So 2014 was supposed to be The Worst Year In Rap Ever? C'mon son. Worst year to be Syrian, maybe. Or Yazidi. Or Ukrainian. Or to get Ebola. Or to be in a cop-on-black encounter. But worst year in rap ever? Y'all just making up stupid shit to argue about on the Rap Internets. Seems to me it was the year of big-ass, dusty elephant beats and another exponential jump forwards in rap styles.
First up we got the best-of mix for the second half (cop the first here):
1)Ratking :: So It Goes Been a long time since I heard a record that took me back to eating purple mescaline at the downtown Halloween parade. Every time rap seems to be starting to be divided between dumb teenage shit and grown man stuff, some kids come along and jumpstart it all again. Just like the first Cypress Hill LP threw rap forwards ten steps (and similarly introduced the joy of high-pitched nasal rapping), I felt the same kinda excitement about So It Goes. It's anthemic, generation-defining without setting out to do that. Somehow it crosses way into the past and way into the future, it's the cast of Wild Style in Kids, it's an episode of Welcome Back Kotter where Special Guest Star Rammellzee on some Kazoo shit time-jumps them into a 2039 of poplocking robots. It's The Basketball Diaries via Jamel Shabazz Vines. It's smoking hash on an autumn afternoon and watching Herculoids with a girl you can't quite figure out. It's one of those records that distills and jumps off from the last NYC trio's zetigeist LP, in rap tradition--Run-DMC begat License to Ill begat Funcrusher Plus begat Cold Vein begat So It Goes. It's not a revival or a resurrection. It's new blood, flowing.
2) Skipp Coon :: Miles Garvey I been checking on the regular for new from Skipp Coon since the one-two of 2010's women revolution tennis shoes and Sophmore Slump. Was worth the wait. Political rap can be polemic, didactic, oversimplistic and reductive; more than anything, it can be all rage and no soul, all political and no personal. Skipp Coon overstands and overcomes all that. He's a prophet of rage, sure, with coals in the belly but also an ox-sized heart. It's a father's anger, not a collegiate rebellion, closer to late The Coup LPs than early P.E. Rebellion Assemble! superheroes.
The thing that struck me about Bobby Shmurda's video wasn't the dumb dance. It was the kid's thousand yard stare, soulless, empty eyes staring out as he mumbled lyrics about three kinds of death. This was a young black man we'd all failed, who just happened to go from viral video/novelty dance/dancing on record exec's conference table on some Invisible Man shit/indictment and tearful perp walk in less than a year. It's a good song. It's everything that went wrong with hip hop. Skipp Coon is reparations. I wish more cats would hear this record when they bitch about the lack of rap addressing the year's police shootings. We don't need knee-jerk singles from Jay and Kanye hashtagging #icantbreathe, we need the depth in this record.
3) Shabazz Palaces :: Lese Majesty On the real, at first I really thought this wasn't as good as the earlier records, but once I cut out the songs I don't like I couldn't stop listening to this. It's like wearing intergalactic plushpluvial Dapper Dan underpants. It tastes like purple. But it still has street weight, still has depth, still transcendent. It's exactly the record we should've expected 20 years after Reachin', here in the future where we have talking computers in our pockets and flying killer robots fighting wars.
4) Ka & Preservation :: 1200BCJust a 5 track taste, but better than most anyone's long player. Ka's narrative compression as always rewards multiple replay, and while maybe I prefer his own beats to Preservation's, it's another brick in Ka's discography cementing his legend. I spoke at length on this cat last year and the year before. He's still standing.
5) Armand Hammer :: Furtive Movements Once again Elucid & woods give us the dark, bitter political fruit for a year where we needed it most. If shit seems to be getting refracted through The Purge: Anarchy into a locked cycle of oppression and death, woods & Elucid are the sidekicks on the sidelines growling discourse and commentary like a Statler & Waldorf duo merged with Chomsky & Fanon.
Next 9 In Semi-Alphamabetical Order
The Black Opera :: The Great Year When Sister Souljah met Mother Courage. That time Biggie starred in the kabuki play Yotsuya Kaidan. Great beats on this one, interesting range. This one definitely got slept on.
Dday One :: Dialogue With Life After a three year hiatus since Mood Algorithms, Dday One returns with another LP of his finely crafted, superbly arranged instrumental beats.
I said most of what I gots to say about these cats previously, but these new records see them pushing the antelope of what we define as 'rap,' taking their styles into more introspective, more personal territory. Playing Teju Cole to Mike's Paul Beatty, milo explores his hopes and griefs over ever-more ethereal beats, and M. Eagle whittles his wit to a sharp point and pokes us with it.
These three cats are keeping the underground alive, the heavy gritty shit. Lazy bitches might say it's the post-Def Jux sound, survivors of the backpacker purge sneaking around the ruins. True maybe but these records take it forwards, evolve the style and develop it. The word density is there. The crunch of beats and Wall of Nails sound is still there. But there's a sense of forward direction, a sense of playfulness that was absent from the multisyllabic seriousness of the late '90s. This ain't throwback, it's pass forwards.
SHIRT gave himself an un-SEOable name and a record title that's...is it supposed to be all-encompassing, braggadocio omnipotent, or fuck you punk rock generic like the supermarket in Repo Man? I don't know. He pulled a publicity stunt where he faked the entire NY Times site. I thought it was kinda funny. Took balls. Doesn't matter. The kid can rap. He raps the fuck out of the rapping. You slept. Cop it.
Like SHIRT, Droog is a young kid from NY who raps. And kills it dead. Difference being this kid blew the fuck up off the back of some dumbass Illuminati Youtube conspiracy mindedness that he was Nas in disguise (recap for my four readers who get all their rappity-rap news here.) This created a Scooby Doo level mystery and not-suspenseful reveal. I said it from the start: Droog can't be Nas, because Nas has never read A Clockwork Orange, and the one time he tried to watch the movie he got too high and fell asleep on the couch. Case closed. Anyways. The kid can flow and comes out the box assured, game tight and measured. I expect some heavyweight belts in the next couple years.
So a lotta usual suspects here maybe, but worst year in rap? Fuck outta here. Get you some of these records and a nice bowl of cereal or a cream soda or something. Stay positive like the copper top side of a battery fam.