There is no doubt that the hip-hop community of the 1980’s could hardly have envisaged the growth and unique direction in which their movement has turned today. Back then the internet was still in it’s infancy and out of reach for the general public. Today, it shapes our entire music industry by setting the trends and topics of discussion. Of course the changes have run even deeper than that, the questionable business model which manifested itself through the major record labels of the 90’s, is all but obliterated. So although the financial profitably is not what it once was, artists can take solace that the internet remains the single greatest promotional tool in the history of music. The drawbacks are off set by opportunity.
It wouldn’t be too controversial to suggest the general consensus amongst many critics of modern hip-hop, is that commercial rap has somewhat diminished the reputation of hip-hop to the casual listener. I’ve always felt the answer to this is to find alternatives through blogs like The Find, Kevin Nottingham and hopefully even through our own humble contributions. The music as far as I can see is just as vibrant and creative as any point in it’s history.
Despite my optimism, the one thing I will agree has declined is the leadership within hip-hop. Larger than life characters like 2Pac and Biggie are no longer with us and barring maybe Eminem, there is no stand out artist who unites a rather fragmented audience. It’s hard to believe it, but fans were once united behind a vast number of New York and West Coast artists (depending on your allegiances), and rappers were seen as products of their community. This unity gave rise to acts like AZ and Cormega, who’s association with Nas and Queensbridge provided the platform for their art. A co-sign was almost impossible to achieve unless you truly had the skills to deserve it. To find the new “Cormega” fans are now spending hours searching through YouTube videos and blogs, rather than finding rappers through music publications. It means we all come to different conclusions on who our favourite emcees are, more so than in the 90’s.
As time has passed, co-signs are now handed out to whoever has a semi-successful single, be it good or not. Snoop Dogg for example co-signed Riff Raff, DJ Premier put Rick Ross in his top ten albums of the year, it’s hard to believe they actual value these artists. A far more credible reason is that they mention them in a bid to stay relevant. A strange phenomena has developed which has mixed novelty with success, going viral is the objective and how you achieve it, doesn’t really matter. If you put out a video that catches attention like say Trindad James did last year, it will catapult you to the forefront of hip-hop instead of deserving artists like Ian Kamau or Shad.
The question is, how many people watched Trindad James’s “All Gold Everything” to laugh at it’s simplicity, rather than to actually enjoy the music. Yet, the views still result in enormous press coverage which ultimately means success. Thankfully, this injustice only matters if you keep up with sites like World Star hip-hop or XXL. For those of us who search far and wide for hidden gems, hip-hop has plenty in store for 2013. The following is my top ten albums to look forward to this year:
10. Danny Brown – Old
Danny Brown isn’t the type of artist I usually listen to. But somehow he’s managed to win me over, at least enough to keep me interested in seeing where he takes his career next. His off key, frantic paced raps, contain completely bizarre content but still sound good, making him a candidate for this generations O.D.B. His appearance on Ab-Soul’s “Control System”, was one of my favourite songs from 2012. And his interviews alone make him a compelling artist. When talking about how he wants to structure his live shows in the future, he cited David Bowie and Ian Curtis as inspirations.
9. Talib Kweli – Prisoner Of Consciousness
This album title has been around for a while but it looks as if Kweli is gearing up to release the project soon, with leaks dropping more frequently than ever. As a fan of his from his Black Star days, you know what your getting from a Kweli album. Dope production, a potent message and features from some of the best artists in hip-hop. This time round there’s no Mos Def, but an appearance from Kendrick Lamar ensures Talib’s features remain just as intriguing, whilst his skills show no sign of decline.
8. Tyler, The Creator – Wolf
This album could make or break Tyler‘s future. Critics have been split on his last couple of efforts but almost everybody agrees he has something which draws us in. If he can reproduce songs to the standard of “Yonkers” he may finally fulfill his potential. Frustratingly he has been let down by much of his album tracks in the past, many of which sound like poorly written parodies. “Bitch Suck Dick” for example, doesn’t provide any laughs or raps worth listening to, less of that and more quality please Tyler.
