A little over a decade ago, Nas–who needs no intro–spit a verse in his “Hip-Hop Is Dead” single, saying:
“Everybody sound the same, commercialize the game, Reminiscin’ when it wasn’t all business, If it got where it started, So we all gather here for the dearly departed.”
And after eleven years, his verse is more relevant than ever. Recently, during an interview between Phresher and The Breakfast Club, he stated that “People who want real rap ain’t paying for it.” This statement left me with a lingering question, “Are we distracted by the hype of hook-rappers?”
I pondered on this for almost a week, then realized Hip-Hop has always had various content with lyricism that’s fleeting–cool to us one day, dead to us the next. And while Hip-Hop may be in what seems like a stagnant space, below are the few lyricists making it their business to keep it alive.
As of recent, Big Sean released his top charting album, I Decided, announced his I Decided Tour–which starts on the 17th–and was recently announced as new creative collaborator and brand ambassador for Puma. Now if you’re familiar with Sean, you know his journey to fame wasn’t easy. The Detroit native rapped for almost ten minutes straight for Kanye West as he was walking out the radio station, handed him his mixtape, and it still took a little over two years after that to get signed. That humble experience in itself is still relevant to the way he flows today. You can’t listen to a Big Sean song without taking away some sort of lesson from his story. Sean’s flow is just too crazy to underrate. Peep below why we love what Sean Don does for the culture.
Chance The Rapper
When it comes to Chance The Rapper, there’s much to analyze. Not only did the Chi-town artist win Grammys off of his third mixtape, The Coloring Book, he recently got sponsorship by Kit Kat, and donated a million dollars to Chicago public schools. This isn’t the first time Chance has gave back to his community. Being that he is from Chicago, he does a lot of free events for his community time to time including hosting free open mic events for high school students which he’s been doing since 2015. When it comes to music, he always puts it out for free and when you see him perform, you know he’s giving his all. Even before his hit single “No Problem,” his work on his prior mixtapes gave us great singles like “Chain Smoker” and “Hey Ma,” which brought a new sound to the game.
He’s frequently placed gospel influences and instrumentation–from Donnie and The Social Experiment–next to lyrics which have inspired a whole wave for music. After having collaborations with people like Kanye West, Kirk Franklin, and Lil Wayne, you would think that he’s signed to a label, but regardless of the success, Chance chooses to remain independent as an artist and loyal to the Save Money movement. Before ever knocking what he does for us lyrically , just remember that he once said this:
“Call me Chancellor The Rapper, please say “The Rapper”
Magical word (poof), please say ‘Kadabra
Replay the replays; Green Bay, the Packers
Cremate your teammates and freebase the ashes
Matches to gas leaks, dusted dusk till dawn
It’s just us, and trust ya bottom bitch, my stuff the fucking bomb”
These days, it’s hard to not be excited by Kendrick Lamar. Before To Pimp A Butterfly and his Untitled album dropped, we knew Kendrick was the real deal. With his projects like the C4 mixtape, Overly Dedicated, and Section.80 he showed us that he was not only versatile, but that he deserved our attention. The day Kendrick dropped “The Heart Pt.2” was the day I realized the TDE artist was going to be something major in the game. When it comes to lyrics, Kendrick touches on heavy subjects and his verses always bring us different emotions. With the use of his music, he’s attracted brands like Beats by Dre as well as the attention of Reebok.With his lyricism and style, there’s just no way of mentioning Hip-Hop without him. Here’s a freestyle Kendrick did on the spot with a fan during a his concert late last year.
When it comes to J.Cole, Dreamville automatically comes to mind. If you grew up in Fayetteville, NC –like myself–you know that J.Cole stands for more than just being a good rapper. Being the lyricist he is, he gave not just our city hope but brought problematic factors of America to the surface. Back in 2009, he signed to Roc Nation, released his second mixtape, The Warm Up, and appeared on Jay Z’s album The Blueprint 3 for the track “A Star Is Born”. Since then, J.Cole has gone double platinum with no features and had his latest album 4 Your Eyez Only reach #1. Even with his amount of success, J.Cole has remained unchanged and is constantly on a grind to be able to give back to his community. With his lyrics and style, there’s no one that can duplicate what he brings to the culture. While in the game, he’s had a deal with Sprite with his own lyrics printed on the company’s can next to other legends like Missy Elliot and Tupac. Here’s an unforgettable performance conducted by the 910 native on Jimmy Kimmel.
Last but certainly not least, there’s Joey Bada$$. Whether he’s making projects with Pro Era or doing solo projects, the Flatbush native (who’s reminiscent of Q-Tip )0 never disappoints. The lyricist first caught our third eye with his single “Waves” off his 1999 mixtape back in 2012 and decided to thrive unsigned to a label. Since 2012, Joey has put out his Summer Knights mixtape, his B4.Da.$$ album, and is set to release his All- Amerikkkan Bada$$ album on April 7th. Outside the game, he’s collaborated with Adidas, Crooks and Castles, Mountain Dew, and has made his acting debut in Mr. Robot. Before 2016 came to a close, A Tribe Called Quest referred to him as well as Earl Sweatshirt, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole as the “gatekeepers of flow ” in Hip-Hop. Here’s a freestyle Joey did on Flex a couple months back that added to our list reasonings of appreciating his craft.
In summary, there are different kinds of rappers in the game: Lyrical–which we could consider as the last of the dying breed, Hip-Hop you can dance to at the club, trap, and then you have Hip-Hop that has pop qualities. Every rapper–and artist in general–has certain strengths that makes them stand out from the other and that’s what makes the culture so beautiful. Once we come to accept and support Hip-Hop as a whole, it’ll forever flourish on any beat.