10 reasons why 2010 was the best year ever in hip-hop: #6 Roll the dice…this was a year of taking BIG chances and they paid off.

EVERYBODY knows the music business as it has existed for the last few decades–where sales of recorded albums are the primary financial-driver of the business–is in trouble.  The record industry, like other entertainment businesses, tends to be a bell curve:

During the vast majority of times, the music tends to be fairly straight-forward and predictable.  Occasionally, there are a couple of breakout hits and then everybody spends the next several years trying to copy what was done to make those hits (or at least hire the producers who crafted them).  When times are really, really good, there tends to be more innovation and risk-taking.  If the risk pays off, things are even better.  If it doesn’t hit, it’s not a big deal because the other blockbusters during the year make up for it.  The other time risk-taking happens is when things are REALLY, REALLY bad.  Again, it is during those times that there is a certain nonchalance, but it stems from different sentiments than those in good times.  In bad times, chances are taken because companies feel like they have nothing to lose.

2009 was a terrible year for hip-hop music, sales-wise.  It was definitely the worst in a decade and maybe even longer.  So, it’s no surprise that risks were taken in 2010 and they paid BIG dividends.  Here were some of the most high-profile risks that paid off:

1.  The Jay-Z/Eminem “Home and Home” tour – Overall, 2010 was one of the worst years in the last 20 for the live music business.  In 2000, people aged 12-24 went to about 3 concerts per year.  In 2010, that same age group went to less than 1 concert per year…It would seem like that would not be the best timing to mount the biggest hip-hop tour ever.  But, in September 2010, Jay-Z and Eminem made history by selling out 4 stadium shows (2 in Detroit and 2 in New York).  Approximately 200,000 people paid an average of $100 per ticket in 4 nights…you do the math.  It was an epic success and a historical moment for hip-hop.

2.  G.O.O.D. Fridays – Give away half of your album for FREE???  Who DOES that???  Kanye West, that’s who.  I wrote a long piece on this a while ago, so I won’t spend too much time rehashing it here, but suffice it to say that Kanye West took a huge chance by giving away half of his album (along with previewing nearly all of the other half in Runaway) and it paid off, big time.  Kanye sold nearly 500,000 copies of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in week 1 (despite not having a radio hit–and not promoting it for the last 2 weeks before release).  Beyond the sales success, Kanye also got universal critical acclaim.  It’s no surprise that Kanye, who has always taken chances musically, would try something as innovative as G.O.O.D. Fridays.  His digital game was seriously on point, in general, in 2010.  In addition to giving away music with the confidence that people would like it and buy it, he also bucked the traditional marketing system by and going to Facebook and Twitter to promote the album before going to mainstream outlets.  It is surprising however (and encouraging) that his record label went along with it. Kudos to all behind the plan.

3.  Runaway – Let’s face it.  Runaway was weird.  Okay, so yeah we get the Phoenix reference and how ostracized Kanye feels in a world that shuns honesty and destroys beauty, but still, that sh*t was strange.  But, it was also brilliant.  It was visually stunning, conceptually engaging and the music was arresting.  And, from a marketing standpoint, when is the last time you can remember a show being simulcast on BET and MTV that wasn’t related to some sort of tragedy?  Exactly…Runaway was a great example of being rewarded for taking chances:

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4. Nicki Minaj – Not to belabor the point, but Nicki took RISKS this year.  It would have been easy for her to ride on the Young Money coattails, but she was dead set on establishing her own path.  So, instead of doing a Young Money album in disguise, or even a hip-hop album, she did a pop album…and it was GREAT.  And that was just the music.  Style, image, persona, you name it.  Nicki took chances in pretty much every category in 2010 and she is poised to become a hip-hop icon because of it.  Keep rolling those dice, ma.

5.  All those who pushed the boundaries of hip-hop culture and refused to let the meaning of hip-hop be dictated to them.

Click here to see other reasons why 2010 is the best year ever in hip-hop.

10 reasons why 2010 was the best year ever in hip-hop: #7 Rappin’ all over the world…you know that’s right when the hottest rapper of the year was from Canada.

Everyone knows New York City was the birthplace of hip-hop.  For years, the dominant s0und in the genre was from the city that never sleeps.  In the late 80’s the West Coast, particularly LA, began to take over and it had a several year reign that corresponded with the fall of East Coast rap.  After a brief resurgence of New York rap, the South took over and has dominated hip-hop for the last several years.  However, in 2010, a curious thing happened.  There was no dominant region.  Instead, hits came from everywhere around the country and, as mentioned above, even from outside of it.  Suddenly, the talent pool for hip-hop started to look like the Verizon map.  And why is that good?  Because the more diversity there is of the regions where hip-hop is produced, the more likely it is that the sounds of hip-hop will be increasingly diverse.  The reason why people were saying hip-hop was dead a few years ago is because it was all starting to sound the same.  It took breaths of fresh air like Drake, Nicki Minaj, J. Cole, KiD CuDi and even Eminem, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross (all from different places) to revive the culture.  And now, it is stronger than ever before.  Here’s a look at the diversity of areas that made up the hip-hop landscape in 2010 (for more reasons why 2010 is the best year ever in hip-hop, click here):

1.  Drake – the hottest rapper of the year (Em had more sales of his album but Drake was on EVERYBODY’s record so he wins) and he hailed from Toronto:

2.  Rick Ross held down Miami:

3.  Wiz Khalifa repped his city of Pittsburgh and their NFL squad:

4.  J. Cole built on the foundation that Little Brother laid to put North Carolina hip-hop on the map:

5.  Big K.R.I.T. along with J. Cole further reinforced that Southern hip-hop was not limited to Atlanta and Miami:

6.  KiD CuDi gave people a reason to care about Cleveland now that LeBron is gone:

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7.  B.o.B. created the most fresh and clean sounds to come out of the ATL since OutKast:

8.  Eminem restored Detroit’s place in hip-hop:

9.  Dr. Dre made the West Coast relevant once again with one exhale:

10.  And the lovely Nicki Minaj brought back the city that started it all:

 

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.

 

 

Moment 4 Life is probably the dopest song on Nicki Minaj’s album. Check out her performance of it on George Lopez’s show.

George Lopez is actually starting to rival Jimmy Fallon for dope hip-hop performances.

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Nicki did this solo, but the original with Drake is even (just a little bit) hotter.  Pink Friday is a solid album.  Here’s the version with Drake:

Not on the Nicki Minaj bandwagon yet? This MTV documentary about her may not get you there but it will give you some insight as to why so many people are riding.

This is from MTV’s My Time Now.

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And if you missed it, here’s my take on Ms. Minaj.

 

Nicki Minaj, Jim Jones and Ricky Blaze (who??) Feel Free. Check it out.

The song actually belongs to Ricky Blaze and word has it Nicki recorded this verse a couple of years ago.  Strange, it sounds a lot like the pop stuff she’s been doing lately…Check it out:

Click here to download.

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…