Last Friday, (27/11/15) was for most of us, at home here in Ireland anyway, an online free-for-all, in terms of shopping of course, as the time honoured American tradition of sales on ‘Black Friday’ (The day after Thanksgiving) slowly but surely makes its way to our humble island through the dynamic beast that is the internet. If you weren’t too busy fighting tooth and nail to find the last pair of Air Max in your size or a discounted Christmas present that wasn’t a pair of socks or perfume, you may indeed have stumbled across the aptly-named Black Friday tracks released by none other than Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole. Personally, I only stumbled upon them during that transitory phase between being asleep and deciding whether to have a lie-in or not, on Saturday morning and I must say they definitely were the highlight of a day that consisted of me only doing things that didn’t require me to be not sitting down.
Both of these songs (Kendrick’s rapped over the instrumental of A tale of 2 citiez and J.Cole’s over Alright taken from To Pimp A Butterfly which was released earlier this year), are staples of a year that was impressively diverse and groundbreaking in terms of Hip-Hop and Rap as a genre. Although I must say I rather J.Cole personally, Kendrick’s offering is ridiculously good and really reminded me of his unforgettable verse on Big Sean’s Control, back in 2013. Even though we spent the beginning of the year still hungover from the masterpiece that was Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive which emerged right at the tail end of 2014, Kendrick came to the fore with To Pimp A Butterfly, which we all know for it’s fusion of jazz, acoustics and, at this stage, remarkable and trademark lyrics. The most impressive thing about the album for me was that he managed to maintain a continuity throughout the album similar to that of Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, move away from the mild Trap sound of his prior work and also produced a hit mainstream single, King Kunta, that was clearly universally appealing (I say clearly because Kendrick Lamar made it onto daytime Irish radio, I repeat, IRISH DAYTIME RADIO), but still ran seamlessly through an album that was both an experience as well as a collection of gourmet Rap music.
The fact is that fans of Hip-Hop no longer want to hear regurgitated lyrics that are inaudible and nonsensical that plagued the transition period between the early 2000s and around about now. People crave originality, hard-hitting and creative lyrics as well as unique and varied instrumentals. As Ireland’s own Lethal Dialect described the Rap game, in an interview with 2fm’s Mo-K ‘Everything is going back to the roots of music’ and he has a point. For a long time, Rap and Hip-Hop had a general theme of the Thug Life and living large with drugs, money and girls that is now slowly being stripped away as ‘artists’ like Meek Mill and friends are beginning to make their way to the shadows of the industry, while authentic and real rappers like those already mentioned and others like Joey Bada$$, Pell, Wale as well as, to some extent, “Chance the Rapper” Macklemore and The Game are becoming the popular ones. Of course, there is always a place in the Hip-Hop sphere for the tracks like Trap Queen and No Type, but its hindering the genre as a whole, as the consensus often times believe that these songs represent the entire genre. In the end of the day, Rap in its true essence is poetry to a beat (Word to Dr. Adrian Paterson who used Grandmaster Flash as an example of a modern poet in a poetry lecture) and to consider Rick Ross or Chief Keef as poets is downright absurd. Then again, I’m not trying to quantify what is and isn’t rap, but it has to represent some section of people and carry some sort of lyrical talent and ingenuity.
2015 was a prolific year all-in-all with countless albums that were all equally impressive in multitude of different ways; At. Long. Last. A$AP. (A$AP Rocky), Mr.Wonderful (Action Bronson), I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside (Earl Sweatshirt), B4.DA.$$ (Joey Bada$$), Best Track & Summertime ’06 (Vince Staples), The Documentary 2 (The Game), Tetsuo and Youth (Lupe Fiasco) to name but a few high-quality albums on the Urban front this year alone.
Not only was it a big year for rap in the US but even more-so for the Grime scene in England. Skepta maintained his dominance over the movement while also acquiring a following in the States, which was recently documented in NOISEY’s documentary Top Boy (Which can be found on YouTube), thanks to affiliations with Drake and the success of his BIG hit Shutdown on the eastern side of the Atlantic. Skepta wasn’t the only BBK member that had a big year, as JME’s Integrity> showcased that he too has microphone skills to equal his brother. Over the past year, however, Grime has developed from something that was largely underground and slapstick to a credible and a somewhat popular genre in both England and Ireland. Stormzy’s emergence as a star in the Grime world has done wonders for the industry as he continuously wins over naysayers with his catchy hooks in both Know Me From and Shut Up. Grime is now recognized as a category at the Mobo awards in England and is becoming more and more of a topic discussed in music journalism (Case in point, this blog post). Similar to rap in the US at the moment, Grime is shedding past preconceptions of being raw and intimidating and although it still obviously possesses those traits it is also a voice and representation for a certain section of society that contains witty and quick word play as well as some of the most distinctive instrumentals out there. Not only has Grime music captivated the attention of the public, but also the entire culture; the specific style and image that accompanies Grime as well as the on-going beef between Chip and Bugzy have only served to speed up the hype train that it’s currently riding, even Craig David (WHAT) has a track with Big Narstie (Again, WHAT??!!) . The on-going London Bars series that features Chase and Status teaming up with London’s finest MCs such as Giggs, Frisco, Bonkaz and Novelist has revolutionized the sound of grime and made it much more appealing to the ears of the majority.
Many everyday listeners of music, without particular interest in specific genres are being slowly exposed to the real side of urban music both soulful and authentic as well Grime, and they’re beginning to grasp it and look for more. One can’t fathom what 2016 has in store…..
Please. Please let this happen.
(Be sure to check out my show on FlirtFM 101.3fm or flirtfm.ie on Wednesdays at 11pm for quality Hip-Hop, Grime and House tunes and some discussion like this)