I’ve been sitting on this for awhile, but with some of the people I’ve seen getting deals recently, I think it has to be said. I believe that the internet is killing hip hop. It’s fundamentally changed the game in a way that I’m not sure it can fully recover from. It was the $3 million deal A$AP Rocky signed with RCA that pushed me over the edge. That’s a lot of money for a dude with a singular mixtape and a couple of videos. Not many other rappers I’ve known have gotten that much straight out of the gate, and he got it, essentially, for biting the style and sound of 8Ball & MJG and UGK, without doing anything particularly clever or interesting with it. To see how this happens, let’s step into the WABAC time machine with Sherman & Mr. Peabody and take a trip.
The year is 2006 and the location is the bustling metropolis of New York City. In this city of millions, there is a young man named Papoose. He had put out a couple of mixtapes in 2004 and 2005 which had gotten the attention of some heavy hitters in the hip-hop game. One such person was Busta Rhymes, the once dreadlocked member of Leaders of the New School and the man who dropped classic tracks like “Gimme Some More.” Busta got Papoose to be on the remix for “Touch It,” which might be one of the best club tracks to come out in the third millennium. Papoose killed his appearance on the track, displaying a consummate flow while switching in and out of double time with ease.
Along with the earlier mixtapes, this led to Papoose being discussed as the next great American rapper, the one who would bring New York City back to prominence. The hype led to a stream of mixtapes being put out by the Brooklyn based emcee. At last count, it was 27 mixtapes over eight years.
Even though he’s a very good emcee, I ask how many of you know who this dude is? Can you name a track from him? The fact that you probably answered no to both questions shows the problem of hip-hop on the internet. This instantaneous distribution model has created a flood of shitty emcees who overshadow talented ones because due to their novelty or some other arbitrary measure of talent that isn’t their flow, they somehow end up getting more write-ups on blogs.
This is a fundamental shift in the game for the negative. For ages, the story was the same if you were a rapper and wanted to get up. There were four set ways to get a deal. The first was to get your track on a radio show. The second was to get a track or a freestyle verse on a DJ-curated mixtape. The third was to push your tape on the street. The last was to get a video onto BET, which remains supportive of upcoming hip-hop artists. All of these roads require a lot of grinding and being good. Many of those who followed this road are legendary rappers that you know now, like Jay-Z, Nas, or E-40 & UGK.
The new kids are seeing the internet success of artists like Lil Wayne and Odd Future and get the idea that if they post a mixtape on Hypebeast and a video on YouTube people will magically find them, hype them and they’ll blow up. But hip hop doesn’t really work like that; it’s still a meritocracy. Hype might serve a young emcee well at the beginning, but they have to bring it to be remembered. And, to be honest, a lot of them aren’t. So, all that hype they’ve gotten isn’t going to keep them in the game for more than a couple of years if they’re lucky. If you want to make some actual money and have longevity, it comes down to tangibles like putting records in people’s hands and rocking the mic live.
The shows I’m recommending this month may not all be hip-hop oriented, but they are acts that I believe will enjoy a fair amount of longevity, as they all work very hard to connect with audiences live. The first weekend of October brings two excellent bands to The Mill: On Oct. 6, Chicago-based Like Pioneers will be bringing their energetic, expansive pop music into town. Their most recent release Oh, Magic is a rollicking affair that brings some rocking, garage-style elements to the fore while never losing its pop sensibilities or being boring. If you have been keeping up with bands in the current indie pop revival like Wild Nothing and Hospitality, this is a show worth checking out.
The next day, Oct. 7, brings neo-psychedelic/freak folk band Woods. Following the old school rap mentality, these gentlemen have been continuously releasing new records and touring the world in support of them over the past five years. Their sound pulls equally from 1960s psychedelica, AM pop, traditional folk music and krautrock while throwing in some noise and tape experimentation for fun. While they may have a propensity for extended jamming, they are able to keep it focused, avoiding the traps of some of their contemporaries.
Focus is what has defined Rhymesayers emcee Brother Ali over the years. He has honed his smooth, quick flow through years of rapping on the underground. While he does talk politics, he isn’t preachy about it and he keeps a personal edge to his approach. He will be coming to Gabe’s on Oct. 9. Another important point to note here is the appearance of Homeboy Sandman in support. A New York-based rapper with a dexterous, variable flow, Homeboy’s one of the most interesting—and highest quality—rappers that you probably don’t know.
The last show is Sam Locke-Ward’s record release show at Gabe’s on Oct. 12. The last time I saw Locke Ward perform was last year. He was opening for Ty Segall, and it was one of the most memorable live rock shows I’ve seen in this city. It was action-packed and fully entertaining. I want to see more artists—local and touring—bring the intensity that Locke-Ward does on stage. I know that performance didn’t just come out of thin air; he had to work on that, at home and on the road, getting his music out to the public the old fashioned way.
A.C. Hawley wonders how many people are listening to the new Kreayshawn tracks right now.