An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 2

tumblr_static_tumblr_static_a3j0ndfdn8ggo84oo0okgwcgc_640

Part 1 is here

Nas is indisputably one of the greatest MCs to ever grace the mic, as hip hop as rappers go. From what is widely considered one of, if not the best rap album ever, the gritty, streetwise Illmatic, up to the grown-man, nuanced, elegant hip hop on Life is Good, his discography is a play-by-play of the evolution of the genre through the eyes of one of its finest.

When he declared, then, that his beloved form of expression was “dead” halfway through his career on Hip Hop is Dead, then, the outburst of conversation was understandable. Fast forward 10 years, and Nas declares himself a proper fan of Future, the divisive rapper scores of hip hop heads declared as antithetical to “real hip hop.” He’d go on to explain his history with the genre on the watershed DJ Khaled track, Hip Hop with Scarface.

This dichotomy might seem contradictory to some, but to me, it’s where the spectacularly complex appeal of hip hop lay. There was a voice for every listener, and a listener for every voice. I was able to thus appreciate music across eras and stylistic evolution, and I grew to connect the dots linking a range of rappers.

I heard reflections of Tupac in Kendrick, Nas in J. Cole, Common in Kanye. But I also witnessed artists who’d carve out their own distinct places in hip-hop – Future, Mac Miller, Vince Staples, Childish Gambino, Young Thug and Chance the Rapper. The diversity of thought and sound in each of these musicians is perhaps lost on those ignorant to the genre’s nuances, but I had found a genre with an album for every mood, an artist for every day.

The street tales of Nas and Jay-Z drew me in with their vividness, with evocative descriptions of neighborhoods and lives completely foreign to me. Southern rappers such as T.I. offered another perspective towards the life of someone often, by their own admission, caught on the wrong side of the law. At times, it almost felt voyeuristic, but I was always educating myself about their circumstances – ghettoization, Reaganomics, racist power structures and police brutality. They led me to discover parallels between racial prejudice in America and casteist and communal politics in India.

It might be surprising to many, I attribute a significant base of my sociopolitcal awareness to trying to understand the contexts of the music I was listening to and its reflections in the contexts I was more familiar with. They were often revelatory, and as I dug deeper, I explored powerful voices such as The Roots, Black Star, Pharaohe Monch, and Killer Mike, who furthered my drive to understand the things they rapped about with such incisiveness.

But I was still a teenager – I had very adolescent emotions, and music was my go-to outlet for solace, sometimes for answers. Fortunately, by the time I was exposed to it, hip hop had begun embracing its sensitive side, thanks to Kid Cudi, Kanye, and yes, sometimes even Drake. Whether they be angst, heartbreak, or even anxiety and depression, I found a straightforwardness towards them in hip-hop that many other genres sidestepped.

Mac Miller’s Macadelic, Watching Movies With the Sound Off, and Faces were some of my favourite albums from that time because of the unabashedly unsure, and complicated way Mac rapped about the addictions, insecurities and weirdness he was plagued by. I couldn’t relate to his exact situations, but they felt similar; genuine.

Cudi and Childish Gambino helped me through my bitter lonely teen phase with their own candid confessions of the same feelings – they might’ve often come off as immature, but to someone who desperately needed a sense of belonging in that time, they were kindred spirits.

So I grew; learning, failing, learning some more, all the while accruing a select, and colourful cross-section of rappers whose music I loved and always looked out for. As I shed my inhibitions and childish notions of ‘real’ hip hop, I also began to develop a taste for music that was just fun – bangers. Chance, Rick Ross, Future, and Young Thug quickly filled those gaps, and I found I had times where I just wanted to turn up. Depriving myself of these joys of the genre felt increasingly pointless.

Through all of this, I also grew to be acutely aware of the language employed in hip-hop. I learnt only on of the painful history and powerful reclamation of the n-word; it reminds me of the Dalit identity in India. Colloquialisms littered throughout hip-hop were finding its way into pop culture, and I tried to be consciously aware of their usage. It helped me understand just how much White America owed to the section of the population it had oppressed for so long, and discover how language, often used as a tool of the elitist classes, could be subverted. It contributed immensely to my love affair with writing too, and my cherished belief that words were only as good as the messages they conveyed.

