Round 2: Gautham Nagesh
Well the joint I've had on repeat since March is "Chillin" by Wale, a second-generation Nigerian rapper out of the D.C. area. Wale said it best on a recent radio interview when he proclaimed that "everything is international now," and so I would argue is the future of the genre. Another artist I've been listening to lately is K'Naan, a Canadian poet and rapper who originally hails from Somalia. Then there's M.I.A., one of the most innovative voices in hip-hop today and a British citizen of Sri Lankan origin.
Still, the days of hip-hop as a "dispatch from the ghetto" are over; no one is learning anything new about the urban experience by listening to Soulja Boy or Young Jeezy. While I enjoy Eminem, his music is not so much about portraying the condition of the working class in Detroit as cataloguing his family's various outbursts and addictions. Most other recent artists seem more interested in telling you about what they've bought and whom they've shot than where they're from. Dropping name brands gets more respect than dropping political references.
To be fair, there are some who try to be relevant, albeit with mixed results. Young Jeezy's "My President" is an awkward attempt at acknowledging the historical importance of Obama's election. But even that came packaged in a typical commercial rap song. Last summer I saw Nas perform what was essentially his take on an Obama campaign song, telling the crowd "I normally don't get too into politics, but it's lookin' real promising this year." But most of these attempts feel forced at best and laughable at worst.
If nothing else it makes you appreciate how good it used to be. When I listen to Andre 3000's verse on OutKast's "Git Up, Get Out" now 15 years later, his rhyme about his mother losing her job at General Motors seems prescient. When Tupac Shakur, who was murdered in 1996, called for change, his appeal had sincerity which today's rappers lack. Jay-Z is talented but his name is linked to every office on Madison Ave. The amount of money involved in the game has served to raise the profile of the artists, but also to distance them from their listeners and fans.
In many ways hip-hop as a genre has been rehashing itself lately, repeating the same familiar formulas while they wait for the next big thing to emerge. Personally I'm not a fan of the direction artists like Lil Wayne and Kanye West have gone; the songs seem dated and rappers have been trying to sing since Andre 3000 released The Love Below. I thought we'd agreed they are better off leaving it to the professionals.
If anything spells the death of hip-hop as a genre, it's the emergence of Asher Roth. Not so much because he is white—there have always been white people in hip-hop from the classic movie Style Wars to the Beastie Boys. What's sad is that we are in the middle of an economic crisis and people want to listen to rap songs about the drunk at the end of the dorm hallway who got kicked out of school at Christmas break. On top of that, one of the most talented live acts in hip-hop, The Roots, came to the decision that backing Jimmy Fallon was the best career move they could make. Somewhere Wu-Tang Clan's Ol' Dirty Bastard is rolling over in his grave.
Next page: Hua Hsu
"It's a weird thing to acknowledge, the extent to which the rise of the hip-hop mogul facilitated the rise of Obama."
Page 1: Alyssa Rosenberg:
"On Relapse, the album that he's releasing this week, Eminem's a pill-popping psychopath."