Friday, April 25, 2014

Hip-Hop's Golden Era: 2010-Present, An Introduction

Many would have you believe the Golden Age of Hip-Hop occurred at the turn into the 1990’s, when the genre began solidifying itself, setting the foundation for what worked and didn’t. There’s no denying the classical content protruding out of the Era, but in retrospect, and as I’ll detail, the praise many albums received came from the initial shock and legacy many albums carried, rather than skill or level of quality. It’s this concept that leads me to believe that, while the Early to Mid 90’s could be considered the Golden Era, one would be remiss for discounting our present day as the Platinum, the crowning jewel of our genre as a whole. My belief that the hardened rules many lived by in the 90’s only stagnated the progress of Hip-Hop as a musical force in society, relegating it to contrived topics of discussion that still linger in many mainstream forms of the genre today, unfortunately. Thanks to the explosion of the Internet however, artists who would once never receive attention due to their odd work are now relishing in the love of fans with specified interests.

Now, let me start this off by addressing the clear obstacle, and that is that this decade is nowhere near finished and a limitless amount of things could occur to alter my predictions. This article is just that, predictions. It would be foolish of me to assert that this time is better than the original Golden Era based solely off the limited time had with the artists and albums soon to shape our landscape. All I’m attempting here is to lay down assumptions of where I feel this decade will be placed come the year 2020 and beyond.

Hip-Hop has always been unique in that the genre itself has been marketed around the concept of constant change. Where Rock N’ Roll, Country & Dance remain stationary in their own perceptions of the genre, Hip-Hop has always been one to relish in creative risks, broadening of genre, and accepting of outside influences. Hip-Hop itself, at least from a production standpoint, gave its origin to outside influences, through the use of sampling, something still used, possibly to an even greater extent, in today’s age. If there’s one thing the Golden Era showed beautifully early on it was this dividing nature. While the Gangsta rap that suffocated the popularity early on, with artists like NWA, Snoop Dogg, & Geto Boys, the bubbling presence of positivity lingering underneath proposed a strong division within the genre. De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest & Pharcyde, among others, led the charge for a change in the near future for Hip-Hop believing inspiring, positive messages should be at the forefront, with the gritty, street life narratives residing as filler. Many outside critiqued the lack of structure for Hip-Hop, believing the unorganized nature of its layout to lead to its eventual downfall.

Thankfully however, organizing resided above in the form of mainstream appeal, while unique characteristics, or unusual topical content began surfacing in what would later be called the underground. To this day, in more forms than I’d like to believe, the same regurgitated topics have been strewn through every potential lyrical grinder since Hip-Hop’s inception. Braggadocios rhymes bolstered with over-the-top materialism and showings of wealth have lampooned the genre into a negative spotlight to those spectating from the outside as ‘that genre with all the talk about money, woman, and violence.’ Any deep-rooted Hip-Hop head would point that ignorant soul to nearly any MF DOOM song, the kingpin of the underground. Take Kookies for example, a song entirely created out of various metaphors for DOOM’s night of masturbation. Now that is something you wouldn’t hear in any other genre. Or P.O.S.’s Been Afraid, which details, in depressing fashion, the problems of a teenage girl growing up surrounded by abusive men. What about Killer Mike’s Reagan, a hyper-critical showing of political dissonance through the use of a shattering bass and rising emotions. Hip-Hop, despite what early critiques believed, has thrived, and succeeded, solely based off this diversity in topic. It’s just a shame many fail to dig deep enough to see the crux that holds the genre up underground.

There was a time, between our two Golden Eras, where it did seem like Hip-Hop, as Nas called it, was dead. The lack of originality in the mainstream, devoid of any meaningful messages, controlled by cheap dance tracks aimed at club-goers, had taken over the game. One-hit wonders dominated the radio, artists like Mims, Soulja Boy, and D4L, as the genre once known for its hard-nosed grit and grime had turned soft and poppy, all for the sake of money. Gangsta rap was all but dead, with 50 Cent & The Game holding out last slivers of hope, and peaceful sample-based tunes were converted into political activism in the form of anti-government talk with artists such as Aesop Rock, Mr. Lif & Talib Kweli. Thankfully, as with any era of any form of entertainment is concerned, purists of Hip-Hop growing up enjoying the 90’s only to be treated to the 00’s began making pushes for quality, taking it upon themselves to bring creativity back to the genre which previously thrived off it.

