Hip Hop is dead. Nas said it back in 2006. If you look at the wiki page, there’s a lot of reasons he said it. He thinks it’s dead because the rapper no longer has the power. “Can you imagine what 50 Cent would be doing, Nas, Jay, Eminem, if we were the Jimmy Iovines?” (Iovine is co-founder of Intersope records and all around Godfather of music) He thinks it’s dead because America is dead. Because we have no political voice. He means that if hip hop doesn’t change, it will disappear like Rome. I agreed with him then, and I still agree with him.
I can hear your eyes rolling from here. Yes, I currently am wearing a t-shirt covered in tiny anchors, and basketball shorts. Yes, I drive a Hyundai. Yes, I watched an awesome indie film called “The Way Way Back” this weekend and cried a little. Yes I love sad emo music. There’s a million reasons why I shouldn’t be here telling you Hip Hop is dead. And there’s two million reasons why you shouldn’t listen to me. But I’m gonna talk about it anyway. Let’s start this thing off by being clear about what “Hip Hop is dead” means. It means it’s ALMOST dead. It means a whole lot of guys in the past 5 years have tried their darndest to take the creativity, and to take the balls out of hip hop. Well if Hip Hop is almost dead, then that means it has a chance to be resuscitated. And if it can be brought back to life, I want to introduce you to a couple of guys that could be holding the defibrillators.
Killer Mike introduced himself to the world through the Grammy winning Outkast song “The Whole World“. Thanks to his “Glitter, glisten, gloss, floss. I catch a beat runnin like Randy Moss” I think of Mike every time I hear Randy’s name… Which, lately, is admittedly not often. He released his debut album, Monster, in 2003, and achieved moderate success, though he never quite captured the minds of the American public. His rhymes are complex, and his growl is somewhere between ferocious and smooth. Mike briefly attended Morehouse College, where he met The Beat Bullies and eventually Big Boi and Dre of Outkast. I’ve half way paid attention to Mike over the years, and even though each successive album was less noticed by the public, each album was better than the last. The “Pledge Allegience To The Grind” series is especially good. Not mind blowing, but really solid. And then something really cool happened… He met El-P.
Who is El-P? To answer that question, I turned to state-lines own Ken Whiting.
“To answer the question posed by my friend and Stateliner J-Haas, I need to preface the heavy headed, thought challenging world of “Producer” artists. Clams Casino, Exile, Hudson Mohawke, Flying Lotus, or even El- P; these are all artists from the producing end. And producing here really means; slamming down some beats, synthing up some hooks, or breaking up and chopping thick basslines. These dudes are artists behind machines. And they lay down some of the most mind-blowing music, but often their sound dies down with the wear and tear of generic rap clouding up their work. EL, son of Harry Keys, radical jazz pianist, was born with connections to music. But its how he used them that crafted his genre shaping producer career. He worked hard, and people who matter in the scene saw his hard work and rewarded it. And as it tends to happen, when talent rises to the surface it’s passed around without hitting it big for years. The labels milk every dollar and own every buck-making teat. El-P has continued to garner respect, and his work ethic has proven successful. He made his connections his friends, and he got to know them, and what he could get out of them. And he burned his ass on the tables producing righteous beats. Producing is a much more daunting challenge than it would appear on the surface, as the songs must be sculpted to the voice. And El-P knows his boy Mike from a working relationship. This all culminated with his choice to collaborate with a friend, and fellow industry rapper Mike. And the two came together to make a new character, a new sound, that is Run the Jewels.”
In Killer Mike and El-P, we have the new tag team champs of the world (and word). The first collaboration between the two is Mike’s R.A.P. Music. El-P produces the entire thing, and Mike limits the feature spots to heavy hitters like Bun-B and T.I. The result is a true classic, a year defining album in Hip Hop. And poetically, the album arrived in 2012. Just in time for the end of the world and the death of all things, including Hip Hop. But of course, what happens next, as what always happens with doomsday prophecies, life goes on. And I think that means, so does Hip Hop. Mike’s rapping, which has always been great, was brought to another level by El-P’s production. His rhyming schemes are complex, his metaphors are dense, and his subject matter ranges from bombastic egotism to political awareness. And in turn, El-P’s production has never sounded so great. He listened to Mike, and learned who he is, and built lush tracks from the ground up that help to tell whatever story Mike dreams up.
That would be enough to restore faith in Hip Hop. But the duo took it a step further and dropped the collaboration “Run The Jewels” on June 26th. You can download it for free here. This album lacks some of the ideological complexity of “R.A.P. Music” and sticks to playful and braggadocios lyrical gymnastics. Each track is classic El-P production, and each verse tries to out do the last. There is already plans for Mike and El-P to work together more. I’m excited. I think they may represent some of Hip Hop’s last true rebels. In a world where album titles get more and more ridiculous (MagnaCartaHolyGrail, Yeezus) and it’s leading artists lose touch with the common man, we still have Mike and Jaime, the last of the no-sellouts.