Posts Tagged: Hip Hop

"Illmatic" At 20, Nas At 40

The problem for living legends is that they have to live with their legends. This is especially so when their legend was a product of their youth and its mindset, which they outgrow, becoming legendary, but which you still see in them, knowing their legend much more than you know them. Imagine Achilles enfeebled. Imagine his pain and confusion if, having grown out of his strength, he looked still like a breaker of men.

Like this is Nas, who became famous with his second album, in 1996, but who made his name with his first album, "Illmatic," twenty years ago, and likes to rap about how he still [...]


Kanye West And His "Thirty White Bitches"

"Yeezus," the new and almost pathologically anticipated Kanye West album, was leaked online two weeks ago and then, probably out of custom, released legally last week. Upon first listen it reminded me of Nine Inch Nails, Death Grips, and my dad—but not because West now has a two-week-old child with girlfriend Kim Kardashian.

When my father was in undergrad at a small HBCU in the Midwest, he joined the storied black fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi. Fraternity chapters, despite their ethnic and regional differences, will nevertheless always share some DNA, and so it shouldn't surprise you that my dad's frat was big on giving people nicknames. Some brothers were called things [...]


A Chat With Drummer Karriem Riggins About Bending Genres To Make A Career

Few musicians move so fluidly between genres as drummer and producer Karriem Riggins. As a jazz sideman, Riggins has played with jazz artists like Diana Krall, Milt Jackson and Oscar Peterson while simultaneously contributing beats and productions to records by Common, J Dilla, the Roots, Erykah Badu and others. 2012 has been a particularly fruitful year for Riggins. It began with his appearance on Paul McCartney’s most recent record, Kisses on the Bottom, in which the former Beatle covered and channeled the prewar pop songwriters that he listened to as a child. And in October, Riggins released his first solo LP, a kaleidoscopic instrumental hip-hop album called Alone Together, on [...]


Yasiin Bey Would Like You To Quit Calling Him Mos Def

At a performance last August, the deliberate and sharply dressed emcee, who is also well known as an actor, announced his “official transition” to a huge audience gathered in the parking lot of a popular pub and pizzeria in Anchorage, Alaska: “My professional name will be my chosen and my legal name, which is Yasiin Bey. … And I don’t want to have to wait for it to be in Source or Vibe or someplace. I figure, we’re all here. We can see each other.” And then he spelled it out for them: “Y-A-S-I-I-N, first name. Last name: B-E-Y.”

When a few Alaskans made some disapproving noises, Bey responded, [...]


Drake's "HYFR": Whose Bar Mitzvah Is It Anyway?

The text at the beginning of Drake's video for "HYFR"—"On October 24th 2011 Aubrey 'Drake' Graham chose to get re-bar mitzvah'd as a re-commitment to the Jewish religion … the following is a clip displaying the event that took place"—can be taken as seriously or sardonically as you want. Drake's much-anticipated "bar mitzvah" video, released on the first night of Passover, was originally hyped on the web as a "re-creation" of his original childhood ceremony. We get actual footage from baby Drake’s celebration at the intro, but beyond that, this is a music video staged at a bar mitzvah. If we hadn’t been told in advance that it means [...]


When Did The Remix Become A Requirement?

Consider this: according to, about 800 remixes were released in 1983. In 1990, more than 4,000; in 2000, almost 15,000. And in 2010, there were 22,750 remixes released, an increase of more than 450% in twenty years. Not surprisingly, as that number has leapt up, remixes also have come to represent a much larger share of what's being released: in 1983, they accounted for 2% of all releases; 7% in 1990; 17% in 2000; until, by 2010, a staggering 20% of all releases were remixes.

How did we get to the point where a one-hit-wonder band from the '90s like Marcy Playground can release an entire [...]


A Q. & A. With Skyzoo, Mixtape Master

When I was in eighth grade, I was madly in love. But the girl, who I wanted to marry and sometimes wrote sad poems about, didn't feel the same way. So I decided to prove my love with a mixtape. For me, music was (and still is) the most intense force in the world, so I thought this would truly make her reciprocate my affection. I set my plan in motion by stealing my oldest brother's Motley Crue cassette, putting pieces of tape over those tiny holes so I could record over the screeching of Vince Neil, and adding songs to my mixtape that would show just how great I [...]


