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Last week, Kendrick Lamar released his new album, DAMN. Like his previous work, it was incredibly complex and insightful. But what I noticed more than anything was the album’s dissonance. There was this constant shift between tempos, between melodies and ideas. There’s this push and pull between the good and the bad, an intense and continuous tug of war that plays out between the tracks. And that got me thinking about his last two albums, and how this one is somehow so distinctly different from the others that I couldn’t stop myself from digger deeper into the core of all the albums, and coming to a conclusion on why this one was so different.
I was reading a book titled, "Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation" by Jeff Chang, and I came across a passage I could not get over: "It was not the rappers' message that brought the audience together, it was the things that the audience bought that brought the rappers together." Historically, rap music has gone through a myriad of styles and subjects. From the high-energy rhymes of Grandmaster Fash and the Furious Five to the gangster vibes of Ice Cube to the party beats of Future and PARTYNEXTDOOR, rap music has always been a mere reflection of what its listeners crave. But today's rap music is bringing back a revival in the importance of lyricism and political consciousness, and that emphasis is one that transcends the realm of music and carries an implication nobody can ignore.
In case you haven’t heard, Chance the Rapper won a few Grammys this year. His mixtape "Coloring Book" was the first streaming-only album to ever win a Grammy Award, and though his accomplishments are a win to independent artists everywhere, skeptics continue to point to his deal with Apple Music to discredit the rapper’s status as a true independent artist. Last Friday, Chance the Rapper revealed some of the specifics to his deal with Apple for exclusive rights to his mixtape "Coloring Book." His decision was based on the fact that “more people have tried to discredit my independence,” and he elaborates that Apple paid him $500,000 for exclusive rights for his mixtape for the first two weeks after its release, and after that period the album was available on sites like Soundcloud for free. And Chance is, in his unique way, a pioneer in hip-hop’s movement away from record labels and CDs and towards independent labels and internet streaming. Independent mixtape releases are the cornerstone of hip-hop, and they have existed long before Chance’s legacy. But mixtapes have always been seen as a way to eventually move up to signing onto a record label. Rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Flatbush Zombies and Logic have all gotten record deals after initially releasing mixtapes. But Chance the Rapper offers an alternative: He has proven that mixtapes don’t need to be reduced to a crutch for new artists. And he has proven that a mixtape can not only compete with albums, but they can win.
Last week, Hollywood Boulevard became the home of a new life-size golden statue of Kanye West depicted to look like a crucified Jesus Christ. The artwork was created by the street artist Plastic Jesus, who stated that the piece was a social commentary on how we idolize celebrities. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he explained: “(West is) a genius at writing and producing but he’s not a God, and that’s where we put him … Until there’s an issue in his life or a hiccup in his career, then we crucify him.”
2016 was an incredible year for music, especially hip-hop. It was another year of pushing the horizons of this ever-evolving genre, with projects coming from artists as diverse as Young Thug to Anderson .Paak. And it’s hard for the Grammys, or any awards program, to contain that wide scope of talent into a constricted list of nominations. There has always been some level of controversy surrounding award nominations, whether it was last year when Nicki Minaj called out the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) for overlooking black female artists, or this year when Frank Ocean refrained from submitting his album "Blonde" for consideration in the 2017 Grammys. The Grammys, in particular, has faced substantial backlash from the hip-hop community for not properly recognizing hip-hop in proportion to other genres, the most recent example being last year when Taylor Swift’s "1989" beat out Kendrick Lamar’s "To Pimp A Butterfly" for the Album of the Year award.
Kanye West made the news again last week when Washington University in St. Louis announced it would be offering a course dedicated to the rapper. The class, titled “Politics of Kanye West: Black Genius and Sonic Aesthetics,” discusses the socio-political and cultural impacts of West’s work. Kanye West, now more than ever, is a controversial figure. Whether it was his meltdown during his Saint Pablo tour, where he stopped performing to call out Beyonce and the media, or his public declaration of support for President Donald J. Trump after declaring that he did not even vote during the presidential election, he’s been turning heads. Regardless of what your opinions toward him are, there’s one thing you can not deny: A course dedicated to the impact of Kanye sounds intriguing.
Lil Yachty has had an incredibly successful year. His debut mixtape and work with DRAM and Chance the Rapper brought the 19-year-old rapper out of the underground scene and into the mainstream, culminating at his induction into the most recent XXL Freshman Class. Aside from his discography, Yachty has made a reputation for himself as the rapper who does not care about hip-hop’s past. As someone who said he could not name five Biggie or Tupac songs and openly called Biggie “overrated,” Lil Yachty is every old-school rap fan’s worst nightmare.