In comes 2010. While artists like Blu and Fashawn with their stellar debut albums Below The Heavens in ’07 & Boy Meets World ’09 respectively showed promise for an underground gone awry thanks to DOOM’s sudden departure, their disappearance as well, Blu’s quality and Fashawn entirely, left the one gleaming hope of Hip-Hop’s success without a light source. Kanye West had released 808’s & Heartbreak, nearly devoid of any rapping and entirely auto-tuned in 2008, only further cemented the death of everyone’s once cherished genre, with the ‘leader’ at the time turning for other ventures. That is until what many call Hip-Hop’s savior, Kendrick Lamar, appeared out of the blue. Bringing realistic storytelling with impeccable rhyme schemes and lyrics to diverse beats spanning Hip-Hop’s palate acted as the sole man beginning the mountainous climb to rap’s totem pole.

It wasn’t just King Kendrick bringing a new edge to rap. Around the same time dozens of rappers, groups, and artists began appearing, bringing fresh flavors and unique approaches to a genre gone stale. Odd Future, with leaders Tyler, The Creator & Earl Sweatshirt, surfaced with their odd combination of offensive lyrics and childish demeanors caught the attention of hopeless teen lovers. Danny Brown, through years of work, made his voice, regardless of how scratchy and irritating, heard over spastic beats like the zany character himself. Riff Raff and Lil B sprouted on the scene setting the stage for ‘Internet’ rap, filled with hilarity and inspiring messages through simplicity. Shabazz Palaces’ channeled dozens of influences forming Black Up, a pivotal underground piece, expanding the reaches for Hip-Hop abstraction. And finally Death Grips. The band known for their bombastic ways of, well, everything, down to the production unheard of in Hip-Hop to this day. MC Ride’s aggressive stances, scary topics of interest, and unique flowing patterns breathed new light into the genre, creating an entire sub-section for his own.

These artists, along with dozens others, with their successful albums to back, lead me to believe we are currently flourishing in Hip-Hop’s true Golden Age. The various styles now incorporated, and more importantly, accepted in our society today have successfully expanded the reaches of the genre into unforeseen territory. New listeners are introduced every day to the genre, through distinctly different means. Whether Frank Ocean’s stellar debut channel ORANGE led some to delve into Odd Future, or Childish Gambino’s scripted album Because The Internet sparked interest in those who tuned in to see him on Community, Hip-Hop has become a global fascination thanks to this decade.

Time will only tell where we see the genre go from here. Obsession has hit critical levels. Communities have developed and grown online over the years, forums like subreddit HipHopHeads are getting nearly weekly shout outs from important figures in Hip-Hop society (RZA, Nas, Big Boi, J.Cole just to name a few). While some may take the Internet in today’s age for granted, no one can truly underestimate the impact it has on our culture today. There are now interests and hobbies for everyone, some so strange and elusive that even uttering it in real life prior would have one shunned from society. Hip-Hop, more than any other genre, has succeeded the greatest from the Internet, with mixtapes and no name rappers now able to get their shot at fame through appreciative masses. Lil B can now release a 101 song mixtape for his devoted followers, while Kanye West can drop a song a week for G.O.O.D. Friday’s. Death Grips is allowed to release a highly-experimental electronic album for free on their website on the day of its announcement to appease their legion of followers. And one rapper/producer from Brooklyn can come together with another emcee from Atlanta to form a power duo titled Run The Jewels, bringing underground intangibles to mainstream appeal.

We’ve come a long way from the natural divide between gangster and peace, Wu-Tang Clan and De La Soul, street-wise stomp anthems and heartfelt sampled simplicities. You know, there’s many teenagers now-a-days growing up in the 2000’s era Hip-Hop who are now treated to the expanse of sounds we now experience today, and upon their first visit to the so-called ‘Golden Era’ many may leave disappointed in the lack of originality, distinction, and uniqueness. The one exception to this, as was destined to be the case, is Outkast, dominating the 90’s as their title implies, outcasts. And as time continues to progress it very well seems like they may be the ones forever lasting, consistently ahead of their time, breaking ground where ground became rigid. The state of 90’s Hip-Hop, one continuously lamented in praise, was all but, and shown ever so succinctly during the 1995 Source Awards when, receiving their reward for Best New Group to the thundering rousing of booes from the New York crowd Outkast was thrown out and rejected by the elitism between the two dominate coasts, unable to include another voice in the matter, despite Andre 3000’s determined shout that “the South got something to say, that’s all I got to say.”

