Hip-Hop: the Genre You Thought You Knew
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012
Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2012 22:03
Hip-hop has been rapidly growing over the past decade, thanks to increased variety within the genre and increased accessibility. It has journeyed from its storytelling and street conscious origins to being the life music of parties to its much more complex and varied makeup today. Recent trends in hip-hop have shattered commonly held stereotypes about the genre. Music sites such as the Hype Machine and programs like Spotify and iTunes have greatly increased access to music and made it much easier for the everyday fan to turn into a fanatic (such as myself). The digital age of music has allowed the average music fan to explore and share all different kinds of music with ease. Perhaps the most prominent example of the digital age of music’s impact on the industry is the mixtape.
A mixtape is a free album that showcases the artist’s talents and is intended to grab the attention of record labels and establish a fan base. It has quickly become the most viable avenue for artists to gain popularity and recognition without having a record deal. Because it is not sold for profit, the artist is free from having to pay royalties or get permission from other artists to use their material. In the last few years Drake, Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller and Big Sean all rode massive mixtape success to widespread popular success.
Drake stopped by Furman on his Away From Home Tour in 2010 and generated buzz solely on merits of his mixtape, “So Far Gone”. He has become known for the contrast of his downbeat, intimate and heartfelt R&B side to his swagged-out, walk-tall mentality. He merges the two genres seamlessly and shows a complex and conflicted emotional range that few in the stereotypically showy and egotistical genre display.
Hip-hop has grown into one of the most diverse music genres, so much so that the label “Hip-Hop/Rap” no longer does the music justice. T.I. and Jay-Z have had consistent radio success while the likes of Kid Cudi and Tyler, the Creator have showed the vastly different forms the genre can take. In 2008 the mixtape “A Kid Named Cudi” and single “Day N’ Nite” propelled the skinny-jean-and-Converse-wearing rapper to stardom. Kid Cudi’s willingness to share his childhood struggles with depression and his self-proclaimed ‘Man on the Moon’ caricature of himself started a blossoming trend in hip-hop music. He recently released a rock album, “WZRD” and has always had an affinity for mixing hip-hop, R&B and rock music.
Working closely with and supporting Kid Cudi in his early career, Kanye West has managed to have one foot in every aspect of cutting edge hip-hop and pop music. His first three albums, “College Dropout”, “Late Registration” and “Graduation” mixed classic-sounding party jams with high-pitched R&B samples and brief glimpses into the pitfalls of fame.
His next album, “808s & Heartbreak” was released to critically mixed reviews. The concept of the album rested on the recent death of his mother and split with his fiancé. Simplified beats made on the original hip-hop drum machine (the Roland TR-808) and use of auto-tune gave the album an emotionally muffled and lonely sound. He used the auto-tune in a completely new way amidst the industry using it as a quick and easy moneymaker.
On “Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, as one critic stated, “he gets ridiculously maximal, blowing past all the rules of hip-hop and pop, even though, for the past half-decade, he’s been the one inventing the rules”. He blends Elton John piano solos, appearances from Bon Iver on “Lost In the World”, scary imagery in “Monster” and a nine-minute piano-driven lament on “Runaway”.
Tyler, the Creator is perhaps the most evident example of an artist reinventing what hip-hop is. His harsh, direct and estranged style has developed a large cult following and in a few years time the recently turned 21-year old rapper has carved out an entirely unique style of his own. Tyler, the Creator’s albums are paced with dialogue between a therapist and Tyler himself as a troubled and depressed teenager struggling with virtually every aspect of life. His style is the most starkly different and blunt that hip-hop has seen. Whether an edgy social critic or misguided teenager, Tyler the Creator is pushing the boundaries of not just hip-hop, but music as an art form.
Hip-hop has shown a willingness to venture outside the norm and push boundaries and has evolved greatly in such a short time. Each year new artists appear in the limelight, offer their fresh takes on the art form and push its boundaries further. So, who will be the next revolutionary?