Archive for August, 2012


Hip-Hop Analytikk$: Group Rap and Label Albums

August 24, 2012

There has been an absolute glut of group rap albums this year. To name a few: Odd Future Tape Vol. 2, Maybach Music’s Self Made 2, both already out; G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer and A$AP Mob’s Lords Never Worry, coming soon; Shady Record’s Slaughterhouse are releasing two albums, which will sort of count; DJ Khaled’s albums are basically Young Money group albums; and now we’re getting talk of a Black Hippy album, the “Black Lip Bastard (Remix)” video and the recent TDE Fan Appreciation Week tracks putting a bit of an underscore on that thin talk.

Every company worth the weight of their chains and thangs is putting out a collective album in 2012. That emphasis feels strange to me. It’s like nowadays rappers need to prove that they can ‘play well with others’ so they can keep their record deals and merit their spots in the limelight. Being a useful collaborator well and being seen in videos giving good dap are becoming more necessary skills than crafting records, or even rapping at times (take your pick from the endless list of careers where this is true: Big Sean, 2Chainz, Birdman, Drizzly Drake…).

The group rap album is very much a marketing strategy, designed and being copied endlessly to draw in more sales and create more hype for albums. Combining fan bases, rap groups and labels can garner more sales for their collective album and generate more interest for the individual rapper’s albums. In lean times, getting those sales is more of a necessity. It’s getting to a point however where we are starting to lose the identities of individual rappers. I feel rappers are putting less effort into crafting deep, resonant personas and stories, and are now on merely trying to stand out from the crowds of spitters mobbing records. Group songs are often only interesting insofar as each voice and flow is different. In your group you’ve got the one that raps fast, the one that raps slow, the one with the deep voice, and the one with the low voice. Mob tracks never have the same conceptual depth individual rapper’s songs or albums have.

It used to be that a rapper’s team was there to show that he is well connected; that he is surrounded by his loyal brothers, that he is unfuckwithable. Now it’s all about business—about sharing responsibilities and making a splash on the scene. Ten people jumping into a pool together will always make a bigger splash than one. Collaboration is an important part of hip-hop, but it can’t the primary engine driving the game. Collective albums should second in importance to the creation of solid individual rappers. Wu-Tang is an exception, because they were the first and the rap collective was a new concept. But even Wu-Tang: They made 36 Chambers with the intent of launching individual careers for them all. They made a dope group album (36), then made four dope individual albums that first round, which deepened the intrigue —Iron Man, Liquid Swords, Only Built For Cuban Linx, 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version. This what made “Triumph”—the first single off their second group album—such a brilliant moment. No chorus, 6 minutes, and that track still made the radio. Their union meant so much more now that they had individual personalities and styles.

Too many group rap albums are flooding the market. Too many MCs, not enough space in my brain to care about each of them. These albums are all swagger and no depth. I wish rappers would work to craft their albums with personality, purpose, and story. Writing like this will make rappers coming together for group albums much more meaningful events. It will make listening to group albums feel less like sampling a variety pack or a trail mix, wondering only: which guy is the angry rapper or who was smoking the most during the session and’s got the lazy stoner flow.


Talib Kweli feat. Curren$y and Kendrick Lamar “Push Through” Video

August 9, 2012

I’ve always been a fan of rap songs about perseverance. Yup. Love um all. Talib’s newest “Push Through” is particularly good. Best in a while. Since every song on the Roots’ undun.

I didn’t always think that. The first time I heard it, I thought the song was kind of random and forgettable. Seeing the video and hearing it again gave it new life for me.

The song joins Curren$y, Talib Kweli, and Kendrick—three rappers with distinct styles, from very different backgrounds, very different careers—seamlessly. Their verses deal with different subject matters:

Curren$y talks about the struggles of coming up and keeping his career fresh.

Talib waxes on the awful new trends in rap, making a handful of his classic calls for revolution and consciousness.

Kendrick raps about overcoming poverty and destitution in a city that’s dragging.

The common feeling that their stories express pervades through the differences. I’m gonna push throuuugh…The chorus is beautiful. I sing along with it every time it comes around. It refocuses the song thematically, melodically.

The verses flow over slideshow shots of the rappers’ hometowns—Nawlins, BK, and Compton. The urbanscapes meld into one another. The geography becomes seamless. It’s a cool effect, and it makes a profound statement. Solidarity! The music and message unites the three rappers, their peoples, their cities, all their listeners of various backgrounds. Universality! This is exactly what good hip hop should do—what good music should do: It should unite. It should create harmony. Music should motivate. It should make a statement. Talib Kweli’s “Push Through” does all that. It’s a strong single.

Hopefully will be a strong album. Late-career rap albums can still hit. Nas proved it. Raekwon’s done it. I say it’s got a 50/50 shot.

Prisoner of Consciousness in October.