Wednesday, January 12, 2011


It's often in the talks how rappers represent their hometowns by wearing city-signature attire, or organizing special concerts in their cities etc. More or less, every rapper has some memories with his birthplace: 1st recognition, 1st rap battle, 1st label contract signed, or a memorable concert. Cultivating the connection with the city that patronized the rapper's rise to glory has become somehow important to showcase publicly. Popular term -- to rep -- describes certain actions the rapper undertakes to represent his hometown. True story, it's extremely hard nowadays to find example of a rapper that shuts down relations with his city and people completely; rhymers rather try to pride themselves on their town on every occasion they can get. One performer has taken this trend to another level, Dwayne Carter his name, demonstrating overwhelming attachment to his roots.

Lil Wayne was a different musician just a few years ago. We already mentioned on this blog that various mash-ups with other music genres aren't generally optimal and beneficent for rap. Well, Weezy's adventure with rock aspects clearly causes even more negative reactions, mainly in terms of used adjectives. Here is a sample of this... peculiarity. Today, more & more voices describe Wayne rather as a disparagement to the rap franchise. Main accusations; too commercial, too controversial. But coming back to the first sentence and the main topic.

Lil Wayne was a different musician back then. When Catrina struck in 2005, it left Weezy's New Orleans completely devastated. As the hurricane passed through the Gulf Coast region, the city's federal flood protection system failed, resulting in the worst civil engineering disaster in American history. During that time, Wayne completely surprised me, both with his extreme devotion in reppin' and helping his hometown, but also with an exceptional set of tracks he created to describe the tragedy. He really was a lyrical monster, a person with visible and audible talent -- he was on some kind of mission. He impressed audience with unparalleled maturity. These 3 songs really take me back to the harsh times shortly after the cataclysm, they really get to the listeners:

Wayne during the concert in New Orleans, 2006

"If I had one guess than I guess I'm just New Orleans"
Aggregating all this: numerous dedicated concerts, fundraisers, constructive criticism towards the authorities, and last but not least, heart-throbbing loyalty to The Big Easy. He was there for NOLA. Now he is on the loose searching for the way back to the condition that awaken his best abilities as a rapper and human being. Such affection and devotion for his roots will never, should never be forgotten.

So "Weezy F baby, and don't forget the F baby".

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"You think ten moves ahead, not behind"

Recently we were witnesses to the conclusion of the decade (2000-2010) and year 2010 in rap industry. It's a good time to take a look back at everything best that rap music spawned during the latter years.

2. approaches the rap subject from the wealth factor perspective: 10 Hip-Hop Cash King$.

3. Finally, prepared a pretty comprehensive and well-thought analysis and grading of 10 best rhymers of the past decade.

Taking everything into account, last ten years weren't the most fertile for Hip-Hop legacy, especially bearing in mind the 90's and lyrical masterpieces of that time. Rap audience may feel a bit disappointed. On the other side, it needs to be admitted that a solid number of fresh rappers made their quite impressive rap debuts, recognized rappers strengthen their position with some resounding albums, and many new Hip-Hop tracks received healthy recognition from the listeners.

Recalling the past, we can only hope for 2011 to top everything good that came in the previous years, and surprise us with a strong dose of decent rap music. With all the rap complexity and unorthodical message, there is a strong necessity to constantly improve, to evolve simaltaneously with the audience's taste and needs. How else to learn how to be better if not by analyzing the past? But as for rap, it's all about the future now.

It's Alive!!!

Since I'm in a Wu-Tang phase, I thought I could bring this up...

Yup, the WTC's latest compilation album -- Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture Vol. 2. That is, hip hop meets dubstep. Those of you who have murmured "oh noes" just now, might as well skip this one. Or not. Even though the album was released on November 10, 2009, it hasn't had that much attention. Yes, it caused quite a stir among hardcore Wu-Tang community, but it's not the kind of stuff you'd hear on a morning radio, if you know what I mean. Besides, I just want to know what you guys think.

If you have been wondering why there are no remarkable new music genres, well, dubstep is as close as you can get. It's been over ten years since we first started receving reports of this strange electronic outbreak that started in the U.K., but dubstep has never really surfaced from the depths of underground. Maybe it's for the better?

So, is it really Wu-Tang? Not, if you check out all those names of artists who collaborated on this album. Wu-to-the-core people may and will prefer the original stuff from RZA and the Clan. And yet it's kinda funny and refreshing to hear all those older pieces remixed into... something else. Dubstep seems to be like a parasite, constantly looking for a new victim to feed on and producing weird genre crossbreeds. Wu-Tang Meets... does prove something, though -- the WTC is not afraid of musical experiments.