It’s now been several years since I first started listening to hip-hop, and I’m as fascinated and enamored by it as I ever was. Listening to a song like 1 Train fills me with an inexplicable joy – pure lyrical acrobatics over an amazing beat, by a range of rappers each with their own distinctive styles. It’s why I listen to Joey Bada$$, and I listen to Lil Uzi Vert. I listen to Vince Staples, and I listen to A$AP Rocky. I listen to Big Boi, and I listen to Run the Jewels. I listen to Black Milk, and I listen to Big Sean. I love all of their music. I have never had to choose, and I never intend to.

I do intend to keep learning about hip-hop, and the environment it draws upon, and playing YG’s Fuck Donald Trump as loudly as I canHip-hop is now the most popular genre of music in the USA, and for this young adult across the world in India, its gospel is one I will never stop preaching.

 

Advertisements
An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 2

Five Songs for the Weekend – VIII

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

#1. Sober – Lorde

The theme of Melodrama is pretty clear now – post the fame of Pure Heroin, Lorde was thrust into a world she didn’t recognize, and it took a toll on her. Sober continues the brutally honest examinations of modern hedonism, the often-contradictory dichotomy of the party culture and alcohol binges, over a pulsating beat. It’s going to be intriguing to see how it all comes together on the album, which is just a week away.

#2. That Far – 6LACK

After blowing up off the back of some great singles, most notably, Problems, and an album, it seems like 6LACK doesn’t intend to take his foot off the accelerator. Keeping to his hazy production and vocals, 6LACK thematically focuses up. Looking firmly to the future while dismissing his distractions, he makes it known that his only purpose is success.

#3. Not Enough ft. THEY. – Lido

There aren’t enough upbeat tracks that are a fuck-you to an ex. Vibrant and fun, with lots of great little harmonies, Lido and THEY. come together for a song that will be a lot of fun to sing along to – possibly a little drunk.

#4. Rain Come Down – Vince Staples

Few rappers can do truly dark, gritty music like Vince Staples can. With a beat that’s haunting and menacing despite its bounce, Vince delivers his trademark descriptive bars, unflinchingly narrating the ruthlessness of the streets. Ty Dolla $ign delivers a great hook, his gravelly singing a perfect foil to Vince’s monotone. Big Fish is shaping up very well.

#5. Someone to You – BANNERS

A great pop-rock song is always welcome. With an absolute anthem of a hook and rousing production, BANNERS is clearly targetting the same audience as Imagine Dragons and Bastille, and doing a pretty good job of it. Watch out for them

Five Songs for the Weekend – VIII

Five Songs For the Weekend

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

1. Believer by Imagine Dragons

 

 

An anthemic earworm of a hook, rousing electro-rock production, and lead vocalist Dan Reynolds’ powerful vocals – Believer has all the ingredients of an Imagine Dragons hit. There’s an interesting bit of hip-hop influence here, with Dan adopting a rap-like flow over marching drums reminiscent of the ones on Kanye’s Black Skinhead; after a mediocre sophomore album, this is almost enough to make one a believer in Imagine Dragons again. 

#2. BagBak by Vince Staples

Vince Staples is undeniably one of the best, and smartest, rappers of this generation, and BagBak continues his streak of fiercely unapologetic sociopolitical rap, standing up for people of colour and sticking it to the Man over booming production bubbling with aggression – proclaiming quite succinctly “Tell the one percent to suck a dick, because we on now / Tell the government to suck a dick, because we on now / Tell the president to suck a dick, because we on now.”

#3. Comb My Hair by Coast Modern

The aptly-named Coast Modern is a wonderful new band that’s been putting out consistently great, summery tunes reminiscent of the beach rock of Wavves, and Comb My Hair is their latest. There’s a hint of psychedelia, and the drawling vocals deliver the decidedly weird lyrics in an oddly endearing manner. Quite the trip.

