Image by Ryan Powell for designer Bella Ajoi
- Fitta Happier by Quakers (Guilty Simpson and M.E.D.)
- Hay by BJ the Chicago Kid
- Topsidin’ by Trackademicks
- Grown Up by Danny Brown
- Blast that by Nottz ft. Black Milk and Royce da 5’9″
- Conditioning by Cadence Weapon
- Oops (Tweet cover) by Theophilus London
- Radio Song by Danny Brown
- Angelina’s Beamer by Pheo ft. Cashius Green
I really love hip hop. In fact, it’s probably the main genre of music I listen to. There’s all different types of hip hop though, right? The mainstream stuff that they play on the radio that is mainly crap. And then there’s everything else.
What I want most from hip hop is for it to surprise me. I don’t want to hear some basic beats, with some basic rhymes about you beating the pussy up (that is the worst hook in the history of ever)–I want something different. I want that first song, Fitta Happier by Quakers. Did you listen to that? That is a brass band with a snare drum just rolling in swag. Danny Brown is surprising on his own without music–born in Detroit with a weirdly eccentric sense of style and missing front teeth. Cadence Weapon is from Edmonton, of all places, and his new album is something new; drawing on old-old school rap and putting heavy rock outbursts in the middle of his tracks. That Trackademicks song is basically about Sperrys, which is hilarious. This is the sort of thing I like in hip hop.
I’ll tell you a not-so-secret secret, my favourite hip hop group of all time is Wu-Tang Clan and the reason why is because they were (still are?) full of surprises. It was their lyrics mainly that blew my mind (with references to Socrates, Egyptian gods, and scientific discoveries listening to a Wu-Tang track can be like reading an academic poet), but even just their concept was unique and refreshing. A bunch of dudes from Staten Island getting together and thinking, “Hey, I got a great idea! Let’s make a rap group based on old kung fu movies and let’s maintain that theme throughout five studio albums and maybe anything else we do too.” Who does that? It’s why Wu-Tang is forever. And as if that wasn’t surprising enough for me, GZA goes and makes an album with Neil Degrasse Tyson. About space. Obviously.
But sometimes I just look for hip hop that I want to like. For instance, recently I’m on a whole Detroit hip hop ride. (Hence the Guilty Simpson, Danny Brown, Black Milk, and Royce da 5’9″ business in this mix.) I love Detroit and I know it’s always had a healthy music scene so I’ve been looking into it. I like that all these dudes are coming up out of Detroit and continually reminding people that that’s where they’re from. But it’s also a strange mentality because in their music they’re rapping about how shitty Detroit is. I don’t blame them; it may be my favourite city but it’s well shitty. I was watching a Danny Brown documentary today and the first thing he’s asked as he sits between his parents on a couch in their Linwood home, “what are the positive aspects of the neighbourhood that keep you here?” and all three of them sit there in silence until they start laughing uncontrollably. Detroit just isn’t a place many people want to be. But people identify with where they’re from and where their family is from–that’s something no one can take from you and something you can always fall back on. Detroit isn’t easy, but it’s a place you stay because it’s a place that’s yours. The rappers coming out of the city exemplify the hustling attitude of the place–you have to work at something continually if you ever want it to work. Who knew rappers could be so inspiring?
Why more people haven’t promoted rappers as role models more often isn’t that confusing to me; I guess the explicit language and mature themes aren’t the best things to give to kids? But like, they’re not rapping about guns and drugs and poverty because they sit around watching Downton Abbey and drinking white wine. Even that is something that is worth looking at, though. Rappers and their work ethic and never-ending hustling astounds me, and I know a bunch of kids who could definitely benefit from learning some of the characteristics that cities like Detroit breed in people. This might sound racist? Does it sound racist? And a bit classist? Kinda. “Oh, if only all you privileged white kids could get some of the work ethic of your underserviced friends of colour!” That brings up a whole other issue I have with listening to hip hop though. These songs are not for me, and I can’t relate to any of them.
So where does my enjoyment come from? A more accurate question may be where does my entitlement to enjoyment come from? School me on this, please.
I like the music. I like the attitude of hip hop. I like the cockiness of so much of it. I like the talent. Have you ever tried to rap? I have and it’s really hard and I’m absolutely terrible at it. I’m not a rap scholar or anything and haven’t looked into it any more than just enjoying it, but I’m sure the research is out there that looks at the reflective nature of hip hop for generations of people growing up with no other voice available to them. But I often am like, ugh…why do so many rappers have to have a hate-on for women? Where are all the feminist rappers at? Why can’t a rapper be critical AND have swag? Do you know of any rappers who can do this? Are they currently making music? Is it surprising? Let me know!
EDIT: Thanks to reader Nobby, I was pointed in the direction of El Guante, and I think this video says a lot about how I feel (and strangely, or not, echoes a lot of what I say when people tell me that because I’m a skinny, white, cisgendered woman there doesn’t need to be more pictures of me naked on the internet.)