It’s a great day for underground rap…which is a nice segue into the #8 reason why 2010 is the best year ever in hip-hop: The Return of the Underground.

This one is a bit of a contradiction.  The incredible underground releases this year certainly contributed to the musical strength of the year overall, but underground rap is consistently pretty strong.  It’s the hits that are more unpredictable.  That’s confirmed just by looking at Soundscan sales info.  This year will have several platinum rap albums (Drake, Nicki, Kanye, Eminem, B.o.B. and probably Rick Ross), but that kind of volume hasn’t happened in many years.  Even though great underground releases are more predictable, something still felt a little different about them this year.  A big part of it has to do with technology.  Gone are the days when you need hundreds of thousands of dollars, a professional studio and a big major label backing you to make great music.  These days, all you need is a laptop and a drive…to make it happen for yourself.  That has narrowed the divide between the sonic quality of mainstream and underground music considerably.  More than that, however was just the sense that the underground artists of 2010 had a great shot at being the breakthrough artists of the future.  Enough talk though.  The music speaks for itself.  Here are just a few that killed it in 2010 (and if you missed the previous reasons why 2010 is the best year ever in hip-hop, click here):

1.  Big K.R.I.T. – Somedayz

2.  Nottz – My Neighbor ft Asher Roth

3. 1982 – You Should Go Home ft Masspike Miles and Bun B

4. Curren$y – Michael Knight

5. Diggy Simmons – As I Am

6. Black Milk – Deadly Medley

7. CyHi The Prynce – Shade 45 Freestyle

8. Jay Electronica (he gets 2 joints) – The Announcement

Shiny Suit Theory ft Jay-Z

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10 reasons why 2010 was the best year ever in hip-hop: #9 Change the game…several artists expanded the boundaries of hip-hop in 2010.

1. B.o.B. – Bobby Ray dropped several crunk-filled mixtapes before releasing his first official album.  When the album dropped, however, it was filled with lots of pop, rock and just a little bit of crunk…and it was dope.  In addition to garnering 5 Grammy nominations, including Record of the Year, he also helped to launch the career of label mate Bruno Mars.  He capped off the year with a mixtape called No Genre to further underscore his diversity in music.  Here are a couple of tracks that show off his range (please pardon any annoying messages on the video “embeds” directing you to YouTube):

2.  KiD CuDi – CuDi has been stretching hip-hop boundaries for a minute now and 2010 was no different.  This year he took things to a different level, adding rock to his “emo rap” repertoire, and he even got Kanye to rock out with him.

3.  Cee-Lo – Cee-Lo Green has not done straight hip-hop for a LONG time.  But since his roots lie with Outkast and The Goodie M.O.B. he will always be a part of the hip-hop family which, luckily, means we get to claim all the fruits of his prodigious talent.  In 2010, he made one of the catchiest, dirtiest songs of all time and also one of the coolest videos in years, both of which stretched the definition of “hip-hop”:

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4.  Nicki Minaj – Nicki Minaj was one of the biggest artists of 2010.  Period.  She will soon be the first woman rapper (not named Missy Elliott) to go platinum since Lauryn Hill…and that was in 1998.  There will be more on Nicki later in this series (hint, hint) but for now, here is a great video to show how she pushed boundaries:

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As with reason #10 for why 2010 is the greatest year ever for hip-hop (several great comebacks), this is not meant to be comprehensive but simply a reminder of just how much the boundaries of hip-hop were pushed in 2010.  No disrespect to Yelawolf, Kanye (who could be in all of these reasons), and others who helped to expand the culture.  Their presence was greatly felt and all contributed to a helluva year.

 

 

Has the color barrier been broken yet in hip-hop?

It’s not a secret that hip-hop was born from black culture and, to date, has been comprised primarily of black performers.  As a result, there have been few rappers of other colors who have gained mainstream acceptance, and they generally have come one at a time (The Beastie Boys, 3rd Bass, Vanilla Ice, Eminem, Asher Roth, Eminem…).  It’s kinda like how there used to be only 1 black actor who could crossover at a time (Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Will Smith) and one black comedian (Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence–wait, did he crossover?).  Of course, barriers have been broken with films and comedians.  There are now several people of all colors who are viewed in mainstream films, TV and comedy clubs–though of course there is still MUCH more progress to be made.  Has hip-hop reached that point yet, though?  Put another way, can you name 5 non-black rappers of any color who currently have mainstream success?  Does it matter to you?  Just some food for thought for the Obama Nation…While you chew on that, check out these videos from Outasight:

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If you’re feeling those, click here to download his latest mixtape called Further.  Maybe some day there will be a time when these dudes could make it:

Before his recent troubles T.I. did one of his best interviews ever for BET in their Food For Thought series right before things went down (again). If you want to hear something deeper from him than what’s been in the tabloids, check this out. It might actually leave you with a different impression of Tip.

