A common critique of hip hop music is to point out the violence and vulgarity in the lyrics as a sign of its lack of quality. I’ve always found this puzzling. Americans are connoisseurs of violence. We are tastemakers in this aesthetic, and we know what and where we like each particular violence.
Hip hop’s early appeal had to do partly with its hyper-localism—the lyrics and musical tastes were originating from particular neighborhoods in New York City, each vying to produce sounds and styles distinct from each other.
As American hip hop grew and commercialized, this organic differentiation mellowed, and as the culture spread across oceans, hip hop was reborn in much the same way as it started: block by block, hood by hood.
The producer Large Professor has worked with many of the greatest names in hip hop: Nas, Busta Rhymes and Common, to name just three. While never achieving the superstar status of mainstream producers like Pharell or Timbaland, Large Professor, who is also known as Xtra P, has held his own in hip hop for nearly 30 years. Here he is with the group Main Source, from 1991:
The Brooklyn underground emcee RA the Rugged Man recently held a contest to find the so-called "Definition of a Rap Flow.” While we’ll thankfully never know how many thousands of very awful submissions he received, we do know who won in RA’s book: a 17-year old phenom called A-F-R-O who delivers a freestyle so far above the level of anyone walking this earth that it’s nearly celestial.
Producer and emcee Amir Mohamed el Khalifa, who goes by the name Oddisee, writes music that lives up to his name.
Hailing from the DC-Maryland-Virginia triangle, he developed as an artist in a kind of geographic and political ambiguity. And if place truly informs who we are as people, it will be no surprise that Oddisee is a musician who has an uncanny ability to flow, navigating both space and rhyme with ease.
People have been playing with recorded sound since it was first possible to record sound.
What we call this process seems to depend on what we’re talking about. If we’re referring to an art piece, we might say they used a "sound collage." In radio, we’d call it a "montage." For hip hop, we generally refer to the reformatting of recorded sound as "sampling." The word is different, but the process is pretty much the same: take some sound and do something with it: mix it, change it, cut it—anything at all.
The turntables are to hip hop what the guitar is to rock and roll. Or, more precisely, they are what the guitar, bass, drums and keyboard are to rock and roll.
Hip hop was born from the turntables, and through hip hop, the turntables were transformed from a simple playback device into an instrument that has been featured in countless jazz arrangements and even symphonies.
Rapper Kendrick Lamar’s new album To Pimp a Butterfly is as much manifesto and rallying cry as it is an LP. While it’s now difficult to listen to hip hop without hearing echoes of Ferguson, Mo., Lamar intentionally places Butterfly squarely in the center of that conversation. The online magazine ‘The Root’ called it the music of the Black Lives Matter hashtag.
Masks are more than a flashy stage gimmick for the emcee and producer MF DOOM. The iron mask, first worn by his namesake, the comic-book villain Doctor Doom, serves as the central conceit for what is now a decades-long exploration of hip hop’s more formal, structuralist elements.
DOOM raps primarily in two bar couplets, heavily coded with slang, and layers and layers of abstraction and association, as in the dizzying verses of the song “Figaro”: