Hip-Hop in 2012: An Annal

This is not an end-of-the year list. This is an annal. The annal is an interesting way of chronicling events because it explicitly shows the interests of the writer. I chose to make this annal just to highlight how one’s knowledge of a field is overwhelming influenced by one’s personal interests and tastes. It’s an obvious point, but in world of music writing, people often use descriptive terms like “timeless” and “classic” to mask how the things they praise are essentially just the things they like. The other benefit of the annal is that is helps to illustrate how one can amass significant knowledge of something (in this case, a genre) and still have a very limited perspective. In short, this is my 2012 hip-hop experience, y’all!

Date Unknown/irrelevant: XXL releases its annual 2012 Freshman Class List, further demonstrating the unreliability and silliness of the list. In retrospect, Angel Haze, Joey Bad@$$, Nitty Scott, MC., Azealia Banks, Gunplay and other artists with significant buzz, are noticeably absent.

January 20: On the third anniversary of Obama’s historic inauguration, Red Tails is released, showing the world that Steve Harvey and Tyler Perry aren’t alone in their inability to make shitty movies for black people.

Feb 8: Earl comes home.

February 24: Kevin Hart throws J. Cole an alley oop.

February 26: Travyon Martin is murdered.

March 7: I become an intern for RESPECT.

March 26: John Seabrook shows the world why so much pop music sounds the same.

April 6: Danny Brown and Ab-Soul team up for a potentially hard-hitting song and Ab-Soul nearly ruins it with his stupid hippie bullshit.

Good Friday: “Mercy” by G.O.O.D. Music is released, unleashing 2 Chainz to the world that now wants to give him back.

April 24: Santigold releases her second album. The album artwork is done by Kehinde Wile.

June 5: Big K.R.I.T. reminds us that 2 Chainz isn’t the only voice of Southern Rap.

June 17: Haleek Maul shows us the dark side of Barbados.

June 21: I enter the Peter Rosenberg vs Lil’ Wayne debate, then renege in the comments a few days later.

June 27: Clear Soul Forces talks with me and puts on one of the best live hip-hop shows I’ve ever seen.

June 27: Google introduces hip-hop to Kafka.

July 4: Frank Ocean is beautifully frank.

July 9: Nitty Scott, MC calls for interviewers to ask tougher questions.

July 9: Lianna la Havas releases the most beautiful album of the year.

July 10: Frank Ocean releases an album that’s also beautiful, but I don’t want contradict the entry above, so…

July 13: An NPR intern acknowledges the fact that old rap albums are oftentimes insufferable.

July 15: I Heart NPR Interns.

July 24: Brandon Soderberg writes the most important hip-hop related article of the year.

July 25: Lupe Fiasco reminds hip-hop of the pain that gives it life.

August 2: Rap Genius gets called out for being inherently shitty.

August 3: Kendrick Lamar readies the world for his upcoming album. Months later, this song is played at college parties.

August 11: Azealia Banks disses Jim Jones, poignantly saying, “It takes a Harlem bitch to execute a Harlem bitch.”

August 19: Slaughterhouse releases their mixtape On the House. It is better than their album, welcome to: OUR HOUSE.

August 20: DOOM releases Key to the Kuffs, a collaborative effort with Jneiro Jarel, a producer who’s name is way easier to pronounce than it looks.

August 20: Nitty Scott, MC talks to me about her first commercial release, boomboxes and Nicki Minaj.

August 23: Lupe Fiasco casually and arrogantly addresses the word “bitch,” confirming his decline.

September 3: Talib Kweli unimaginatively and wastefully appropriates the best movie of 2011.

September 14: Kreayshawn releases her debut album; it sells less than J.R. Writer’s debut album.

November 2: The RZA takes killer bee swag to Jungle Village. The soundtrack is the best collaborative release of the year.

November 29: I regret reneging in the comments on the Peter Rosenberg vs Lil’ Wayne piece I wrote in June.