7. Ice Cube – Everything’s Corrupt
Ice Cube‘s name is synonymous with gangster rap, but not many people give him enough credit for his political lyrics. So far the promotion Ice has done for “Everything’s Corrupt” hints that he’ll be out to expose Wall Street rather than rehash the themes of N.W.A. Of course there will be elements of the old Ice Cube, but this time his social commentaries will provide more context to the brutality of his raps. Despite his acting career drawing much criticism, Cube possesses much of the flair for song writing he did in the 90’s, with an ability to deliver powerful yet dark music. If this album is anything like what he promises, it may just be his greatest solo-triumph yet.
6. Common/Lupe Fiasco Albums
Ok so this might be cheating a little but right now I see both these artists as underachievers in the past couple of years. Lupe‘s last effort had some decent moments and was better than “Lasers“, but as a huge fan of the “Food & Liquor” Lupe, I’ve been very underwhelmed by his latest projects. The same could be said for Common who’s dropped some nice singles here and there but nothing on the level of “Be” or “Finding Forever”, with new albums scheduled for release in 2013 from both artists, I’m hoping that at least one of them can reach the standards they set for themselves in the past.
5. Killah Priest – The Psychic World of Walter Reed
Killah Priest has been churning out quality albums which have remained under the radar for quite some time now. His 1998 album “Heavy Mental” is a classic on par with lyricists like Chino XL and Jeru The Demaja. Unlike much of his competition from that era, Killah Priest hasn’t changed his style to fit modern trends. His focus on lyrics remain just as dedicated, with the production being even stronger than before. Killah Priest is the king of the “concept album”, with his story telling ability making him one of the most interesting artists of his time. If you’ve missed out on some his of his noughties material, start with “I Killed The Devil Last Night”, and “Behind The Stained Glass” and you’ll end up just as excited about the “The Psychic World Of Walter Reed” as I am.
4. Soweto Kinch – The Legend Of Mike Smith
Soweto is hands down the most creative and unique UK emcee since Slick Rick. His mixture of jazz and hip-hop is astounding in it’s execution. Soweto writes the raps and composes the music himself making him a standalone example of a multi-talented artist in an age of ringtone rap. It’s not that no one has mixed jazz and hip-hop before, it’s just nobody has made the mixture this effectively. Soweto brings a lot of humour and imagination to his lyrics, with much of his impact being made in his vocal delivery style. “The Legend Of Mike Smith” is based on the seven deadly sins and is also being performed as a stage show which will match the album. Soweto has never released an LP which didn’t deliver, which makes this one of the most exciting prospects of the year.
3. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
Earl is undoubtedly the best rapper in the Odd Future collective. Back when the ”free Earl” movement was in full swing, much of it’s enthusiasm was derived from a devoted fan base eager for an Earl album. All we have to show for his career so far is a few mixtape tracks and an E.P. But this hasn’t stopped us from expecting “Doris” to be a potential modern classic. Although it has a lot to live up to, Earl’s considerable skills should see him produce an album that was worth waiting for. Hopefully we see features from the likes of Madlib, and less Jasper Dolphin.
2. Jay Electronica – Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn)
Part of me worries that placing this on here will ultimately look silly, especially if it doesn’t arrive by the end of the year. Jay Electronica‘s “Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn)” is in danger of becoming the new “Detox”, an album talked about so much it’s almost reached mythical status. Despite all the negatives, Jay Electronica still sounds like the future of hip-hop, even with us only having small bits of material to go on. Jay-Z who signed the rapper, said he held back it’s release in order to find a hit single to place on the album. Hopefully this doesn’t mean a generic producer is drafted in to put Electronica in auto-tune mode. Because if he’s allowed to remain true to himself, it’s almost a certainty for one of the highlights of the year.
1. GZA – Dark Matter
If Jay Electronica’s album seems far off, GZA‘s album feels imminent in comparison. With an album cover and track list already leaked, my pick for the most anticipated album of the year inspired me so much that I wrote an entire article about it. Conceptually this LP will set the bar for lyrical content, expect a big bang from the GZA.
Banner artwork by: Joey-Zero