Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Themes in Hip-Hop 2009

Any fool can list his Top 5 albums or singles from a given year (obviously it’s not that hard because I did it two posts ago). However, taking a step back and looking at Hip-Hop in 2009 a few clear themes emerge that are far too prevalent to be isolated occurrences or mere coincidence. Without further ado...the Top 5 Themes in Hip-Hop 2009!

FIVE: Grown A** Men Rapping

In 2009, Jay-Z, Eminem, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Everlast, KRS-ONE, Buckshot, Cage Tame-One, Del The Funkee Homosapien, Kurious and other veterans, all released stellar albums that were good beyond the typical “Well, I’ve bought all his other stuff so I might as well pick up the new one by ____________” (you can fill in the blank with whatever old school rapper that refuses to retire you like). All of these guys are in their late 30’s/early 40’s (whether they admit it or not) and have been producing music since the early 90’s. With solid albums, singles getting radio play and sold out tours by artists reaching middle-age Hip-Hop has finally grown up and ushered in it’s first group of adult-contemporary MC’s. Much like other “Adult” genres these artists come to the mic with a level of life experience and musical skill that even the most talented 20 year-old could only imagine.

While 2009 saw a talented freshmen class (Kid Cudi, Drake, Wale, Asher Roth, etc.) make respectable debuts, there is something to be said for the group of vets that dominated the year.

FOUR: Collaborative Projects Actually Being Released

Rumored full-length collaborations are the topic of about 80% (complete guess) of all postings on Hip-Hop websites and message boards, and while in the past nearly none of these projects ever saw the light of day (I have been waiting for Dr. Dre/Ice Cube and The Four Horsemen for well over a decade), 2009 actually saw the release of several collaborative albums.

This may be due to the fact that selling albums in today’s music industry is nearly impossible and record labels are willing to take more chances, but albums by “Super Groups” like Slaughterhouse, La Coka Nostra, KRS-ONE & Buckshot, Del & Tame One, AG & Ed OG and Street Sweeper Social Club kept real heads running to their local record store, if it didn’t already go out of business.

THREE: White People

2009 was an absurdly good year to be a White Rapper (see “Christmas Spectacular” movie if you disagree). Albums from artists as diverse as Eminem, Asher Roth, R.A. The Rugged Man, La Coka Nostra, Apathy, Cage and Felt were all received well by critics and fans.

While artists should clearly be measured on the merit of their material and not the color of their skin, this as simply too big of trend to ignore. The exact reason for this explosion of white MC’s is hard to pinpoint, but they all added something new to the game and released solid music all year long. Now, if we can just get Bubba Sparxxx to make a come back in 2010. (Don’t sleep, “Deliverance” is a sick album!).

TWO: Album Creativity

It has been said that when a man has nothing, he is truly free, well with album sales at an all time low and illegal downloads and purchasing individual songs clearly winning the race for consumers’ attention, record companies seem to have loosened the reigns on artist’s creativity and let them release some truly original and unique material in 2009.

Albums like Kid Cudi’s “Man on the Moon: The End of Day” or Ghostface Killah’s “R&B Project” are wildly innovative and stray far from the typical commercially released Hip-Hop album (see “5 Mic Formula” post). Even blockbuster albums by Eminem (the addiction/recovery themed “Relapse”) and Jay-Z (the extremely unformulaic “Blueprint 3”) were not the usual “let’s get as many hot producers as we can afford to make a collection of singles and some filler” affairs.

This renewed emphasis on creativity and producing cohesive works of art is one of the best aspects of Hip-Hop in 2009 and as a fan one can only hope it continues and further develops in 2009.

ONE: The “New Music Industry” in Full Effect

When 50 Cent got a deal from his mixtapes it started, when Lil’ Wayne became an international celebrity without an album it was continued and in 2009 when Drake became one of the “Hottest MC’s in the Game” (Shout out to MTV)without a record deal while multiple record stores went out of business it became undeniably clear that the old record industry was over. The new pop culture consumer in the coveted 18-24 year old bracket has never paid for a CD, does not remember when they couldn’t be “friends” with their favorite artists on social networking sites and has never had to wait for MTV, VH1 or BET to play their favorite video.

The internet and it’s far reaching effects, from person-to-person file sharing of songs to being able to order your favorite underground MC’s merchandise anywhere in the world, has had such a profound effect on the music industry that it’s hard to tell if the major labels have fully grasped the new parameters of the business.

In 2009, Drake had a string of hits...from a mixtape that was not made commercially available until after he had the song of the summer, internet beefs (50 Cent/Rick Ross, Cam’Ron/Dipset, etc.) garnered more attention than several major label releases and grass roots artists like Tech-Nine, Slaughterhouse and Murs continued to gain exposure and new fans through aggressive internet campaigns and relentless touring. While it is still unclear what direction the music industry will take in the next several years, it is abundantly clear that the old model of: Street Single > Pop Single > Album Release > A Few Promo Shows > Sit Back and Count The Money As it Rolls In, is a thing of the past.

As fans, this new paradigm is much better than the old system. There is virtually endless amounts of free music available from our favorite artists for no cost, merchandise is readily available to anyone with a credit card and an internet connection and there is an abundance of live Hip-Hop shows just about anywhere in the US (the shows and merchandise allow artists to make up the expenses of providing free music).

The first decade of the 21st century has been incredibly exciting in regards to how we consume media and there doesn’t seem to be any signs of slowing down in the near future. Hip-Hop has always been full of early-adopters of technology and how this culture is disseminated in the next decade will be watched and decided by Hip-Hop Heads worldwide.

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