By 1990, hip-hop culture had inspired regional scenes across the United States. A series of maps attempted to mark the changes.
Freedom Archives, an online database focused on progressive and radical historical movements, has documentation on BLU magazine, which was published between 1998 and 2001. While most press at the time limited their coverage of politically minded rap to dead prez and Black Star, the New York magazine threaded between overlapping scenes like spoken word and Afro-Cuban sounds, featured interviews with activists like Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt and Yuri Kochiyama, and dedicated issues to the Puerto Rico independence movement and women’s right. Each issue includes a CD from major names like Tony Touch as well as lesser-known acts like Rico Pabon. All together, BLU’s 14 issues depict a complex hip-hop movement that’s often omitted from histories of the period.
When Tame One passed away on November 5, obituaries summarily focused on his reputation as a graffiti writer, his longtime participation in 90s duo the Artifacts, his subsequent wanderings in New York’s rap underground and participation in collectives like the Weathermen. Then there’s “Haagen-Dazs,” a track he and Artifacts partner El Da Sensei recorded with Dutch production team The Boulevard Connection for the latter’s highly-regarded Fondle ‘Em 12-inch EP. With its dusty piano loop and sharp turntable cuts by DJ Kaos, the 1998 song captures the essence of an era. El’s “fact not fiction” diction serves as a setup for Tame One’s unconventional flow. “I’m too bugged out to thug out,” he begins, stop-starting between boasts, homage to cannabis, and “talking to God, I feel odd.” True, Tame One was an unusually rare bird.
In his Complex obituary for Brooklyn rapper Hurricane G, Angel Diaz gives special attention to “Milky,” an Erick Sermon-produced demo that features a closing verse from Redman. “Her unreleased song “Milky” is a late-night mixshow classic first heard on 89.9 WKCR-FM’s The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show,” Diaz writes. “All that’s floating around are dusty cassette dubs on YouTube and it still stands the test of time.” It’s true: the song remains a testament to Hurricane G’s sharp Nuyorican voice and a flow that swayed on and off beat with rope-a-dope grace, all while losing none of its impact.
The Charles Burnett film To Sleep with Anger has recently re-emerged this month via prominent samples in two songs this month. The first, KA’s “We Hurting,” finds producer Animoss referencing a performance of Ma Rainey’s “See See Rider” at the center of the film. “I gone and bought me a pistol just as long as I am tall,” Jimmy Witherspoon sings just before KA begins with the chorus, “We hurting so we hurt back.” Meanwhile, soul-jazz performer Contour’s “Pack Light” opens with the voice of Danny Glover as the devilish Harry: “If he was a friend, he would stop irritating people. But if he stops practicing, he wouldn’t be perfect at what he does someday.”
On October 18, Hits caused a stir with its list of the most-streamed artists of 2022 so far. The problem wasn’t the listing, but a decision to omit Youngboy Never Broke Again from the chart’s main graphic, even though he logged the second-highest streaming totals overall. Instead, the publication opted to use leader Drake; then Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny, the Weeknd, and Juice WRLD. Despite four Billboard number-one albums, the music industry still doesn’t know what to make of the prolific Baton Rouge rapper. That’s not only the result of his sundry legal issues, but also due to a deluge of content — five projects this year so far as well as the Never Broke Again crew showcase 3860 — the fact he hasn’t scored a major hit single, and that rap critics haven’t championed any of his titles in particular. Nevertheless, the Youngboy NBA train keeps rolling. A sixth tape, Ma, I Got a Family, is set to drop on October 21.
Two recent stories in the Wall Street Journal and Billboard on the decline of rap music’s overall market share have generated some concern in industry circles. “Last year, its market share through mid-September dipped to 29%. This year, it’s 28%,” writes Neil Shah in the WSJ story. That’s down from a peak of 30% in 2020. Never mind that the genre still commands a larger percentage than the next largest slice, rock, by eight percentage points. “My concern is that the magic is gone,” Spotify executive Carl Chery tells Billboard’s Insanul Ahmed, adding that there aren’t as many “hot prospects” as in years past, thanks to the atomizing effects of streaming and TikTok. To be sure, rap culture is afflicted by innumerable problems, like media outlets more interested in toxic headlines and misinformation than informing their readers, too many musicians murdered in their prime, and the continued marginalization of women, LGBTQ+ and non-binary performers. Given the latter set of issues, mainstream rap’s modest slippage in the pop Zeitgeist seems like a low priority.
Since PnB Rock was murdered at a restaurant in South Los Angeles, there has been a lot of discussion about why rappers are being targeted in the city. In a Los Angeles Times feature, August Brown and Kenan Draughorne gather several opinions on a bleak trend of shootings that has claimed the lives of Pop Smoke, Nipsey Hussle, Drakeo the Ruler and many others. “Amid wider debates about rising violent crime rates in L.A. and nationwide, many artists are taking new measures to stay safe,” they write, adding that professional security details — not just “buddyguards” — keeping current whereabouts off social media, and resisting an urge to flaunt expensive jewelry may serve as protection. Still, the participants can’t help but admit that these are human beings, not walking ATMs, and the violence too many encounter is senseless and unjustifiable. “We have such deep inequality in L.A., coupled with joblessness, the pandemic, social unrest and more people carrying guns. The response is usually finding individual things to do: Don’t wear jewelry, don’t post on socials,” says UC Irvine professor Charis E. Kubrin. “That’s important, but we’re not going to get rid of this problem without attacking root causes.”
New Jersey rapper Mach-Hommy rarely grants interviews — he usually averages one per year. In a Q&A with Rolling Stone’s Andre Gee, the critically acclaimed artist relates wild stories of “big game hunting” for elk, being in harmony with nature, future tour plans, and the inspirations behind his new album with Tha God Fahim, Duck Czn: Tiger Style. “And just say something like ‘reclusive,’ what does that mean? That is a very negative projection to the audience’s mind,” he says when discussing his “reclusive” reputation and how he avoids photographs without his face covered. “Niggas is starting to think about Howard Hughes with the long fingernails. It’s fucking negative. It’s like niggas is cursing you, damn near. Just cause they don’t be where you be at. But that’s all a part of the corporatization and the bastardization of the culture.”
Kanye West’s latest alt-right stunt — dressing his models during a 2022 Paris Fashion Week show for his YZY brand in “White Lives Matter” T-shirts, including Lauryn Hill and Rohan Marley’s daughter Selah Marley — drew self-righteous condemnation from the fashion world and beyond. There were the usual calls to “divest” from West, or rather, to stop supporting his work. The problem is that West’s true audience consist of would-be creatives — a multi-racial following that, yes, includes Black people — who see him as a troubled genius and willingly minimize his misogyny and increasingly hard-right politics. His most recent album, the aborted Donda 2, featured Alicia Keys, Jack Harlow, Future, and many others. Will the cream of mainstream rap and R&B stop working with him after this? On social media, Jaden Smith patted himself on the back for walking out of the YZY show after seeing the “White Lives Matter” shirts. Left unspoken is why he was there in the first place.