Thursday, March 22, 2012

Life & Rhymes: The Rise & Fall & Re-Rise of Hip Hop in America, Pt. 2

The Ten Albums That Fixed Hip Hop
Now, if you're reading this and haven't read Pt. 1 of this "Rise & Fall & Re-Rise of Hip Hop," then you need to click HERE and check that out. To continue from Pt. 1, hip hop was great at first, but took a heavy blow and declined into a practically soul-less, money-making business scheme that did nothing for the genre of rap and hip hop. BUT, alas, many artists took to the plate and hit the pads and boards and came out with what I consider the top ten albums that fixed hip hop. Below  you will find the albums, ranked in order of effectiveness of 'fixing' hip hop, with a review of the album and how it helped steer hip hop back in the right direction. To me, I think it is these guys that us hip hop heads have to thank for bringing hip hop on the right path. Check it out:
"Goblin" - Tyler the Creator [2011]; Ok, so Tyler the Creator isn't the greatest rapper ever (no offense), but you gotta' give him props for completely reinventing the sound of mainstream hip hop; not single-handedly of course, but who would've thought that five years ago so many people would listen to songs with as many curses as he uses and how many obscene topics he raps about. "Yonkers" became a big hit after it dissed superstars B.o.B, Haley Williams, and Bruno Mars for their songs "Airplanes." Thanks to Tyler, the whole sound of mainstream hip hop took a small shift from poppy, commercialized beats to more intense and dark-sounding loops, and repetitive hooks to hook-less songs that are reminiscent of the "I don't give a f***" mentality of a young Eminem.
"Best Day Ever" - Mac Miller [2011]; Mac Miller did similar things to hip hop that Tyler did. They are two completely different artists, so how can they be compared? Well, for one, they're both hot, new artists who emerged onto the hip hop scene out of nowhere and took it by storm. Although smoking is a topic heavily used by Mac Miller, his "Best Day Ever" mixtape garnered national attention and brought him into the mainstream spotlight. You can't deny Mac is dope; he's even throw down crazy verses on some 9th Wonder beats and other notable underground features. Mac Miller has talent and help to curb the mainstream sound from poppy to something more centered on microphone skill, something that was lost for a few years.
"Be" - Common [2005]; Now Common has been dope since he was Common Sense, but who really on the outside (mainstream) knew Common? With Kanye West as the producer, Common's career was revitalized with his phenomenal lyricism and message on this 2005 masterpiece. How did it fix hip hop? Kanye West was huge back in 2005, he dropped "The College Dropout" a year earlier that launched his solo career, and was preparing the release of his sophomore album, "Late Registration," which would boast hits like the radio-friendly, "Gold Digger." But the important thing to note is that this album wasn't like albums that came out at its time. This album was nominated for four Grammy's, which really brought this album to the attention of the mainstream audience, which helped to reinsert alternative hip hop and conscious hip hop into the popularity of the hip hop community.
"Donuts" - J Dilla [2006]; Sure, I'll admit, at the time of its release, "Donuts" was practically unheard of by the mainstream population, although a great deal of hip hop fans mourned J Dilla's death just three days after the release of this album. And although many heard this album upon its release, the majority of its listeners, including myself, did not hear this album until well after its initial release. It was then that this album gained national praise by the underground hip hop community where many consider it the greatest instrumental album ever created. Rhapsody rated it as the third greatest hip hop album of the 2000s and was rated very positively (mostly 9/10's) across the board. Dilla is one of the most unknown, but known hip hop artists ever, and by that I mean, most people have heard Dilla's stuff, they just don't know it was Dilla. For example, Drake rapped over a Dilla beat on one of his mixtapes, but how many people know that it is Dilla? Dilla revolutionized the production side of hip hop, a whole decade after Pete Rock first made it truly famous.
"Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor" - Lupe Fiasco [2006]; This album is a masterpiece. What this album really did for the genre was productively bringing alternative hip hop to the forefront of mainstream rap. For a time, it was cool to sound like Lupe, and by that I mean with sample-filled beats and smooth, intelligent vibes and meaningful lyrics and subject matter. Songs like "Hurt Me Soul," "Kick, Push," and "Daydreamin'" were radio hits and enjoyed by fans across the hip hop community. Lupe helped to expand the hip hop genre into something more alternative and creative, which really helped draw in a whole new audience to hip hop. This album is dope and definitely created a bridge between underground and mainstream hip hop.
"Late Registration" - Kanye West [2005]; Along with the release of Common's "Be" a few months earlier, the soul-sample filled beats and diverse lyrical tactics employed by the young, new Kanye West really floored hip hop. He brought a whole new feel to hip hop, both lyrically and with his instrumentals and production skills. He mastered and popularized the 'chipmunk-sound' in sampling and brought a truly hip hop sound to the mainstream. Sure he had some radio hits like "Gold Digger" and "Touch the Sky" but those records are dope and deserve praise for bringing the art of sampling a mainstream audience.