This is part of BET’s ongoing series which has also featured Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Ice Cube in the past.  It features 3 different conversations between T.I. and Angie Martinez, Harry Allen and Stephen A. Smith that are cut together to flow like one conversation.  In case you missed it, Jamie Foxx also did an incredible interview with T.I. right after her got out of jail.  You can find that here.

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It’s hard to believe but Nicki Minaj actually made a POP album…and it’s really good.

I resisted the Nicki Minaj bandwagon for a really, really long time.  At first, I thought she was a Young Money puppet– a female extension of Lil Wayne.  Her clothes and image seemed overly sexual and I thought they were designed to be a distraction from a lack of true artistry.  I HATED her verse on Bedrock and most of the other cameos she dropped.  I thought she wilted on the Letterman show during her performance with Robin Thicke (watch at the 4:00 mark), and I thought Massive Attack was a complete brick (I still do).  I also thought the whole Barbies thing was completely derivative of Lady GaGa and her Little Monsters (they are).  Most of all, I could NOT get with all the funny voices.

Somewhere along the way, though, things started to change.  I can’t pinpoint exactly when it was.  Maybe it was when Your Love dropped and she used the dope Annie Lenox sample.  Soon after that, stories started circling that she had not wanted to drop Massive Attack as her single and it was others who had pushed her into it.  At the same time, rumors swirled that Diddy was her manager and she was putting some distance between her and Young Money–at least for her management.  These stories started to make a strong case that Ms. Minaj was truly her own person (even if the Diddy story turned out not to be true).  But that wasn’t enough to sway me.

My ears did perk up however when Kanye West (someone who I think is one of the dopest ARTISTS out there) said that Nicki had the potential to be the 2nd biggest MC ever, only to Eminem.  Huh?!  Kanye has always been a visionary, but FOR REAL??!!  But then I heard her verse on Monster…and I didn’t like it.  Many others I know and respect did though.  I made a mental note.

Soon after that, Right Through Me dropped and you could hear that the pop influences that had surfaced on Your Love were not a one-off.  It came complete with a catchy melody and an even catchier hook.  Hmm.  That one was a guilty pleasure.  A lot of heads weren’t feeling that one, so it was more something to be appreciated on the low than drawing me to the bandwagon.  Still, the seed was starting to grow.

Then Check It Out dropped.  Again, she had jumped on an ill POP 8o’s sample completely from left field.  It was weird.  But I liked it.  The weirder thing was there was nary a protest from the hip-hop community.  None of the blogs (of note) called it wack or disparaged it in anyway.  And, of course her fan base was down with it.

That got me thinking.  Maybe I need to hit refresh and listen to Nicki Minaj as Nicki Minaj and not who I was predisposed to think she was.  And then a funny thing happened.  I stopped hearing the voices (no, not voices in my head).  Instead of hearing the “woof woof, like a dungeon dragon” rah rah, I listened to the lyrics.  First up was Monster, and when I heard the words…I got it.  Ill, ill verse.  Then I started listening to the verses of her other joints instead of the (super catchy) hooks.  Again, the lyrics were ill and surprisingly broader in range than the sexed up lyrics of say…Lil Kim.  Ahem.

What may have finally turned the tide though was when I saw her at Lil Wayne’s homecoming party in Miami.  She wasn’t getting caught up in the revelry and she also wasn’t checked out.  Instead, she seemed very introspective.  There was an intense stillness about her that suggested she was anchored and none of the madness around her (not just at the party, but generally) could sway her.  That was the beginning of bandwagon status for me.

When I heard the whole album though, it sealed the deal.  The subject matter was vast (everything from how to slay an MC to how to maintain your self-esteem as a woman in a world that can be unkind to women) and the beats were even more varied.  Again, instead of being straight hip-hop, it features 80s samples and other pop fare, along with some straight up joints.   It takes chances.   And that is HIP-HOP.

