Where Does Hip-Hop Go From Here?
On his 2015 album track ‘Hood Politics’ Kendrick Lamar penned the line; “critics mention that they miss when hip-hop was rappin’, motherf*cker if you did then Killer Mike’d be platinum”. This line stuck out to me upon first listen and still does today, it highlights a significant change that has occurred within hip-hop in the past decade or so - the genre is evolving. With it recently overtaking rock music in terms of popularity and developing itself into an unstoppable force, where does hip-hop go from here? Despite its world-dominance, hip-hop is still a relatively young genre. The art of MCing can be traced back through seemingly endless roots, but many regard the unofficial birthplace to be block parties held across The Bronx in the early 1970s. It remained a mostly underground music movement for around a decade, before rap music began to creep into the mainstream throughout the 1980s. An undeniable milestone for the rise of the genre is The Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ - a song that may seem somewhat simplistic to modern ears, but it's Nile Rodgers-sampling beat and accessible flows that transformed it into a worldwide hit, peaking at number three in the UK charts. From then on, radio DJs and curators would begin to increasingly see rap music as something much more than a throwaway American import. It wasn’t until the 90s though we reached what some consider to be the ‘golden age’ of hip-hop. Many of the genre’s demigods including A Tribe Called Quest, The Notorious BIG, Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, OutKast, etc. reached their stylistic peaks in this time. That being said, hip-hop was still quite far from the mainstream throughout the 1990s, it gained a lot of momentum during that decade but these rappers weren’t scratching the surface in terms of commercial value that today’s MCs are experiencing.
So with the genre reaching heights that weren’t even conceivable 30 years ago, why does the hip-hop community seem more divided than ever? It doesn’t take a particularly fine-tuned ear to deduce that the rappers which are dominating the charts today are sonically worlds apart from their pre-millenium counterparts. The boombap beats and jazz-rap production have, at least on the more commercial side of things, been traded in for trap hi-hats and triplet flows - something which many old skoolers see as the death of genre. But perhaps what they’re missing is that this evolution is exactly what will keep hip-hop around for decades to come. Without these sorts of stylistic shifts, any genre would quickly become stagnant and fade from the mainstream in a matter of a few short years.
The typical music listener is fickle, and becoming increasingly so as we progress deeper into the digital age. Albums such as Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak or Travis Scott’s Rodeo, as polarising as they may be, are absolutely essential to keep any art form advancing and remaining fresh and interesting. Though, to see rap as having simply gone from Wu-Tang to Migos in 20 years is a surface level view. The development and enrichment of hip-hop over this period has seen it embark on countless off-shoots and subgenres, just as rock music has done for the past half a century. This has paved the way for so many artists who are each pushing the boundaries in their own unique way. Acts like Death Grips, Danny Brown, JPEGMAFIA, and clipping. are just a few who are under the ‘hip-hop’ umbrella, but go much further than spitting over a beat. Even when considering production alone, the horizons have been hugely broadened thanks to so many trailblazer producers entering the hip-hop sphere. A key example being SOPHIE, the former PC Music figurehead whose tragic passing shook the music world in January. Her unique, glitchy production stylings took kindly to a collaboration with Vince Staples in 2018 for the hit ‘Yeah Right’. Hip-hop has essentially come-of-age throughout the 2010s, it’s reached a point of no return whereby the creative possibilities are infinite. Though it’s reasonable to concede its popularity may dwindle, the doors which have been opened by this mini-renaissance period will remain open for all to walk through.