Though I'd say that there's much more to dubstep than the unstable beat and annoying ear-drilling bass wobble, I'm far from saying that this is an evolution of hip hop. Just to make it clear, I'd rather not see it go this way (!). Experiments are OK, as long as you apply them carefully. I don't want to bias you or anything, but in the case of the Wu-Tang... well, it kinda feels like Dr. Frankenstein barged into the Shaolin, took out his vials and started pouring only-god-knows-what on everything and everyone around. Did he create a monster?

If you haven't already, check it out yourself. It's the kind of music that either pumps you up or really gets you down.

A few more interesting tracks, I provide.

Monday, January 10, 2011

RZA Your Swordz

...'cause how can hip hop be dead if Wu-Tang is forever? -- RZA

I just can't get away without mentioning RZA. Those of you lost in the whirl of today's mainstream pop hop and those who can't imagine hip hop without lyrics, this post is for you.

How much value does the word artist have these days? I don't know. But I do know that if I were to call someone a true hip hop artist, it would be RZA. He's THE instrumentalist of hip hop. Now, instrumental music is not particularly the most apparent fashion in hip hop expression as it has always been in the shadows of MCs' work, but it has been there, waiting to be yet fully recognized as a genre of its own. DJ Shadow's Endtroducing..... turned out to be a major break-through as it was the first album consiting entirely of samples. Other than that, instrumental hip hop has never drawn much attention. Until you check out RZA's work, that is.

RZA is the leader and creative power behind the Wu-Tang Clan, a NY-based group considered to be one of the most important hip hop bands, despite its rather underground nature. At the time (early-mid 90s), the WTC differed much from the more popular groups in the business. Was it revolutionary? I can't say. But it definitely meant something for the hip hop scene. Not only did it prove that music influences from other genres and artists are essential in hip hop, the WTC also showed that hip hop can draw from the sources of other cultures. Samurai, Shaolin, Kung-Fu... the WTC is full of eastern cultures' references and musical borrowings. And now it's the WTC that influences today's hip hop acts -- a full circle.

Wu-Tang Clan -- RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa.

It wasn't until his solo works that RZA's great potential became more and more noticable. Beside solo-albums released under his alter-ego Bobby Digital, RZA has become known as a prolific movie soundtrack maker. The score for Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is the prime example. And I don't even have to say anything. Don't listen to me, listen to that soundtrack.

Ghost Dog
ranks among the most underrated movies and soundtracks ever, and it's been easy to miss this one out. The movie, starring Forest Whitaker, is really something worth watching. Don't feel encouraged? Well, Quentin Tarantino certainly was, as Ghost Dog inspired him to make Kill Bill, for which RZA also created and produced music. But even Ghost Dog's soundtrack alone earns RZA a master title. And I'm not talking about the U.S. release; I'm talking about the original score which was only released in Japan (what a shame...). It sounds ol' school, it sounds underground, it sounds lo-fi and minimalistic. You just can't resist the feeling that you're listening to hip hop, and your head nods along to the simple beats, beautiful percussive pieces and accoustic effects.

Lose yourself in the rhytm and atmosphere of these sample tracks.

We Reminisce: East vs. West Coast (Part 2)

Here is some more insight on the nature of this feud and the tragic conclusion to the rivalry.

We Reminisce: East vs. West Coast

Early in 1990's, all of you must remember a major feud involving many prominent rappers; a rivalry between East Coast and West Coast hip hop scene. The early nineties were upon us, Gangster rap had put the city of Compton on the map. N.W.A.’s “ Straight Outta Compton “ album that featured the song “ Fuck The Police “, made the city well known across the world.

It was about this time when known “Mob Piru” member Marion Suge Knight wanted to start Death Row Records. Suge’s Death Row Records was making money in the millions with Tupac and Snoop Dogg pumping out the hits. Suge Knight’s “Death Row Records” was constantly being investigated for numerous crimes.

Sean Puffy Combs “Bad Boy” label on the East Coast was also a huge success with Christopher “Biggie Smalls" aka "B.I.G." Wallace and Sean Comb becoming best of friends.