Pink Friday is in stores now.  Here are a couple of songs you may not have heard if you don’t have the album (yet):

Moment 4 Life ft Drake

Save Me

And if you read this far, here’s a bonus cut that’s only available on the Best Buy version of the album.  It’s called Wave Your HandClick here to download.  Warning:  there’s a reason why it’s a bonus cut…

Kanye’s album leaked today and I don’t know how I feel about that…

On the one hand, part of me thinks “It’s a reality of the biz.  It happens to everyone.”  The other part of me thinks “This dude has given out free music–including many tracks on his album–for the last 9 weeks.  Is it too much to ask that he be able to release his album the way he intended?”  I must admit, I am EXTREMELY curious about how his album will do.  I really wish the Taylor Swift stuff wasn’t there to cloud it.  If you take that aspect away, Kanye is the latest experiment in a long line that includes Prince, Nine Inch Nails, Lil Wayne and Radiohead.  Each of those legendary acts have given away music for free either as promotions or with the confidence that if you make G.O.O.D. Music, people ultimately will buy it or support you financially in other ways.

With Prince, he’s given away music both on his tours and in a London newspaper.  Each promotion drove awareness that he had a new album out (something many people have not cared about with Prince for some time) and provided added value to his legion of fans (at least in the case of the concert giveaway–he got paid by the newspaper in London…).  Nine Inch Nails have been extremely experimental, giving away lo fi versions of their music, samples of their music (5 tracks from an album) and driving upsell by offering collector’s editions to those who wanted to buy the music for a premium.  And Radiohead created the most famous “tip jar” ever by letting fans decide what, if anything, they wanted to pay for In Rainbows. They never released data on the number of sales or the average price paid, but many speculate that the average price paid was $5 per album download.  After the experiment, they released the album in stores 3 months later and it still debuted at #1 on the charts and sold 120,000 in the first week.

While Lil Wayne has not given away any of his commercial music for free, he has given away hundreds of tracks via mixtapes over the last few years.  The sheer volume of music he has given away for free is more than most artists could hope to produce in a lifetime.  His reward?  He was the first hip-hop artist in 3 years to crack 1 million sales of his album in the first week–an incredible feat in today’s music business–and he was indisputably the hottest star in hip-hip for 3 years.  Ironically, only Taylor Swift has sold a million albums in 1 week since then and that was last week.  That brings us back to Yeezy.

Kanye has broken many conventions with the rollout of this new album.  He has released at least 50% of the album as free downloads (how he convinced his label to allow that is a mystery, but the difficulty cannot be overestimated).  He has completely destroyed the decades old formula that you release one single, let it get hot, then release another single, let it get hot, then release the album.  Instead, he has faithfully released a new song each week (G.O.O.D. Fridays) since the first week in September and has several songs in mainstream and mix show radio rotation.  Finally, he released a 34-minute short film/extended music video that had 3-4 additional songs from his album that were not part of his G.O.O.D. Fridays (those songs have now been ripped and a makeshift soundtrack has been created), meaning that people have heard at least 75% of his album weeks before it hits stores.

Now, the album has leaked and people can hear the whole thing (not here but it’s only a Google search away).  Clearly, we live in a world where free music is often just one click away (pause).  Kanye, like those above, is one of the few to not only not fight against this new reality but embrace it and flip it on its head.  I’m thinking his thought process was something like “Tracks from my album are going to leak anyway so f*ck it.  I’m going to give muthaf*ckas some new sh*t every godd*mn week.  They still gonna buy the sh*t because the sh*t is ridiculous, and I’m going to get their email addresses in the process…”  But now, the whole album is out there, something he likely didn’t want based on interviews where he’s said the album will have surprises and he maintained that people have not heard the album.  Given how passionate he is about his work and how giving he’s been with his music, that can’t feel G.O.O.D.  Will he receive from all the gifts he’s given?  We’ll see in about 4 weeks (when first week sales are reported).

P.S., since writing this, I’ve learned Rolling Stone gave Kanye’s album 5 stars out of 5 (props to Rap Radar).  That almost NEVER happens.  Maybe it will be all G.O.O.D. (now I feel good).

Support G.O.O.D. Music.

Does Swizz Beatz get his props as being one of the best rap producers of all time? Check out his new song Bang Bang ft Pharrell and Pusha T.

You hear a lot about Dre, Kanye, Timbaland and Pharrell, but Swizzy seems to hang below the radar when it comes to recognition as one of the all-time great producers.  He’s been killing tracks since the late 90’s and continues today, more than a decade later.  When you check the resume, it’s kinda crazy.  Here are just a few highlights:

Get the point?  Click here to download Bang Bang.