The Missing Episode of VH1’s "Tanning Of America": Ladies Make Noise!

All my women in the house love hip hop, and yet it does often seem that hip hop has trouble loving them back. Gangsta rap and corner boy narratives aside, even the most thoughtful, most nakedly vulnerable emcees will identify a woman—if not all women, in general—as the vessel of their frustrations and fatalism. Kanye West will punctuate his "black excellence" thesis and anti-capitalist invective with poignant misogyny. In 2014, Yeezus is state-of-the-art.

But enough about the boys.

Watching VH1's four-part Tanning of America documentary—a broadcast reconfiguration of rap executive Steve Stoute's book of the same name, published in 2011—you'd never guess that women listen to [...]


Chris Kelly, 1978-2013

"To millions of fans worldwide, he was the trend-setting, backwards-pants wearing one-half of Kriss Kross who loved making music. But to us, he was just Chris—the kind, generous and fun-loving life of the party. Though he was only with us a short time, we feel blessed to have been able to share some incredible moments with him. His legacy will live on through his music, and we will forever love him." —Donna Kelly Pratte eulogizes her son Chris, a.k.a. "Mac Daddy," who was found dead yesterday at his home in Atlanta, of an apparent drug overdose. He was 34.


An Intro To Rebel Hip-Hop Of The Arab Revolutions

From time to time, Awl Music will be bringing you a themed playlist, which can best be enjoyed on the Awl Music app for iPad.

Early adopters in countries like Morocco, Algeria and Palestine have a more strongly developed and time-tested hip-hop scene—but across the greater Arab world, hip-hop has risen up alongside folk anthems as a revolutionary soundtrack.

And in the Western world, Arab diaspora rap preoccupies itself with questions of Eastern and Western dislocated identity. These artists take a great deal of inspiration from some of the greats of politically conscious rap in the eighties and nineties in the United States, particularly Public Enemy and Wu-Tang Clan. [...]


Express' Crazy 90s Guide To "Street Slang"

In college, I dated a girl who applied for a job at an Express store in the mall. Part of her training involved something called the "Express You! Street Verbage [sic] Guide"—an almost unbelievably wrongheaded dictionary of street terms and slang that Express management wanted sales associates to learn so as to best relate to customers. My friend, a greeter-in-training, was instructed to review and memorize it. To be fair, this was the mid-90s. Illmatic had just dropped, Mariah Carey was putting out remixes with ODB, and it was virtually impossible to avoid TLC’s “Waterfalls.” But never mind that. The guide was funny even then—and as soon as I heard [...]


Miss Simone's Ninth-Grade Hip Hop Appreciation Class in Brooklyn

Earlier this month, Becca Simone’s music appreciation class at Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School in Brooklyn, NY, sat down to a test. It was four pages long. The test started with:

1. List three characteristics about the Bronx in the 1970s:

2. What type of music was popular during the 1970’s when the hip hop movement was beginning?

And once the students got through those (and the 28 questions following) they were met with the essay question:

Part 2. Write a brief (about 5-8 sentences) response about the hip hop movement. What about it do you find interesting? How has the music changed over the years (i.e., in terms of [...]


"Make Me Proud": Does Drake Actually Care About Women?

Aubrey “Drake” Graham released his sophomore album, Take Care, the other week. On it, Drake talks about many women, and sometimes a single woman, and all the ways they’ve hurt and mistreated the rapper-singer from Toronto. And, of course, there is one song on the album he reserves to sing directly to the ladies. It’s called “Make Me Proud"—and it’s his requisite Song for Women.

It's hard to think of a current rapper who’s gotten as much out of this tradition as Drake, the 25 year old who is “hip-hop’s current center of gravity.” The Song For Women is not a new staple in hip hop—go back [...]


