Hip-hop takes another fearless leap
The culture of rap is changing once more, with the bright young things of the hip-hop/r’n’b stable making sure the genre allows an influx of fresh air in the form of new voices, attitudes, narratives and musical style
THE LATEST changing of the guard has begun. Hip-hop has gone through a couple of different incarnations since it first burst into life back in the Bronx in the late 1970s. The genre today is a long way from those innocent parties DJ Kool Herc and his sister Cindy Campbell threw in the basement of their building. That’s where it all began: 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, New York with the DJ spinning funk, soul and reggae
These days, hip-hop is a multi-billion-dollar global business with its fingers in many pies. Of course, it was always about the money: Kool Herc initially threw those parties back on Sedgwick Avenue to help his sister make the cash she needed to buy her back-to-school clothes.
Hip-hop always had business on its mind, though it could never have been predicted that some rappers would become more celebrated for their corporate acumen than their ability to stand at a microphone and spit about what was on their mind. Jay-Z’s line “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man” has never been so apt when you look at how some rappers roll.
But for all the focus on the cash, there’s also the culture, and change is inevitable here. The fundamentals of what it takes to make a tune (beats and rhymes) remain the same as they have always been, but what people are doing with these components changes all the time. New voices emerge, new masterpieces are minted and new directions are taken.
Even here in Ireland, you can see these new steers. While many may unfortunately still associate Irish hip-hop with that hackneyed, trite and lazy RTÉ documentary Ireland’s Rappers from earlier in the year, the truth is something else entirely. Anyone who checked out the inaugural Make a Move hip-hop festival in Limerick last month would have come across a vibrant, colourful scene eager to show just where Irish hip-hop may be going and how it can be tapped to articulate the local as well as the global.
On the world stage, there is also a rake of new hip-hop and r’n’b acts coming to the fore. Naturally, many are throwbacks to how things have always been. There seems to have been a memo issued many years ago that all big-budget hip-hop videos are to be set at a swimming pool and feature beefy rappers and their entourages surrounded by bikini-clad women.
Musically, there are also plenty of precedents for what rising, exciting new-school rumblers such as Chief Keef, A$AP Rocky, Azealia Banks, Action Bronson and Kendrick Lamar are making.
Indeed, you could join the dots between the music Frank Ocean has produced on his excellent new album, Channel Orange, and the work of many past heroes. However, Ocean’s story also has some fascinating and illuminating twists which mark him out from the pack.