ve
throughly examined a handful of the most acclaimed backpack/underground/rapforpeoplewhodontlikerap type records to come out this year. A couple of these albums I just downloaded from soulseek and listened to today, so forgive me if I miss some of the delicate nuances. I know it’s more hate than not, but don’t blame me, blame the artists. I will say this much, they all sound very different from one another and I appreciate that. Cause trust that if everyone of these records sounded like little brother i would’ve shot myself in the face a few hours ago.
Edan – Beauty & The Beat (Lewis)
Production wise this is pretty much a masterpiece. Edan’s really maximized every second of his beats. You can tell he’s a student of the Paul C/Marley Marl/Extra P school of SP massacre, but not to say he’s overly derivative of their work (see: little brother below). He applies the seemingly incongruous psych rock production values to a traditional late 80s rap aesthetic and it actually works. Unfortunately, when Edan raps he sounds like Ad Rock doing a poor Big Daddy Kane impression, and I just can’t take that seriously. And I think the only thing more boring than rapping about rapping is rapping about rappers (and maybe rapping about Thor is worse than both, maybe). Dude should’ve just given all the beats to Percee P, who absolutely murders his cameo. Still, I could fuck with this occasionally and I definitely see why heads are all over it.
Little Brother – The Minstrel Show (Atlantic)
If you like this record you’re either hopelessly nostalgic for the native tongue era or you’ve never heard any of those classic records and think LB are doing something fresh. Either way you probably should just be listening to Bulhoone Mindstate.
Danger Doom – The Mouse & The Mask (Epitaph)
Backpacksploitation at it’s all time worst. What happens when a very talented yet lazy and gimmicky rapper and a marginally talented gimmicky producer get together for a gimmick album sponsored by and littered with product placement from a Ted Turner company? Isn’t this the type of thing that holier than thou underground heads are supposed to be mad about? You guys are falling off. It’s got fucking cartoon characters rapping on it. You might as well cop Simpson’s Sing The Blues or MC Skat Kat.
Cage – Hell’s Winter (Def Jux)
I like this album more than I ever would’ve expected. Cage is way more interesting when he’s bemoaning his fucked up lifestyle rather than glorifying it. It’s a very personal record and not a lot of rappers are really willing to put their ass out like that. This is like his Blueprint, except with less chipmunk soul loops and more suicide attempts. On the other hand, the production is pretty lackluster and I would be remiss if I didn’t single the emo rock fusion cut “Shoot Frank” out as the most questionably heterosexual rap song ever recorded. Whenever I hear a song like that I just think of Ice Cube and how unfathomable rap like this would’ve been ten years ago. I mean what the hell? This is not progress. If the rest of the album wasn’t so good, I’d probably hate it for the sole fact that “Shoot Frank” exists.
The Perceptionists – Black Dialouge (Def Jux)
Mr. Lif has one of the worst rap voices in the history of the genre, the other guy (Akrobatik, right? I think I remember him from a bunch of boring records in the 90s, but I don’t think he’s worth a google) isn’t awful but pretty unmemorable. So is everything else about this record (and Boston rap in general. whoops did I just say that? a bunch of draped in burberry 7L & Esoteric fans are probably sharpening their knives to paul pierce me benzino style as we speak). These are the types of rappers that think that putting the word “Dialogue” in their title and complaining about mainstream rap earns them “political rapper” status. I did learn that some people are poor and some people are rich. I think they said that George Bush has something to do with this. POLITICS! Am I an activist yet? And if you weren’t bored enough, one of the guys from little brother shows up for a super boring rap crossover! There’s also a tongue in cheek club record with Guru. You know you’re in trouble when you’re bringing in Guru to liven up your party cut, even if it is a fake one.
Atmosphere – You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having (Rhymesayers)
I think the title is supposed to be sarcastic. Because this record is no fun. Or maybe they have fun boring me. That’s pretty malicious, guys. I used to think Slug was a pretty good writer, but it’d be hard for anyone to defend this laziness. He’s got a strong enough fanbase that he can continue to make the same album over and over again every year and still sell out concerts to kids in studded belts. Not awful, but not nearly good enough to warrant a second listen.
Quasimoto – The Further Adventures of Lord Quas (Stones Throw)
This album gives me a headache. I didn’t “get” The Unseen either. I actually think some of Lib’s actual beats on the first half of the record are pretty nice, he’s got this tight dark electro sound going at times, but the beats get lost in the ADD quick cut approach. As soon as he gets a nice groove going there’s a needle scratch and he drops it in favor of some sample taped off the gong show or some shit. That’s cool that Madlib has a bunch of weird dialogue records to sample, but maybe he should just make a mixtape or write a book about them or something, because I’m not trying to listen to em randomly pasted together for an hour. I feel like I’m listening to a bunch of circa 98 turntablism songs except with annoying high pitched rapping instead of scratching. Also more rapping about rappers on “rapcats”. And don’t get me started on the Show & AG cover, “I like my asses fat not flat” is the 2005 equivalent to “make crack like this“, except P’s a better rapper than quas. Gimmick rap is out of control.
Bigg Jus – Poor People’s Day (Mush)
Poor Bigg Jus. El-P makes a bunch of adventurous and usually unlistenable rap noise music and extends Co Flow’s critical darling status and starts a musical movement for kids who think reading Phillip K. Dick novels makes them smart. Jus makes a bunch of adventurous and often unlistenable rap noise music and goes completely unnoticed. And not to go all schizophrenic tenant on you, but I suspect this has more than a little bit to do with the color of his skin. Or maybe it’s because Jus never adopted the trucker hat look (afaik). This is the most listenable of Jus’ unlistenable records. I don’t really catch all his political space mumbo jumbo but he’s got a dope style. I’m really dissapointed that the internet/intellectual rap writing contingent hasn’t jumped on this record they could be like “If Sun Ra and Ghostface teamed up to fight dick cheany cyborgs in a post apocalyptic warzone” or something like that. But instead they had to go and listen to The Clipse.