Hip-hop moved north
When the culture of hip-hop music was birthed 35 years ago, many individuals had mixed emotions about this new trend. Let’s be honest – the DJs plugging their Technic 1200s and their mixers into the lamp post for power was incepted just to become a hobby. It was meant to diverge from the harsh realities of urban decay that were impossible to ignore in New York City in the late 1970s.
Son of Sam was terrorizing the streets, crack vials and needles were commonplace even for children to view and overall, the five boroughs were in shambles. Few outside of the culture had predicted that this once labeled “trend” would later go on to create jobs, give black men and women a way out of the neighborhood, and then would go on to make a lot of people filthy rich.
The first time that MTV viewers saw Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry blast off the rap which would begin the extended coda of the now classic song “Rapture,” it was clear that the trend had evolved from the disco-infused breakbeats and block parties to the stadiums and boardrooms. With the year we had in music in 2012, there were questions about who would fill the vacancies in the many rooms in hip-hop’s house. Kendrick Lamar upped the ante when “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” was released.
But in my opinion, he made a mistake by trying to strong-arm the competition by calling out everyone under the sun with the “Control” verse from Big Sean’s “Hall of Fame” album. New York artists certainly weren’t having that. A litany of responses ensued, some from rappers who aren’t currently relevant or active.
The moment became short-lived; a head scratcher from a new, young rapper who had only at that point released one major label debut.
One rapper who was named in the aforementioned track was none other than the Toronto Raptor himself (no pun intended), Drake. The former child actor-turned-rapper has been on fire as of late, with Gold and Platinum albums, an upstart label and being recently appointed Global Ambassador to the Toronto Raptors. He sings well, he acts well and he rhymes well.
His new album, “Nothing Was the Same,” is a mélange of visceral rhymes, veteran pop sensibilities, the likes of which we haven’t seen in music since Michael Jackson, and emotive, thinking man’s R&B songs, the likes of the great Marvin Gaye. Forget about the numbers for a second, but instead wrap your head around this – Drake is surfing the pipeline from mixtape marauder to international icon.
His current fourth album creates a discography so strong that it rivals the greats of lore. The fact remains that “So Far Gone” is not a mixtape – it is very much an album that was for free download. There’s a huge difference.
Nas’ first three albums were exceptional, beginning with “Illmatic.” Then “Nastradamus” came out, and that album was terrible. Kanye West’s first three albums were arguably some of the biggest albums of the 2000s. Then “808’s and Heartbreak” was released, and that was the wrong album, as he should’ve kept the “anti-school/self-importance” theme of the first few albums and released the “Good Ass Job” album. Jay-Z’s first album would be a classic, but when it first dropped it sold terribly, and people were late to decode the street messages that permeated the album. Tupac’s pre- “Me Against the World” material was of low quality and very much forgettable when compared to his later work.
Eminem’s first album was of the same cloth. You see where I’m going with this? If he can continue at this pace and put off going behind the cameras for one more stronger “Take Care”-esque LP – which is his strongest, then he will have a choke hold on the game, eclipsing many of the rappers I just mentioned.
Jay-Z’s “Magna Carta Holy Grail” although a strong album, should have come out three albums ago. West’s “Yeezus” was a huge creative leap forward, but came out on the same day as J. Cole’s “Born Sinner” LP and it was overshadowed mainly by the general public’s inability to give him credit for any move he makes. There isn’t a rapper alive or active right now who is on par with Drake’s career, if we’re gauging it from right now.
I bet when you first heard Dr. Dre, Snoop, Ice Cube and Wu-Tang, you never would have thought that a half-black, half-Jewish Canadian guy would be not only running the rap game, but having a foot on its neck. The best thing about Lil’ Wayne’s career might have been the moment he signed Drake to Young Money/Cash Money. Hip-hop has packed her bags and moved to the great white north. If you’re mad, blame Canada.