The New Breed

I admit it: I’m an old fuddy-duddy when it comes to music. I have become the guy I hated when I was a teenager: the one who hated the new music and swore that his music from his time was better than the new crap that is popular today. And for the most part that still holds true. I stopped truly paying attention to new rap artists after 2005, mainly because the stuff I had been hearing either on the radio or in the streets has been so bland and disappointing.

But recently I’ve had reason to rethink my position. I still think the vast majority of today’s hip-hop is crap, but I have to acknowledge that there are a few artists in this new generation of MC that interest me. And in my opinion, they’re all pretty darned good at rocking the mic.

So here is my informal, unofficial top ten list in no particular order (except for the #1 guy) of rappers who debuted post-2005 that I’m into. This is not an all-encompassing list, as I might (and probably will) stumble across some new MCs in the future that I want to follow (I’m looking at you, Sammus and Wordburglar), but these are the top guys on my list right now.

  1. Random. When you hear the phrase “Stay humble, stay hungry,” you don’t think that applies to most music stars. This has been the epitome of Mega Ran’s character. This is the reason why he is atop my list of “new” MCs that I follow. The fact that despite his status as a rising star in indie hip-hop, he makes himself VERY accessible to his fans. I feel less like a fan and more like a colleague and a peer: he has been a FB friend of mine (under his government name, no less) for the past 2 years, and I correspond with him regularly like I do with my closet and most trusted friends. I even sent him a link to my latest rap album (you can download it for free at http://jugghead.bandcamp.com/album/chapter-2), and he said he liked it. In addition to being a great MC, he also comes off as a likable PERSON, and that’s more important.
    on top of that, he has redefined the game for indie rap artists, proven that rappers can be successful and build careers for themselves by giving out free music, and has become one of the faces and poster children for Nerdcore. He is a master wordsmith, and quite frankly NOBODY is better at putting together a concept album. It’s basically his calling card.
    Every time he releases something new, I’m putting it on my “must grab” list. His song “Doubt Me” is one of my morning anthems to get me ready for my day. And at every opportunity I’m telling people about this guy and even sharing some of my favorite Mega Ran songs with them.
  2. Kendrick Lamar. For the longest time I was trying not to buy into K-Dot’s hype. The whole “New King Of The West” talk must have been hyperbole, right? After all, they said the same thing about Game and we saw how well that panned out. But when one of my kids finally convinced me to give the guy a shot, and I heard of the Grammy nomination, I had to dig deeper into his style. After peeping “Good Kid, mAAdCity” – and looking up the lyrics, I am firmly in the K. Lamar camp. The boy is The Truth.
  3. Childish Gambino. I don’t watch a lot of Television, and I don’t really try to get into this new breed of rapper, so in pretty much every way conceivable I slept on the work of Mr. Donald Glover. But then I hear via the blogvines about how great this “Because The Internet” album is, and I decide to give him a chance via his “Royalty” free album (I refuse to call it a mixtape). To say I was blown away would be an understatement. The dude’s use of wit and clever wordplay coupled with his Gift of Gab-like willingness to change styles and deliveries – oftentimes in midverse – along with his thoughtfulness and honesty, and you get a nice combination of talent. Oh yeah, dude also can sing and he makes his own beats. I finally checked out BTI –mainly because I’m a sucker for a concept album –  and I recommend it to everybody. Finally, unlike 99% of he MCs who claim to be rich, Bino actually has the numbers to back up his boasts. He was a superstar entertainer long before he picked up a mic.
  4. OMG. Ice cube’s youngest son carries his father’s legacy well. He has a voice similar to Cube’s and he has the same amount of confidence on the mic that Cube had, too. He claim’s his dad’s Lench Mob crew and works with Lench Mob member DJ Crazy Tunes? Bonus. I wish he’d deliver a little more social commentary like his father did, but even if he doesn’t, I like him the way he is.
  5. Yelawolf. I didn’t know anything About Yeller until I heard he got signed along with Slaughterhouse to Shady Records. I checked him out on Youtube and was immediately a fan. He has a very unique voice and delivery style, and while everybody nowadays is rapping double-time, few can do it with a style that doesn’t sound carbon copied from other rappers. Yelawolf is one of those few.
  6. Lecrae. Being a Christian fan of hip-hop, I’m actually a bit ashamed that I don’t support Christian Hip-Hop more. Aside from the likes of Da TRUTH and T-Bone, I really couldn’t tell you anything about Christ Rap. Lecrae’s mixtapes really opened my eyes to what could be done with that medium and that message. Dude is honest and insightful, without delving into a lot of the tired clichés that you hear from a lot of gospel rappers.
  7. Jon Connor. I’m not just putting him on this list because he’s from my hometown. Jon is a talented MC who actually knows a few people I’m connected to. He’s a pure MC with awesome punchlines, and a unique story to tell, which is actually a consistent theme among the new rappers I like.
  8. Big Sean. This is another local flavor, as Big Sean hails from Detroit. He’s another one I ignored “just because he’s new,” but like some of the other guys on the list, I gave him a try on his “Detroit” free album, and I was impressed. And his single “Beware” was flat out brilliant. The guy is a very polished lyricist and performer, and has a style similar to Drake’s without copying. I actually think he’s proven himself more clever.
  9. Wale & Big KRITT. The Roots endorsed these two. That’s good enough for me.

