Today I’m going to bring to you two albums which are brilliant examples of great albums which people who dislike hip hop will love. Time and again I’ve known people to object to hip hop because after all it’s just about “blunts, bitches and big guns”. This generally deters people from getting into hip hop because they perceive it as being a juvenile, macho segment of music.
But it isn’t.
Hip hop differs from mainstream rap music because it covers more varied themes and involves using your brain. Hence the notion of a hip hop head. Yes a lot of good hip hop involves the afore mentioned themes but the genre covers all the areas that most music covers e.g. injustice, love, sex, insecurities, loss, and all the rest. The only trouble people have is finding this variation.
Luckily enough for you I’ve got two great examples here.
Q-Tip – The Renaissance
This is potentially the best album I have ever listened to. In a similar vein to the excitement that Arcade Fire’s latest album brings out of their fans, The Renaissance is something I behold with almost reverence. This is not because it has several great songs on it but because the album as a whole is great. There isn’t a single track on it which is sub-par or brings the album down. The album has been scripted as an entire album so it feels almost as if its a single continuous track, yet the shifts in the topics of the lyrical content and the fact each track has something special in its composition means you are far from bored. Lying down in the sunshine, putting this on and listening to the entire album in one go is something you have to do to realise just how good it is.
At this point you’re probably wondering how on earth I’m going to convey this through a couple of tracks. This is a damn hard task to do so I’m going to give you a track which I think sums up the general feel of the album first.
Amanda Diva‘s voice sounds even more extraordinary on the album
Next I’d like to give you another track from album, featuring Norah Jones. Yes this is still hip hop ladies and gentlemen, something you might not believe when you start listening to this track.
Don’t just take my word for how good this album is, according to the Guardian “The album’s frequent changes of mood and direction dazzle”; New Nation “Q Tip shines on this stellar album”; and the Observer Music Monthly “Hip Hop is witnessing the starts of its lost icon’s second term”. This isn’t a single fanboys deranged writings.
There is only one track from the rest on this album. Produced by the icon that is J Dilla, this track has all of the richness and interesting musical accompaniment that only hip hop can pull off, if applied correctly. The rule of thumb is to add one portion of J Dilla to one portion of great mc. This is done perfectly here:
If you can’t at least appreciate the musical merits of this track then you’re being blinded by your own arrogance.
K-os – Yes!
The album starts off with this skit:
“Do you have any idea of the chaos you have caused around here? Nobody knows what you’re doing!”
“That’s exactly the way I like it!”
K-os’s musical experimentation takes him further and further away from the mainstream areas of hip hop and rap. His first big release already had the energy that K-os is famous for and noteably had none of the general themes people perceive hip hop to be about. The first album of his that I came across, Joyful Rebellion, had a lot of soul, ska and jazz influences in it, already moving a bit away from the mainstream. The second, Atlantis: Hyms for Disco, lessend these earlier influences and added a lot of distorted guitar. His latest offering is barely recognisable to the mainstream or even to his earlier stuff, and yet he maintains the same energy to his music. Listen to how fucking good this is:
Its apt that K-os aka “Knowledge of Self” describes his music as ”indie hip hop”, not because its similar to indie rock but because he is genuinely trying to do something independent. His album is one of the clearest attempts to push the outside of the envelope in hip hop that I’ve come across in recent years. Although refreshing, these types of albums will always have a track or two that doesn’t fit, that doesn’t work that well, but that is just in the nature of the album. Its purpose is to innovate and not all innovation will work, but you never know if you’ve never tried. He sums it up himself here:
Unlike The Renaissance, this album does not have the same sort of continuity to it, mainly because the music grabs you rather than eases you into it. The album is quite varied and thus its hard to name a single stand out track as being the best. Instead I’m going to bring you a final track which has a slightly closer hip hop feel and yet is brilliant:
The boiled down message in this album is that he isn’t following the convention in hip hop, he’s not following the general themes rap, and why does this matter?
It doesn’t matter.
You don’t need to be a black, poor, angry adolescent male to like (or even write) hip hop, you can be a middle class white guy like me. There are many varied strains and themes to hip hop (as I’ve hopefully given a quick indication of today) so you’ll be able to find something that you’ll like. Yes, sometimes you’ll find it hard to identify with the themes in the lyrics but how many times can you identify with the themes in the music that you listen to? Normally we don’t hang on to every word in the song we listen to anyway, irrespective of genre, in fact we find certain segments or emotions in the lyrics which we can identify with, which conjures up the emotions within us.
For instance I love the track by PJ Harvey entitled Who The Fuck because I can identify with it. The track is about her blistering anger at one of her lovers, which is something anyone can identify with, although the lyrical content certainly doesn’t apply to me as I don’t curl my hair nor have I been involved in that specific situation. Don’t be automatically turned off by the prospect of themes you’re uncomfortable with otherwise you’ll miss the diamonds amongst the coals.
If you still stick resolutely to your passionate dislike of hip hop after listening to these two artists, we can’t help you, you’re being blinkered by your own arrogance.
If the music shown here today has opened you up to hip hop, go explore this genre of music and if you find anything you love let me know!
If you’re lazy, just keep watching this space..
UPDATE: K-os has released a free mixtape for download. Based on samples from the movie Anchorman – something we can all love – it contains quite a few cool tracks. You can find it here: http://tour-tv.com/mixtape/