Rap’s Golden Era was one so focused on two battles; the battle of the coasts, both with their own versions of gritty street tellings, and the battle of that genre and the daisy movement acting as the antithesis. Hip-Hop now is so diverse that both of those are represented (Freddie Gibbs, Shad) and hundreds more, from funny (Riff Raff), to political (Killer Mike), to experimental (Sisyphus), to party (Schoolboy Q, 2 Chainz) to brash (Death Grips), to lyrical (Kendrick Lamar), to somber (Drake), to individuality where not fitting into any predetermined stereotype of Hip-Hop exists (Tyler, The Creator). Never before has Hip-Hop been so blessed with a vast array of sounds, styles, and situations, leaving little room for those who remain adamant in refusing to accept the genre for its talents. There’s little confusion now that Hip-Hop is dead, it’s alive and thriving, and I’d go so far as to say it’s at the peak of its career, one who all of us hope lasts forever.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks man! I didn't put too much work into it, and can obviously go in much greater detail, but for an introduction it's fine. Thanks again, your read means a lot!

  2. Great article man, thought Mac Miller deserved a mention for WMWTSO though. I also think Joey Bada$$ is gonna have a big say in the 'golden era'. But that doesnt detract from the points you made so nice work!

    1. Mac Miller definitely deserved a mention. Nothing has ever sounded like WMWTSO.
      Kanye also deserved to be mentioned as a highlight of the decade, and even a highlight of hip hop. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Damn.

      Great article btw, I agree with you 100%

    2. Thanks Nicholas and Steven, means a lot to me. As I mentioned I didn't intent to put too much work into this since it was an introduction and making a claim as bold as the one I did would require a much longer, much more in-depth paper. I'm with both of you. I planned on having a Black Hippy paragraph since their divisive nature is within their group alone. Mac Miller is interested, especially because of how great WMWTSO was, we'll have to see where he goes from there. And Joey Bada$$ is a very interesting case because, as we all know, he sounds straight out of the 90's, meaning that that sound can even be found during this era too. Trust me, there was plenty of other artists I would have mentioned if I had more time, the three you named included. Thanks for the kind words and taking the time to read it!

  3. It's Sheogorath from RateYourMusic.

    We're on the same page here. Hip-Hop now is way more interesting, and there are more attempts to merge it with other genres or to create new identities. The 90's were about rhyme schemes, and that's it. It was about deliveirng a cool verse but not much beyond that.

    Among the canonical rap I've heard, only OutKast sound like they push the genre forward. Although I'm not sure if I love them as much as anyone, I love their approach. No element is left behind - hooks, beats, lyrics, charisma. It's a joy to hear now a record like "CLPPNG", which is both experimental, catchy, meaningful and fun at the same time.

    A lot of what was wrong in the mainstream Hip-Hop is that even as Pop Rap, it was bad. Pop Rap needed catchy beats and hooks. Soulja Boy had no hooks. Dem Franchize Boyz had no hooks. The drums tended to be soft, too. Fort Minor's The Rising Tied and DJ Khaled's We Global are a good example of how Pop Rap should sound (Yes, We Global is a good album. Banging beats and catchy hooks).

    1. I'm glad we can see this for what it is. And I don't blame the 90's or anything, any time a new genre is starting it's bound to be the least experimental time in its existence. Take a look at the best horror movies of the 1920's compared to today.

      And yup, Outkast is my favorite group of all-time for precisely that reason. They lived and performed during a time when no one was making music different. Even what got them popular, the fact they were the first to rise up out of the south, was different. They cared about production, dynamic song structures, choruses, cohesion, and all the things that went with rhyming, flows, lyrics, style, etc. And yup, a record like CLPPNG could not exist back then, and if someone did it would be hailed today as a classic, reminds me vaguely of DJ Shadow's Entroducing... which sounded nothing like anything else in Hip-Hop at the time.

      Isn't it interesting that the artists you picked were all one-hit wonders? It seems as though the crappy Pop Rap comes and goes, it's just a fad at that time. Thus the artists who can't hold a decent hook, or have good production, don't make it long-term in Hip-Hop, especially mainstream. Hence why Kendrick and Kanye are able to dominate, they bring together everything. Especially for Kanye, his lyrics he probably cares the least about, they're definitely the worst facet of his music, and yet he's the most popular.