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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Gettin' Anchory: Why hip-hop gets a bad rap

Welcome to Getting’ Anchory, a semi-regular feature where Anchor Management (see what he did there?) rants about the aspects of popular culture that get him riled up, to appease the demon monkeys that live in his head. Also, to make fart jokes.

It all started on November 22, 2010. Pitchfork gave Kanye West’s latest album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” a perfect 10. Ever since, I’ve had many discussions with hipsters friends to defend to quality of MBDTF and the fundamental appeal of hip-hop itself (the terms hip-hop and rap are commonly used interchangeably, which is fine, but to be accurate hip-hop is the entire subculture and rap is the music that comes out of that. I will use both terms to denote the music to reduce repetition. On with the show!). After the initial shock of Pitchfork giving a non-super obscure indie band a perfect score and the subsequent title spot on many year lists, there was an enormous backlash, mostly from people who either hadn’t listened to the album, hated Kanye as a person or disliked hip-hop in general. But their disliking of the album actually displayed a deeper grudge against all rap music.

Now, this is not a new sentiment. As someone who has no qualms about professing his love for hip-hop music, I have encountered this negative attitude many times. The worst case was when I was at a party, the music changed to rap and the guy I was having a conversation with told me “If you one rap song, you’ve heard them all”. Which, of course, is far from the truth. But to an outsider, who only has limited access to rap and only knows popular artists, that may hold true.

The main problem hip-hop seems to have it that most popular artist are bad. And the ones that aren’t bad usually put out some of their worst tracks to get airplay. This creates the impression that hip-hop itself is terrible, because that is the only hip-hop they’ll ever hear. Because unlike pop, rock or dance, the only way to come into contact with the other side of hip-hop is to actively seek it out and most people don’t care enough to do it and stick to what they know. Fair enough, but don’t base you dislike on what is on the surface. You shouldn’t judge rap on Li’l John, just like you should never judge rock on Nickleback. To quote Bo Burnham (who is himself a better rapper than most people in the charts):

“There's so much pain beyond this steeple, wars and drugs and homeless people, Sadness where there should be joy, hate and rape and Soulja Boy”

Because yes, performers like Soulja Boy are on par with rape (but less so than rape-rape). But everything that gets mainstream sucks. Mainstream literature includes Nicolas Sparks and Elizabeth Gilbert, some of the most watched shows on TV are “Two and a Half Men” and “Outsourced”, you see where I’m going with this. To be commercially successful, you have to accepted by a majority, with means pandering to the lowest common denominator. If you’re not a commercial success, you aren’t recognized as a real artist by the general public. For a terrible insight in how that shit works, please visit Who Is Arcade Fire.

Like any genre of music, the alternative acts is where it really gets interesting. For every Diddy, Nelly or 50 Cent there is an artist like El-P, who is a storyteller who craft bizarre tales that go far beyond the bragging and boasting that is prevalent in the mainstream. Just listen to "Habeas Corpses (Draconian Love)" featuring labelmate Cage, a four minute epic about two wardens/executioners on a post-apocalyptic prison ship. It handles the topics of the influence of power in human interaction, the ethics of the death penalty and, of course, love. Plus the title is a delightful pun! If I were lillybobbytables, I would make some smart comparison between this song and literature. Maybe Cormac McCarthy? Anyway, listen for yourselves:

Another great example is Wale, who you could know through his flopped single with Lady Gaga (probably an idea from the label, I have no clue what that was about, other that she tries to sound like M.I.A., who wasn’t available?), but should be known for his Seinfeld-themed mixtapes. On “The Mixtape About Nothing” he has a song called “The Kramer”. The song is based on Michael Richards’ using the N-word in which he gives a very inspired view on racial relation in the U.S. Contains strong language (no duh).

There are many great artists in the hip-hop scene, like Sole, Kid CuDi, Aesop Rock, Hoodie Allen, Blu, Atmosphere, Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip, Lupe Fiasco, Jay Electronica, etc, etc. that try to either push the genre forward or help it regain credibility. Unfortunately, their music doesn’t come with a dance and video filling with video hoes…


  1. Dude. This is awesome. Like anything, rap can be a difficult thing to get into. Do you have any "Must Listens" for people looking to get into the genre? On the more mainstream side, my list would be, in no particular order:

    Outkast - Stankonia
    Ghostface Killah - Fishscale
    Jay-Z - The Blueprint
    Lupe Fiasco - Lupe Fiasco's The Cool
    Kanye West - Late Registration
    Notorious B.I.G. - Ready to Die
    Dr. Dre - The Chronic

    There are, of course, a million other awesome albums, but I happen to really love all of these, and they give a good sampling of different subgenres: New York, Dirty South, West Coast, etc.

  2. I love El-P very much. Flyentology is my jam.

    *grabs stick to knock away the onslaught of male suitors*

  3. So I was out tonight to attend this political thang (Monster Fit Club update: whoops) and I started talking to a few of my friends about music and guess what, one of them said "he didn't care for hip-hop). When I started talking it turned out there were some artists he liked, but not enough to keep him from making that statement.

    Also, it's really hard to say what people should start with when listening to hip-hop. I would try to give a sampling of the different ages of hip-hop and different interpretations. Your list is great to start with, I would add maybe A Tribe Called Quest - Anthology (if your starting out, greatest hits is the way to go) or De La Soul - 3 Feet High and Rising, Erik B and Rakim - Paid In Full, maybe Public Enemy and for more left field stuff M.I.A. - Arular, Sole - Selling Live Water, El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead, The Streets - A Grand Don't Come For Free. Man, I'm browsing through my music and there is so much great hip-hop I forgot about. Blackstarr, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, The Cool Kids, Elzhi...
    Also, I would like to plug the best Dutch hip-hop album ever, Pete Philly & Perquisite - Mindstate. A concept album so good, they got Talib Kweli to feature on it. Very laid back, definitely worth checking out.

  4. I would add J-Live to that list. The first time I head the song EmCee I was just blown away. Still am, actually.

    Also, Edan although I don't think he has done much in while. Das Racist too. Always loved the first Jazzmatazz album with Guru. And a bunch more I'm not thinking of at the moment.

  5. After yesterday's perfomance on Fallon, I have to include Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. Vid here:
    Also, did you guys know Donald Glover rapped under the name Childish Gambino? Apparently, he has already released three albums! It reminds me of Drake, which is not a bad thing. Listen to "Got This Money":

    @ thekelburrows: a woman with a pronounced taste is much more interesting than a woman who likes "you know, like, what's on the radio and junk".

    @Grinth: I was feeling Edan, great beats. Plus I have to revise my opinion on Das Racist. I had only heard "Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" and thought it was kinda funny, but too gimmicky. But after listeing to a couple more tracks, I'm kinda digging it.

  6. That is the first I've heard of Odd Future, but I really liked that video (is it just me, or has Fallon quietly become the best place for to catch good, fun music on late night). Will check out more.

    Coincidentally, KajusX actually played some Childish Gambino for me recently.

    It takes a little bit to get into Das Racist, but once you do they have some great stuff, and not at all just silly. You can download both of their albums for free off of their website,

    And just to touch upon J-Live again. Here is link to the the song Mcee. Take a listen to the second verse (around the 1 minute mark):