"Recovery" - Eminem [2010]; After flushing away the drugs from his body, Eminem came back to the spotlight after half-a-decade of slacking off with his music. Although, personally, I don't find "Recovery" to be Em's best piece of work, it did have a huge impact on the hip hop world. Eminem was back, and that meant one important thing - the 'king' was back. Many hardcore Shady fans attribute the rise of commercial 'mainstrem' rap to the hiatus of Eminem. Although this may be partially true, I don't know if I could put the crutch with the entire Shady camp. He did, however, brought more hardcore rap and creative, witty, and insanely-crazy lyricism back to the genre, which was almost non-existent in his absence. With his re-emergence, the bar of flow and lyricism was raised a lot higher.
"The Blueprint 3" - Jay Z [2009]; This album made the list because of one song: "D.O.A. (Death of Auto tune)." That song, coming from a legend, a great like Jay-Z, truly put a damper on the overused auto tune (vocoder) effect, most notably made famous by rapper/singer T-Pain. Now, there is nothing wrong with using auto tune once in a while, but making an entire album out of it... c'mon now. Jay-Z took something everyone thought was cool (auto tune) and made it uncool... that takes a lot of power, something Jay, thankfully had. So thank you Jay for fixing this. 
"A Kid Named Cudi" - Kid Cudi [2008]; Ok, hear me out. This album served a similar purpose to "Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor" because the main thing about Kid Cudi is that he brought alternative hip hop to an all new high. Before Kid Cudi, who was rapping with dreary vibes over hypnotic beats and talking about night-terrors and his life's struggles with such a captivating tone? Kid Cudi took the underground sub-genre of alternative hip hop and pushed it to the forefront of the rap world. How many kids did you hear back in '08 and '09 talking about Cudi or listening to Cudi? Cudi was spellbinding and brought a widespread amount of youth into the genre of (alternative) hip hop. He then followed up with his album "Man on the Moon: The End of Day" in 2009, which went on to be certified Gold. We have Cudi-just like Lupe-to thank for allowing alternative hip hop to re-surge in the mainstream world of hip hop and rap. 

"Hip Hop Is Dead" - Nas [2006]; This album brought to the attention of the hip hop community that something was seriously wrong with rap music at the time. Nas spelled it out in his 16-track album that hip hop was nothing like it used to be and something needed to be done about it, and who better than the veteran Queens spitter, Nasty Nas to deliver the proverbial slap in the face. It wasn't very effective in the long run as many rappers took to rhyming saying that hip hop wasn't dead, contrary to what Nas though, however, it did create a stir in the hip hop community, so it is worthy of recognition as an album that helped to fix hip hop. But without this album at the early onset of rap's downfall, no one might've realized how bad of a direction rap was going in and, who knows, maybe we might've not been able to enjoy the great change in hip hop music that we have been able to experience.
I hope after reading these two articles that you would agree with me in that hip hop is back to being great again. If you have any questions or comments or disagree (or agree!) tell me by commenting or emailing me at Also please check out my website by clicking the link below. Lots of dope hip hop albums, reviews, interviews, news, & more! Peace!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Life & Rhymes: The Rise & Fall & Re-Rise of Hip Hop in America, Pt. 1

