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The return of backpacker rap

Confession time: I enjoy quite a bit of so-called backpacker rap. I never really bought into the idea put forth by Village Voice blogger Tom “Southern Strategy” Breihan and XXL’s own Tara “Bol’s Charity Work” Henley that backpackers are boring because all they do is complain about shit. In fact, there’s hardly anything I enjoy more than to complain about shit.

I suppose I do fit the backpacker profile to a certain degree in the sense that I read and write well, spend an insane amount of time on the Internets (for which I get paid, thank you very much), and can count myself among the only 1 in 4 people this age who have a bachelor’s degree, a statistic I read recently in Anya Kamenetz’s fascinating Generation Debt.

That said, you won’t catch your father rocking a headwrap or any other kind of clothes that can’t be purchased at Chesterfield Mall. I get the majority of my meals from fast food joints and try not to drink any water that doesn’t have beer in it. I reject political correctness out of hand and enjoy nothing more than to treat a woman as an object.

In general, I’d like to think that I can enjoy any kind of music based on the actual merit of the music itself rather than whatever bullshit societal expectations. But the fact of the matter is that this year most of the best hip-hop albums could be best categorized as backpacker rap. Most non-backpacker rap these days, meanwhile, kinda sucks balls.

Already, Ghostface Killah’s Fishscale, probably the year’s most critically acclaimed hip-hop album, featured production by the likes of MF Doom and J Dilla, who’s dead now. Later this year will see the release of albums by Lupe Fiasco, The Roots, and Nas (a backpacker of sorts), all of which are being co-signed by the CEO of hip-hop, Jay-Z.

Meanwhile, radio (though not so much hip-hop stations) looks like it will be dominated this summer by the likes of Fort Minor, Gnarls Barkley, and possibly Jurassic 5, who have a song out with Dave Matthews. I could care less about any of them, but whatever commercial success they experience can only bode well for alternative forms of hip-hop.

In an age when radio and TV are overrun with god-awful southern rap, and when it’s not uncommon to see Billboard’s top 10 with nary a single hip-hop album, is backpacker rap due for a comeback?

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