My homeboy Rob the Music Editor inspired this post when he wrote about DMX’s It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot not being a classic. I had to disagree on the basis that in hip-hop there’s only a handful of artists who’ve come through and changed the entire fabric of the rap game and been extremely successful as a result. That list includes 50 Cent, DMX and I don’t have time to think of who else. Hip-hop was headed in one direction, doing perfectly fine, and they single-handedly turned the needle on the compass. Of course, that alone doesn’t classify X’s debut as a classic—I think it’s a dope, complete project with demonic beats and a certain rawness and there’s no changing my mind.
The bigger question, though, is what defines a classic in 2008? Or, 2009, I should say. Problem is, most of the albums we consider classics dropped in the ’80s and ’90s. And much of determining a classic is hindsight—weighing an album’s cultural impact and replay value, among other factors. As far as the millennium goes, it’s Blueprint, Hell Hath No Fury (arguable, but classic to me), College Dropout or Late Registration, take your pick, and Be. That was only about three years ago, maybe I should be patient.
What does a rapper have to do to make a classic now? Maybe hip-hop has reached a point where it’s nearly impossible. One problem is that we’re not manufacturing stars at the rate we used to. There aren’t many new artists who can differentiate themselves enough from what’s already out to make something game changing. One of our freshmen 10 MCs also pointed out that new artists these days aren’t given the same benefit of the doubt as those in the past. While a Nas coming into the game would have more of an open lane, today’s Nas 2.0 has to push harder to be taken seriously, because there’s so much bullshit to get through and because fans are harder to please than ever.
It seemed like the original classics like Illmatic and Reasonable Doubt were made sort of by accident anyway, so maybe that’s what needs to happen. Either way, I’m anxious to see who’ll create the next undeniable hip-hop classic. Everyone thought Lil Wayne would have it but that didn’t happen. Shouldn’t take that many albums to make a classic, anyway. Tha Carter 4? —clovito