Hip Hop is dead. Long live Hip Hop.

I have been pretty hard on hip-hop recently.  I don’t want to be, I just can’t help it.  I get excited every time I hear someone raving about a new release, but more often than not I am left disappointed and confused.  Am I getting too old to understand what ‘good’ hip-hop means?  Am I spoiled from growing up in the Golden Age?  What am I missing?

Maybe it’s just that we live in a ‘single track’ culture now.  There are plenty of good hip-hop singles out there, but it just seems that too many artists build a 20 track album around a few good rhymes.  I get bored halfway through and have to move on.  That being said, here are five albums/mixtapes that have held my attention all the way through.  These artists have fed that late night craving for a genre I have been missing for quite some time now.

Big K.R.I.T. – Return of 4Eva
(self-released, 2011)

Being a hypocrite myself, at first I wrote K.R.I.T.‘s latest mixtape off because of pure length — 21 tracks running over 1 hour is a little much even for someone with my attention span.  Sure, last year’s K.R.I.T. Wuz Here was almost as long, but with immediate singles such as Country Shit, Hometown Hero and Children of the World, it just didn’t seem like the trip down south took quite so long.  That’s why you have to look at Return of 4Eva as a late night cruise .  You go along for the ride, not the destination.  Dash aglow, seat propped back, mirrors adjusted — just rollin’ down the pitch black roads of southern Mississippi with nothing but you, your ride, those animal eyes along the shoulder reflecting the headlights back at you and the voice of a mature Big K.R.I.T. schooling you on his own journey from rags to riches.

Big K.R.I.T.American Rapstar

Death Grips – Exmilitary
(Third World, 2011)

The name of the project is Death Grips, the name of the album is Exmilitary and it opens with a declaration by none other than Charlie Manson.  If the album artwork wasn’t warning enough, this is a rough release.  This is not for the timid.  It has taken a better part of the year for me to fully absorb this album and come to the conclusion that yes, I do like it.  It scares me, but I like it.  Where Tyler and Odd Future fail to shock me, or do anything I would consider original, this project from Sacramento paves a road to a ‘hardcore’ hell with hip-hop beats (Flatlander) and experimental noise (Zach Hill of Hella).  In a time when every hip-hop hybrid has been exhausted, Death Grips comes along with something that sounds so different, you can’t help but think it has been buried in a time capsule since the 80’s, just waiting for a world fucked up enough for it to be understood.

Death Grips ft. Mexican GirlLord of the Game

DJ Quik – Book of David
(Mad Science, 2011)

you will like this‘  is a pretty cocky way to open an album and the self-assured emcee does not end the bravado there.  Book of David is a very personal account of (semi) current events from one of the Compton originals.  I still remember buying Quik Is the Name in 1991.  We were on an 8th grade trip to Washington, D.C. and I forked out $12 of my ‘spending’ money on the cassette with the now familiar Parental Advisory sticker emblazoned on the cellophane packaging.  Back then you didn’t buy a rap release unless it wore that badge of honor.  My parents, my teachers and my country didn’t want me to hear this, therefore, I NEEDED to hear this.  My friends and I walked through our nation’s capital claiming to be ‘born and raised in Compton‘ even though we were from a different world entirely.  A lot has changed in the past 20 years since that trip, but while Quik‘s peers are making Disney movies and portraying cops (really?!!!) on primetime television, he continues to roll through his 30’s (now early 40’s) on a wave of late career successes.  Book of David showcases a DJ/MC that was always as good as his much more popular Compton brothers.  It is obvious that fame and wealth can’t erase all of life’s problems, but no matter how many of them Quik still has to deal with, making beats and writing rhymes are not among them.

DJ QuikKiller Dope

Kendrick Lamar – Section 80
(Top Dawg, 2011)

Whereas DJ Quik is carrying the torch for the ‘gangsta rappers’ who put Compton on the map, newcomer Kendrick Lamar is painting a portrait of a 21st Century C-O-M-P-T-O-N.  Rapping with an accent, the  24 year old Lamar provides quite a bit of comic relief to lighten the load of some very explicit material.  Ethnicity, A.D.H.D., domestic abuse, fucking in public (on an airplane), the mistakes of the Reagan-era, dead hookers, Rosa Parks, smoking kush and infidelity are examples of the common (and uncommon) subjects that run through these tracks.  The beats here are great as well, they provide the perfect foundation for Lamar‘s unique voice and lyrics.  Section 80 just might be my favorite rap release of the year.

Kendrick LamarA.D.H.D.

Onry Ozzborn – Hold On For Dear Life
(Fake Four, 2011)

Gotta give it to Fake Four for releasing quite a few strong releases this year, including (but not limited to) AstronautalisThis Is Our Science, Sole‘s Hello Cruel World and Onry Ozzborn‘s Hold On For Dear Life.  If you are not familiar with Onry, he is one half of the rap duo Grayskul and a member of the Oldominion collective, as well as the lead emcee for Dark Time Sunshine.  This artist from the Pacific Northwest has a lot in common with another of my favorite collectives, Doomtree.  Heavy material mixed in with some humour and presented in a pop-centric sorta way.  Evidently this is his last release under the Onry Ozzborn name, so if you like what you hear you’ll have to do some digging into his back catalogue for more.

Onry Ozzborn ft. SapientMichael Admires You