With the Ladies in the Back at an Odd Future Show

Late on Friday night, I joined a lot of other white people at the Highline Ballroom to see Odd Future. At the door, a girl in a Juicy sweatshirt handed out paper masks of Tyler, The Creator’s face. The image was borrowed from his self-designed Goblin album cover. There were eyeholes punched out, so that you couldn’t see the milky black irises he’d Photoshopped onto his own face, and so that every person there could resemble Tyler while they chanted “swag,” “goblin,” and “Free Earl," who needs no freeing, at the 20-year-old with a microphone and a record deal who claims not to care for his own music.


Even White People Can't Destroy Hip Hop

"There’s a recent strain of rap music that has the purists up in arms just as much, if not more, than Macklemore does. Influenced by experimentalists like Kanye West and Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane, a new wave of artists from Chicago and Atlanta have been pushing rap into aesthetic spaces it has never been before. Often using Autotune to warp their voices in ways traditional rappers never could, they bleed one word into the next, blurring the line between rapping and singing. Folks like Future, Chief Keef, Z Money, Rich Homie Quan, Young Thug—these guys puts far more focus on melodic vocal delivery, and far less on word-by-word lyricism, [...]


Which Is A Worse Piece Of Garbage, Ray J's Song About Kim Kardashian Or Brad Paisley And L.L. Cool J's Song About Race Relations?

This week, hip-hop presents us with an interesting problem: Which is more horrible, a song from a second-rate publicity whore rehashing his biggest claim to fame, which happens to have been making a sex tape with a woman who has gone to become far more successful and famous than he has? Or an extraordinarily clunky country-rap hybrid that makes a great mess in its attempt to tackle the difficult subject of race in America. We'd all be better off ignoring both these things—each, from all appearances, created in a cynical effort to drum up otherwise undeserved attention. But their coincidental arrival has me curious. What is worse for the [...]


Frank Ocean, "Forrest Gump"

"Be clear. Frank Ocean, as part of a hip hop collective (Odd Future), will go down in history as the most high profile hip hop/R&B artist to go public with their homosexuality or bi-sexuality. In the same year that President Obama publicly supports gay marriage, and Anderson Cooper comes out of the closet, it will be really interesting to see how one of the more openly homophobic subcultures reacts to Frank’s honesty. Is his audience younger and more open-minded so it won’t phase them? Will other long-rumored gay, lesbian, or bisexual hip hop stars be inspired to make their own statements? Ironically, Frank’s crew has put out some really [...]


Two Early Poems By Odd Future's Earl Sweatshirt

I didn't even know that Thebe Kgositsile, a.k.a. Earl Sweatshirt, went to my elementary school before I started leafing through old copies of "The Poet Tree," the poetry collection from our alma mater, Community Magnet School in Los Angeles.

His poem "Mummies" (my favorite of the two here) needs no explanation, except to note that it's incredible to see a five- or six-year-old with the swagger of Biggie or the like. This bigger-than-the-world-and-all-the-scary-things-in-it mentality is something that many rappers front, but what makes Earl Sweatshirt so amazing is that he's genuinely had it since he was a tot (just compare his poem to the one below his to see the [...]


Learning To DJ At Rock And Soul

Tucked on 7th Avenue, between 35th and 36th, sits the music store Rock and Soul, which has been providing the city's DJs with gear and vinyl since 1975. Over the decades, a number of influential DJs and musicians have made Rock and Soul their hub, among them Kid Capri, who deejayed for seven seasons of Def Comedy Jam and has produced tracks for Heavy D and Quincy Jones; DJ Funkmaster Flex, who played a pivotal role in introducing hip hop across the radio waves on NYC’s Hot 97; and legendary hip hop pioneer Kool Herc.

A couple years ago, the store started offering DJ lessons, and [...]


Kanye’s '808s': How A Machine Brought Heartbreak To Hip Hop

Part of a series on collaborations that we now take for granted but initially made little sense.

Hip hop’s lyrical narrative often gets unfairly abbreviated to being about nothing more than posturing and persona, a never-ending series of mostly meaningless boasts about how nice my rhymes sound, and so on. That’s been a component of the story for a long time—recall Sugar Hill Gang’s proud pronouncement, in 1979, that “I got a color TV, so I can see/the Knicks play basketball”—but hip hop verses are also a place for confessions, specifically for those of black men. There's a reason, for example, that Scarface once wrote a song [...]