#4. (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano by Sampha

This gorgeous track from Sampha’s long-awaited debut album is a testament to the intense emotions the incredibly talented musican can evoke – accompanied almost entirely by the titular piano, Sampha reminisces on times gone by, using the full breadth of his stunning – yet somehow delicate – voice. It’s nearly impossible to listen to this without a lump in your throat.

#5. Random Haiku Generator by Sin Fang, Sóley & Örvar Smárason

The video description for this beauty perhaps describes this song better than we could: it’s a “confusing commentary on modern life” that is “one part electronic power ballad, one part delusional fantasy.” It’s just as wonderfully weird as it sounds, and thanks to musicians like Örvar Smárason (from múm) who are adept at making the weird sound serene, this track is bound to be on the soundtrack to your ruminative evenings. 

Five Songs For the Weekend

Favourite Albums of 2015 – #10 to #7

#10. Ones and Sixes– Low

homepage_large-116c89e7

My favourite albums go beyond being merely a pleasant listen. They make me evaluate and re-evaluate my preconceptions and my emotional stature; these albums are the ones that justify my spiritual connect to music. Ones and Sixes was the first such album for me in 2015. The project as a whole is glacial and epic, imbibing a sense of  sweeping melancholia and despair, albeit tinged with glimmers of hope. The production is minimal and never overwhelms, but there is a mass and power to it upon which the haunting, blending vocals waft to stunning highs. For me, this album was one of the most emotional listens of the year, and I am indebted to Low for this musical experience.

Listen to: Gentle, Spanish Translation, What Part of Me

#9. Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens

sufjan_stevens_-_carrie_26_lowell

In my opinion, Sufjan Stevens is one of the best songwriters of this generation. His words are intensely personal, yet universal in their relevance. Carrie & Lowell is an autobiographical project detailing Sufjan’s strained relationship with his mother, Carrie and the bright spot that was his stepfather Lowell. The stripped down atmosphere here is insular; the light strings and keys firmly in the background to Sufjan’s vocal presence. Themes of burdensome pain, sadness, loss and death permeate this album; it’s far from an uplifting piece of music. It’s catharsis; therapeutic art for Sufjan, that the listener has been allowed to share in. In its own dark way, Carrie & Lowell is a testing foil to life.

Listen to: Death With Dignity, The Only Thing, Carrie & Lowell

#8. Summertime ’06 – Vince Staples

homepage_large-97efc203

Vince Staples’ USP as a rapper is straightforward: he will never bullshit you. The Long Beach native refuses to glamourize the harsh, hard life he’s known growing up amongst broken homes, gangs, drugs and stifling poverty. The stories he weaves are intricate, incisive, and almost depressively real, and they leave you hanging on every word.  Vince’s voice is unflinching, detailing his teenage life with a disconcerting detachment, which lends credence to the idea that while that life is very much a part of him, he wants no part of it. Aided by dark, foreboding production, Vince on Summertime ’06  is the sound of the streets; blood-stained, gravelly and cold.

Listen to:  Lift Me Up, Jump Off The Roof, SummertimeSurf

#7. Currents – Tame Impala

Currents is that obligatory entry in nearly every musician’s discography: the breakup album; albeit so much more nuanced than your average Taylor Swift album. Running the gamut of emotions from conflict to yearning to acceptance, this album is frontman Kevin Parker’s declaration that he’s a “brand new person” who will deal with love and loss on his own terms. In many ways, this path is reflected in the production. And the production, handled by Kevin himself, is nothing short of a revelation. There is no sound quite like this. Expansive, emotive and mesmerizing, this is psychedelia at its absolute best. Electronics buzz around, eclectic sonic textures cohere into sounds that invoke the perfect reaction at the perfect moment, while Kevin’s surreal vocals alternatively soar and coalesce into the bed of music he lays so well. Tame Impala’s current is unlike any other, and every listener is privileged to be astride for the voyage.

Listen to: Let It Happen, The Less I Know The Better, ‘Cause I’m A Man, New Person,Same Old Mistakes

Favourite Albums of 2015 – #10 to #7