No matter how much these new MCs in rap try to live down the label, hipster rap is still a hot button term in hip-hop. The new XXL cover– with the 10 freshman– has people up in arms, claiming most of these artists are hipster rappers who owe their whole careers to nahright. I say, bullshit.
Hipster rap is not new, it’s actually old. It’s just that now it’s a sub genre label. Before, hipster rap– in all its creative incarnations– was actually something we may have forgotten about amidst all these rappers busting their guns and moving keys like piano men. It was just hip-hop. Period. Back when hip-hop was allowed to be like, ya’know, creative.
One of the leaders of that school was a group called A Tribe Called Quest, and damn near twenty years after they stepped on the scene, the group is once again relevant. The Native Tongues movement was classified as a “hippie” rap collective. The new school artists who ran with elements of their style, and sort of updated the formula, are called “hipster” rappers. Coincidence? I think not.
And you’d think that with everyone sort of ripping a page from the Tribe manual, it’d be hard for Q-Tip to reinsert himself in the scene and carve out his own niche. But he has. And with his new album, he’s actually doing something that I don’t think any other New York artist has done in a while, and that’s really come out with a progressive hip-hop LP. All the really creative music that has come out in recent years has come from elsewhere. Now I know the word “creative” is sort of a loaded one, because anyone can say they’re being creative. Jay-Z could say American Gangster was creative, Ludacris can say his new performance art-themed LP Theater of the Mind is creative. Yeah, I dig it. But to me, those LPs are just beats and rhymes. Maybe lyrically they’re in some creative territory, but the music itself has to match it. Like Graduation, sonically, that’s some creative shit, from the samples to the drums to the arrangements to the way the songs are put together.
Now I’d be the first to call a guy like Q-Tip to task if he was putting out some wack shit. I’d say move the fuck over, so a better artist can take advantage of that money Universal Motown’s spending on you. But the reality of it is, Tip’s new LP, The Renaissance, which drops tomorrow, is dope. It’s really great that people are paying attention to it as well, because at times like these– with our economy in the shitter, wars raging, and the potential for change (tomorrow)– we need our artists to be like armchair therapists. It’s gotta get us through the storm. That’s when music really means something to you, whether you paid for it or not.
Tip’s music is dope because it’s good. Not because it comes from hype drawn from a scene full of fashionistas, bloggers, and assorted scenesters. And not because your local radio DJ has been paid 10gs to keep dropping a bomb on it (even if, ya’know, your local DJ actually was paid 10gs to drop a bomb on it), or because he’s on 20 thousand mixtapes. Tip’s actually the antithesis to all of that, and people are still checking for him.
And there’s something to be said for that. For people organically embracing something. It’s got to be such, because so many people have run with the Q-tip blueprint– so many hipster rappers have tread the same waters– that it’d be impossible for him to come back if his shit wasn’t just creative and dope.