 

When you get a chance, check these guys out. I think you’ll like them as  much as I do.

Why I Love Concept Albums

I FINALLY got my hands on the major label debut of Kendrick Lamar.  At first, I didn’t want to believe that any of this “New Generation” of MC would be as high quality as the guys I grew up listening to. And by High Quality I mean deep, thoughtful and complex lyrics over something other than Southern Trap beats or Urban pop. I even scoffed at the possibility of K. Lamar besting out my favorite rap group (The Roots) for the best Rap album Grammy. But then, somebody sent me one of Kendrick’s mixtape tracks (Rigamortis) and I was blown away. It’s one thing to hear an MC rap double-time over a slow beat. Just about every rapper does it, and with the exact same cadence and delivery style, too. But Kendrick not only rapped double-time over an uptempo beat (something I haven’t heard done since the 1990s), but later on in the song he kicked into a higher gear and seemed to rap triple-time. All the while, he’s lacing the tracks with the clever metaphors that I prefer to hear in my rappers. This guy was everything I liked about Hip-Hop, and immediately earned my respect.

Flash forward about a year, and I finally get around to buying his Aftermath Debut, “Good Kid, m.A.A.d.City.” I wasn’t really interested in the album, although I respect K. Lamar. I just wasn’t trying to buy a lot of new hip-hop from artists I don’t trust. But I was transporting one of the kids in the children’s center I work at, and his song “Swimming Pools” came on, and the kid explained that it seemed like a song about getting drunk in the club, it was actually an ANTI-drinking song. That piqued my interests, so I looked up the song on Rapgenius.com, and sure enough, the boy was right. What clinched it though was the notes saying this was part of a larger narrative chronicling the growth of Kendrick as a person. That was the clincher: I HAD to get a listen to this album.

I admit it: I’m a sucker for concept albums. Even in this single-dominated music world. I absolutely love it when an artist takes the time to craft together a cohesive, thematic music project where every song is interconnected and all of the parts combine to make a greater whole. Most of my favorite concept albums are stories, with each song being a chapter. I think this takes a lot of thought and planning, and not every artist can pull it off. And the better ones are really engaging, with a LOT of layers to them. I eat that stuff up.

After hearing K. Lamar’s CD all the way through a few times, and looking up the lyrics on Rap Genius, I am thoroughly impressed by the depth of the lyrics. The beats aren’t half-bad, either. This is honestly, the best rap album I’ve heard, well, since “Undun,” which – you guessed it – is another concept album, this time by The Roots.

So, here’s my list (in no particular order) of my favorite concept albums:

  1. Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City, by Kendrick Lamar
  2. Undun, by The Roots
  3. 12 reasons to die, by Ghostface Killah
  4. American Gangster, by Jay-Z
  5. Black Materia, by Random
  6. Disposable arts, by Masta Ace
  7. The Long, Hot Summer, by Masta Ace
  8. Castlevania: Nocturna, by Random
  9. Language Arts, vols. 1-3, by Random
  10. 4-Eva In a Day, by Big K.R.I.T.T.

 

and yeah, I’ve got a lot of Random on this list. So what? He makes good concept albums.

This makes me wonder if I will, or could ever make a cohesive, album-long narrative. I think I could, but it would have to be a subject matter that I’d be totally engaged with enough to write 13 songs totally about it. It’s not impossible, after all, I do have a 3-song trilogy written that tells the story of me and a ladyfriend I was interested in courting. But 3 songs is NOT a full length album. I thought about making a concept album about my favorite video game (Zelda) in the same vein as Random’s video game albums, and I thought about doing a full album chronicling the adventures of my super spy alter ego, James Quan 008 ½. And of course, I could just tell MY story, about the things I experienced growing up in my own “MadCity” of Flint, MI (to quote DJ Quik, “It’s Jus Like Compton.”). but I don’t know. Right now, my schedule is so hectic I have no idea when I’ll get in the studio to record “The Third One,” much less a concept album after that. Oh well, c’est la guerre.