I Heart NPR Interns

At the beginning of the summer, I blasted Rap Genius. Before you continue, you have to read what I wrote.

My thoughts on the matter of Rap Genius haven’t changed and the responses to a recent NPR article have only further solidified my stance. In the article, an NPR intern outlines why he isn’t very moved by the “classic” Public Enemy album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. After giving the album a listen, in essence, the intern says, “This is old and I appreciate it, but  I prefer the [really] new stuff.”  Unsurprisingly, the resulting animosity didn’t take long at all.

https://twitter.com/1000TimesYes/status/224597190671212545

https://twitter.com/benmshields/status/224603055864299520

https://twitter.com/noz/status/224601724978077698

As someone who writes about hip-hop despite getting involved with it kind of late compared to my peers (My middle school was overwhelmingly Black), I really hate this reaction.  Granted, this intern’s introduction to rap was Drake circa 2010; mine was Ludacris circa 2001. That being said, so what? From a fan perspective, both of those moments in hip-hop (and every moment that has been and will be) is equally as important (or not important) to the genre. As I have said previously, being a fan of a genre doesn’t mean being a goddamn historian. When a “history” is required to access a genre, we end up with Rap Geniuses, people who promote exclusivite and arcane experiences of rap at the expense of all other experiences.

For example, look at Rap Genius’ explanation of a Jay-Z line from “No Church in the Wild.” Jay says, “Socrates asked whose bias do y’all seek.” Rap Genius says,

“This is essentially Jay’s take on the Euthyphro dilemma: a conflict between two biases or opinions. If the gods love something because it is pious, then there must be an objective goodness intrinsic to the universe. If something is pious because the gods love it, then goodness could roughly be seen as arbitrary or subjective. Jay seems to ignore the fact that Socrates rejects the second part of the dilemma and advanced the notion that objective truth could be discerned through reason (i.e. the Socratic Method). He’s not alone: both members of The Throne seem to advance a slightly revisionist take on Socrates.As a side note, was Socrates was sentenced to death by the Athenian government for “corrupting the minds of the youth” and chose his method of execution (poisoning via hemlock)

This is horse shit. If Freud were alive today, he would say something along the lines of, “Sometimes a bar is just a bar.” Translation: sometimes niggas just be rappin. Even if Jay-Z himself told me that Rap Genius’ explanation was spot on, that wouldn’t matter. Hip-hop thrives on a diversity of meanings and experiences. If someone hears that line and just wants to dance, so be it. Trying to reduce hip-hop down to one meaning and one experience and one demographic is preposterous and absurd.

I want to believe the platitude that “Before you can contribute to a conversation, you have to know what was said before you arrived,” but I feel that this line of thought always benefits the people who spoke first. The people who arrive late(r) are silenced and told to wait their turn, but oftentimes either that turn never comes or when it does, it is met with condescension and rejection. The reaction to this NPR letter is a case in point. Because this intern admitted that Drake was his introduction to hip-hop, people legitimately believe that he is unqualified to speak about hip-hop. What the fuck?

I love hip-hop, but I hate the way hip-hop fans treat it. If we really care about hip-hop, we have to stop excluding the people who aren’t as familiar with it. Their experiences with the genre are just as noteworthy as ours. I definitely think that we should call bullshit when outsiders present themselves as experts, but when an outsider admits to being an outsider and we still metaphorically deport them, we’re only hurting ourselves.

Honestly, if you look at the origins of hip-hop, arcane knowledge  isn’t what it was all about. When DJs in the Bronx went to record stores to find records with cool break beats, they weren’t looking for things people wouldn’t recognize. In fact, they didn’t care about recognition at all. All they wanted was music that would make the “party people” keep the party going. Whether you like it or not, the party is now worldwide. You can have your “classics” DJ play old Public Enemy records while you grimace and contemplate the political climate of 1989, but when you go to the restroom, don’t scowl at the chick who came to the club to listen to dubstep remixes of Drake. She’s just trying to have a good night. Aren’t you?