It has been over 15 years since I first started listening to rap music, and 15 years since I started teaching myself to freestyle by imitating DITC, Gangstarr, and Boot Camp Clik. In that time, the rap community has stratified into subcultures, of side-roads, of splinter groups, and anyone looking for their own tailor fitted approach to hip hop would be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t already done it. In 1993, there was no nerd-core, no hyphy, no crunk, no goth-rap, no neu-metal, no art-rap, and no folk-hop, there was East Coast and West Coast…and that was it. By that time, both Houston & Miami had made considerable noise, but the first Screw Tape hadn’t been made yet, and Slip-N-Records wouldn’t come around for another year. Atlanta was still a R&B factory waiting for “Player’s Ball” to drop, Chicago hadn’t seen its “Resurrection”, “No-Limit Records” was just a record shop in Richmond, California, and Prince’s intro to “Go Crazy” was about the closest thing to a rap song anyone had ever heard coming out of Minneapolis. Rap music was a boiling crucible, glowing hot, about to bubble over its own limitations, and shortly there after, that cauldron exploded.
By, 1999, the “Golden Era” was over, the new faces of rap music had emerged, and they looked very different from the visage of the last 20 years. That year saw Rawkus at its peak, Anticon at its inception, the last group release from Company Flow, and Eminem making parents frantic, while I was standing front row at a bowling alley in Dallas watching a rapper named Slug perform a song called “Scapegoat” to a handful b-boys and battle rappers. This is the era of rap music I grew up in, ’94 to ‘99, an era where change wasn’t just the norm, it was the demand. Change didn’t just come from white kid’s basements, people were making weird all over the place. Jay-Z dropped “Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)”, Outkast were in a constant state of flux, Juvenile blew onto to the national stage with a song called, “Ha” that is still unorthodox today by anyone’s standards, and in a startling bit of foreshadowing, a 17 year old boy named Dwayne Carter Jr. made his solo debut with “The Block is Hot”. This is what shaped my expectation of hip-hop, fairly or unfairly, I had developed a Futurist’s demand for progress, growth, and change, and for most of the next decade, hip-hop met that demand.
Now, however, I find myself at a very interesting crossroads in my relationship with rap, as both a fan and a musician. After spending the better part of the last decade casting myself out from the mainstream of hip-hop in favor of the once wildly inventive world of “indie-rap”, I, like many others became bored with the monotony of “indie-rap”, and have come full circle back to my youth. Now, like some many other former “back-packers”, I find myself listening exclusively (with a few exceptions) to the pop-rap music of braggarts, killers, and drug dealers. In this, I am not alone, it is no strange fluke that almost every indie hip-hop night in America has either morphed into a skinny jeans dance party or else disappeared altogether. “Scribble Jam” and “The Rocksteady Reunion “ are gone, replaced by big budget affairs like “Soundset” and “Paid Dues”, and the word “indie rap” has lost meaning all together when Jay-Z leaves Def Jam, Cash Money Records is the new DIY, and almost every “indie” label you love is technically a subsidiary of some major label by way of a distribution deal.
Some people see this as the downfall of rap as we know it; I see it as the start of an exciting new era. Jay-Z is spotted at Grizzly Bear shows, Sage Francis hires half the indie rock musicians from your high school mixed tapes to make his new record, and Kanye West steals notes from “I <3 Huckabees”, “Daft Punk”, and everything else in your girlfriend’s dorm to become an endless hit factory. At the same time, most every indie rapper I know (myself included) listens to more Young Jeezy than El-P, every vegan kid with a fixie knows more Clipse than Fugazi, and I have heard my Mom use the phrase “bling bling” on more than one occasion. Some will say that this is everything tearing apart at the seams, but I see this as a window into the future, a future where major labels are dead and everyone’s indie, so indie ceases to be a sales pitch. An era where anyone can pirate your album, so your album better be fucking good or else no one is going to want to give you money for it. Most importantly, the pop-stars steal from the little guys and the little guys steal from the pop-stars, and there is exciting and interesting music to be found coming from everywhere and everyone…not just the East Coast and the West Coast.
With that being said, I give you my ode to this strange little epoch: “DANCHEHALLHORNSOUND!”. A mixed tape (in the contemporary sense of the word) of me reshaping my own strange historical fiction indie rap songs over some of my favorite pop rap beats, coupled with a few songs you may not have heard, an op-ed piece, and some freestyles thrown in for kicks , and all mixed up by my homie Dj Fishr Pryce. This isn’t irony, this is appreciation, and experimentation, I am working well out of my comfort zone here, but I am proud of the result. This may disappoint some people, may anger some others, and hopefully raise a few eyebrows…enjoy it folks, this is the time in which we live, and this is exactly who I am.