Thing about hip-hop, it’s laaaaarge. Too often the focus falls on the most ubiquitous figures, images, and myths. But hip-hop contains multitudes. Don’t let MTVH1 and Diet Fiddy colonize yr horizons, kids.
I try to keep this in mind when someone who knows very little about hip-hop asks me my opinion of “it,” and it’s instantly quite clear that for them the hip-hop world doesn’t go beyond the Top40 (and, natch, the deleterious effects of the music on kids). That narrow slice of culture (as seen on TV) hardly scratches at the surface of the hip-hop iceberg. (But you know that, right?) That’s most obviously true with non-musical hip-hop practices, from dance to visual art to fashion. But it’s also hella true with regard to the musical and what tends to get overlooked: vibrant scenes from all over the world in myriad languages and dialects, still unheard from local and regional US styles, and, of course, the wide range of subgenres and substyles and stylistic cousins and brethren out there, fruitful and multiplying.
Though I try to remain vigilant about this and resist letting the music industry represent hip-hop like they claim to represent music more generally (small slice, I’m sayin’), sometimes I’m still surprised when I’m reminded that that there are so many artists on that underground grind, inspired by and committed to what seems like a bygone set of ideals and aesthetics (which too often appear to have been squashed under some diamond-crusted Nikes somewhere). But nuff stuff still flows from a mold that’ll never grow old, at least for some of us.
Take, for instance, Boston-based rapper/producer/instrumentalist Gnotes. Dude is releasing a new album next week called Rhymes & Beats (it’s that simple, knamean), produced in part by w&w reader, international hip-hop (and medieval Andalusian) dot-connector, “unabashed backpacker,” and Fulbright scholar El Canyonazo. It’s solidly produced, I gotta say. And I don’t say so just because they’re friends and nice guys and deserving of some credit. Naw. They put in some hard work on this. It’s got a classic sound — on-point rhymes, punchy flows, and hints of vinyl dust and well-worn samples amidst tasteful live licks. As someone weaned on that kind of vibe, I can respect their bearing of the torch. (You can catch a stream of the album over here, in case you’re curious. And they’re having a release party next week at the Middle East, if you’re local like that.)
El Canyon even cooked up a lil Google img vid for the single, too. Don’t know boutchoo, but I’m always game for some fist-raising, fist-pumping rhymes&beats —
Smart, skilled, and committed to social justice — now that’s my typa white rappa.
Hallelujah holla back —
2 thoughts on “Let No One Forget About the Hard Part”
I’ve always had a dislike for backpacker rap for very similar reasons I distrust traditional world music or folk revival movements (or cumbia):
1. The large cultural distance between the original creators and the market forces that dicate what material comes to the forefront, leading to a dilution of the original cultural content and a twisting of its history. And possibly a state of exploitation.
2. The very set-in-stone selection criteria for authenticity and the often vehement denunciation of recent cultural changes. The middle class adopting the stylings of a previous generation of the working class while hating on the current one.
3. The fact that (purely objectively of course) it’s dull as hell and offers no bite whatsoever. ;)
I agree with you on all points.
Of course, sometimes I find that certain “backpacker” artists break the mold, or (re)make the mold in a particularly compelling way. (Aesop Rock, for instance.) But in general, it’s not what lights up my imagination these days.
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