Rap music had come a long way too, but the East Coast vs. West Coast clash was about to begin, and it was for real. The top performers in the rap industry were gathered in Los Angeles for the Soul Train Music Awards in 1994, which included Snoop Dog, DJ Quick, etc. Also at the event, the CEOs of the biggest rap labels, Puffy Combs of “Bad Boy Records” in New York City on the East Coast and Suge Knight of “Death Row Records” strait out of Compton on the West Coast. Also present were the respective entourages of the two groups that consisted of off duty police officers from Compton and L.A.P.D., and of course, the gang members from Los Angeles and Compton that made up the crew.

The East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry had made its way into the lyrics of the songs and had become increasingly personal. This begun to parlay into the utmost disrespect aimed at members of “Death Row” and “Bad Boy Records”.

In the midst of a heated clash, even bigger beef emerged. The prime representatives of rival coasts directed their lyrics against each other. Shortly after 2Pac had been shot five times at NY recording studio on November 30, 1994, “Who Shot Ya?,” a B-side track from BIG was released:

Who shot ya? Separate the weak from the obsolete, hard to creep them Brooklyn streets.
2Pac quickly retaliated with one of his most renowned tracks; "Hit 'Em Up":

Who shot me? But ya punks didn't finish now you 'bout to feel the wrath of a menace… Nigga, I hit ‘em up!

Though the feud is officially resolved by now, RapNation, where is/was your heart at?

East Side or West Side?

East Coast
West Coast

More on the feud.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Hip Hop Versus... Hip Hop?

Defining hip hop is not an easy task, especially for culture researchers who seek theory and explanation of this phenomenon. The question “what is hip hop?” triggers more controversy than clarification. For the sake of this post, let’s leave this for a while and focus on the most popular and apparent part of the hip hop culture – hip hop music.

As a music genre, hip hop has contributed a lot to the conflict of defining the culture. After all, music represents sentiments of people who are associated with the movement and if they are divided, so is their music. But the bout for hip hop genre has taken its own battlefield and we, the spectators, are also involved.

Asking an artist to define his/her work is probably the worst thing you can do. Rapping, turntabling, sampling, or 4/4 beats, you name it, means nothing for hip hop artists; these are just tools and methods, and not hip hop. That’s why you’ll more often see people distinguishing between different artists and music periods they represent, rather than attaching an obscure sub-genre name. And this itself makes a conflict. For veterans, the late 70s and 80s are what hip hop is all about. The Sugarhill Gang, Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C., Big Daddy Kane, or Beastie Boys, to name a few, they are all known as the pioneers of the golden age of hip hop, and for some, hip hop ended right along with these New York-based artists of the 80s.

Public Enemy -- one of the most influential New York-based hip hop groups of the 80s. They are known for political criticism and addressing common problems in the society. Rolling Stone ranked them among 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

On the other hand, newer generations tend to associate hip hop with the late 80s and early 90s – emergence of the West Coast artists. During that period, Los Angeles became the capital of West Coast hip hop. High crime rate, poverty, corruption, and gangs activity in places like Compton – these were the conditions in which legends such as N.W.A and Compton’s Most Wanted grew up. Gangsta rap, influenced by artists such as Ice-T in the 80s, and the so-called aggressive (ignorance...) hip hop dominated the decade that differed so much from the East Coast’s golden age. Ice Cube, Dre, D.O.C., Snoop Dogg, B-Real... it’s just too many to name – West Coast gave birth to today’s hip hop icons.

Straight Outta Compton -- N.W.A's debut album. Talk about influence and redefining the genre. Considered one of the best hip hop albums ever.

Just like listeners argued for true hip hop, the music scene itself didn’t remain at peace. It all boiled down to the so-called East Coast-West Coast feud revolving around Bad Boy Records and Death Row Records in the early-mid 90s, which resulted in the deaths of two legendary hip hop figures, 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G.. Though the feud was all about money and influence, it further separated the audience. The division between East Coast and West Coast since remained a clear boundary in hip hop genre.

2Pac -- often recognized as a martyr of hip hop. Undoubtly one of the most prominent artists of the 90s. All Eyez on Me was the last album released before his death and reached the status of sanctity. Many believe that a part of hip hop died along with 2Pac.

Those who are into the subject know that just like latino-rap group Cypress Hill express in “16 Men Till There’s No Men Left,” there’s no status quo in the industry. But is hip hop really like a Mexican stand-off and all its participants doomed to bleed out? After all, the conflicts have brought destruction to hip hop music, while at the same time they have influenced it. We, as the listeners, fans, and spectators, are part of this. And we can comment on it. Are all the debates about defining hip hop, all the conflicts between artists and their supporters necessary for the development of hip hop genre? Should we even bother to define a concept such as hip hop? Maybe all its power lies in the lack of definition...?