An Introduction
Hip hop has come a long way since its inception in the latter half of the '70s. From break-dancing kids, taking up the streets of inner cities with their boomboxes and crews, to hip hop music becoming, seemingly, the #1 genre in America. A few years ago, and still today, almost every hit single played on the radio station is a hip hop (or at least hip hop influenced) track. So with all of this success, you would think people would be happy with the state of hip hop, right? Wrong. If you're like me, a true hip hop head, you would know that for years and years, many fans of the genre have been bashing the "bubblegum rap" and "mainstream" hip hop that has plagued and basically trashed the image of the genre we all know and love.
The Divide
In a very general, blanket-statement, hip hop can be divided into two types: mainstream & underground. The difference? Mainstream gets airplay and national recognition, while underground, not so much. Now, back in the day, I'm talking the Golden Age of Hip Hop from the late 80s to the mid 90s, the hip hop that was widely regarded as "good" hip hop was stuff that many underground lovers today enjoy. Nas' "Illmatic," A Tribe Called Quest's "Midnight Marauders" and "The Low End Theory," Pete Rock & CL Smooth's "Mecca and the Soul Brother," these were all considered dope. The recognition and praise was widespread, making the divide between 'mainstream' and 'underground' seemingly nonexistent. It was here that rap was at its pinnacle. Hip hop was in its Golden Age, in its finest years, and there was hardly any "whack" stuff out. In my opinion, the onset of advanced computer technology, the MP3, and the realization of hip hop as a money-making scheme, rather than a soulful musical genre, all led to the divide between what we call 'mainstream' and 'underground' hip hop. The 'underground' stuck to the music, to the love of the art, while the 'mainstream' sought after the forever-famous "road to riches and diamond rings." 
Pitfalls and Shortcomings
I personally believe Nas was a year or two too early when he said that "Hip Hop [was] Dead." In all actuality, I never really thought hip hop was dead, 'cause I always played stuff that I felt was dope hip hop, but hip hop did see some unfortunate pitfalls and shortcomings in the latter half of the 2000s. Now, I don't want to bash any artist in particular, but what is really important to note about the rap music that came out about five years ago was what? -- centered around money, cars, jewelry, partying, girls, etc... Now subject-matter isn't everything in the genre, as beats play a big part in the sound of the music, but c'mon. I understand if your record label is making you put a hot radio hit or two on your album, but to make every song sound the exact same, with repetetive hooks, thoughtless lyrics, and copycat rhymes, it was just too upsetting. To see hip hop burst out of New York City and California with such creative innovation, and within a decade to see the creativity practically come to a standstill, where artists sounded so similar they seemed to blend together and were nearly indistinguishable when featured together was upsetting. To further prove my point of hip hop's pitfalls and shortcomings, you can even ask Time magazine who questioned in 2005 if 'mainstream hip hop was dying.' It almost seemed impossible for hip hop to ever return to its glory days when creative lyricism and true heart and soul was put back into the music... that was until the turn of the 2000s to the 2010 decade...
Hip Hop is Reborn
Call it a shout out, but there are so many artists to thank that helped turned the life of hip hop around, because it definitely took a turn for the better in the last few years. I am a huge hip hop fan, and have been for several years... but I'm not one-dimensional, nor am I ignorant, nor am I a 'hater.' I took a short few decades of a musical genre and did some studying, listening and analyzing to give my educated opinion on the state of this music that we call rap and hip hop. I truly feel this way, that hip hop was at its best, then, rather quickly, dropped into something almost embarrassing to compare to older hip hop, to something we can all be happy with. Again, I don't mean to bash any artist in particular, it is just how I feel. But, I am glad hip hop is back and I look forward every week to the new albums that come out that give a breath of fresh air to hip hop. All of you still hatin' on hip hop by saying that all these rappers suck and these mainstream guys are crap and are sticking to stuff like Biggie & Pac, it's time to realize that there is so much good hip hop out right now, you just gotta' know what to look for and where to look. So, in my opinion, I think hip hop is going to last and is going to be dope for a very long time.
Please check back tomorrow for Pt. 2 of this article where I break down the top 10 albums that aided in the resurgence of hip hop (in my opinion)!
I hope you enjoyed my article and please check out my website at

Monday, March 19, 2012

BRL Update: Welcome Ryan Stone of Hip Hop Speakeasy

As I previously mentioned I am now writing for the dope hip hop blog, Hip Hop Speakeasy. And one of the founders of that site, Ryan Stone (aka) Stone has reached out to me and asked to write for BRL.

So BRL now has a new writer on the staff, which will hopefully bring more wisdom to our cult followers. If you've seen HHSE you already know he's a pretty dope writer and has a great ear for abstract hip hop. We are excited to have him on our staff, and be on the look out for his posts.