Let's Talk About: The Return of "Real Rap"

Rap is changing. Whether that change has already happened yet or is still in the process is something that depends on your own perception of what various milestones mean, but one thing's for sure; the scene is going through somewhat of a renaissance.

Ask an old hip-hop head about how life was in the 90s and chances are they'll get all misty eyed as they reminisce about the days of Wu-Tang, Tupac, Biggie, Nas and perhaps even a young Jay-Z. Then they'll make some comment about "real rap" or express disdain to the state of rap today. But it seems like that's all about to change. There is no doubt that, by most counts, the 00s sucked for rap. While there were a few diamonds in the rubble (The Eminem Show, College Dropout, The Black Album, Madvillainy to name just a few) it also gave rise to a scene that may have been popular at the time but, looking back now, was generic, limiting and ultimately average. The domination of artists like 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, T-Pain and even, to a certain degree rappers like T.I. all led to one big theme: rap was suddenly something to be made for the clubs, and was less about the lyrical talent and more about the alcohol references. It's no surprise that this was the age of trap, and "swag rappers", and all in all it started to seem like rap was now nothing more than a corporate cash cow, where it was all about contacts, not good rappers coming through. The age of classic hooks, soulful beats, legendary verses and iconic cyphers gave way to punchline rappers and cookie-cutter instrumentals that all sounded the same.

However, the increasing popularity of new rappers like Action Bronson, the Pro Era crew, Kendrick Lamar and Hopsin is showing signs that "real rap" might just be back. I urge any of you to check out the excellent free mixtape "Peter Rosenborg x Ecko Present: The New York Renaissance" (listen to it here). It's a fantastic collection of tracks from new up-and-coming MCs from across New York, with a lot of Brooklyn locals like The Underachievers, Pro Era and the Flatbush Zombies, but also Action Bronson of Queens and even A$AP Rocky, who hails from Harlem. Now while A$AP certainly is closer to the club scene of rap than the classic style of Action (who sounds like Ghostface Killah 2.0), he still carries an essence of the classic rap style around him.
It also seems that rap now has been burst wide open in terms of possibilities for artists. In the advertising for 'Magna Carta... Holy Grail', Jay-Z referred to the current state of rap as "the wild wild west", and I can certainly see exactly what he's talking about. It seems that where once there would be a handful of new rappers to be excited about, now they come in droves. This is where my earlier point comes into play, that it is debatable whether or not this change has already happened, or is still coming into fruition. 

While the aforementioned new artists are certainly in the scene and making big names for themselves, there is still an undercurrent of rappers embodying the club scene rather than the "real rap" mantra. Rappers like 2 Chainz, Chief Keef, Future and Meek Mill are still inexplicably popular, but for the most part it seems we're moving away from the over-saturating trap market that took over for some time and allowed rappers like Soulja Boy to actually get paid for his crap. Even Hova himself is getting involved in this "renaissance". While Magna Carta may not be the groundbreaking, revolutionary album we hoped it might be (and were told it was), Jay-Z told Zane Lowe in an interview for Radio 1 that they were trying to strip everything back and find that 90s feeling.
All of this is not to say that rap is just repeating itself for lack of a better idea, however. It seems nowadays that rap is a hive of genuine creativity, with some fantastic producers making names for themselves with fresh, original beats.

As much as I personally dislike Yeezus, there's no denying that it did something new. Whether it should ever have been done is another question, but it definitely gave us a different style of rap. Then we have the exquisite production of Magna Carta, featuring some truly incredible instrumentals and some interesting ideas, even if the lyrical content is somewhat samey. I saw a lot of the album performed live at Wireless festival this year, and let me tell you, it's an absolute triumph in person. There are even some more underground producers who are finding themselves a strong fan base, such as Harry Fraud, Travi$ Scott (a producer/rapper who has a strong Kanye feel to him, though not the same level), Cardo (not quite so underground since his beats are unfortunately almost always made for Wiz Khalifa) Chuck Strangers, the in-house producer for Pro Era, and one of the most exciting prospects around, the 'Niggas In Paris' producer Hit-Boy.

All in all, it seems like it's a damn good time to be a rap fan, as it's a melting pot of creativity, young talent and potential. Maybe it will all pass as a fad, but I have a feeling the future of rap is happening around us, if it isn't here already.

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