7 Hip-Hop Tracks That Shaped My Love of the Genre
When I was in middle school, my mom’s boyfriend listened to hip-hop obsessively. I never really got into it as a kid. He’d play Eminem, DMX, and Ja Rule, and I liked a couple of songs, but it wasn’t what I tuned into when I had control of the radio. Once I went to college, however, I branched out and started appreciating the genre that he had tried to get me into for so long.
While I am certainly still a philistine on hip-hop, I’ve composed a list of tracks and artists that have shaped my views on hip-hop and would recommend to a newcomer of the genre.
Deltron 3030 – “Mastermind”
Del the Funky Homosapien has been rapping since 1990, and has collaborated with some of the most influential artists in the genre, yet his music is dangerously underrated. Most people heard of him when he rapped some verses on Gorillaz’s first single, “Clint Eastwood”. Before this single, Del released an album under his futuristic pseudonym Deltron 3030. The self-titled album (in collaboration with Dan the Automator and DJ Kid Koala) featured some of Del’s strongest work to date and attracted a new audience.
Die Antwoord – “Ugly Boy”
Die Antwoord may be the most polarizing rap duo out there. You either love these South African extraterrestrials or you hate them. Ninja and Yolandi’s music videos are often frightening and creepy, but “Ugly Boy” is a safe introduction to Die Antwoord. The group have decided to retire at the end of 2017, but their discography spans a ton of different styles: trap, house, gangsta rap, comedy, and techno. Yolandi’s nymph-like voice and Ninja’s deeply rooted African accent are the staples of Die Antwoord, and, while their style and sound has evolved, their ability to scare the public certainly hasn’t.
Chance the Rapper – “Brain Cells”
Chicago’s own Chance the Rapper has blown up in the last year with the release of his third mixtape Coloring Book (the first streaming-only album ever to win a Grammy). Although Chance is only 24 years old, he’s been rapping since high school and the release of his first mixtape, 10 Day. This mixtape was inspired by his 10-day suspension, and many of the songs on 10 Day were written during this suspension. He may be more well known nowadays, but his songwriting and authenticity have never faded. In fact, they’ve only grown stronger.
Vic Mensa – “16 Shots”
Yeah, I have a bias for Chicago rappers. Vic originally ran with Chance and other Chicago kids, but when he collaborated with Kanye on “U Mad,” he took off in a completely different direction. “16 Shots” is a song about black teenager named Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by white officer Jason Van Dyke, and the video that goes with it is no joke. Vic’s activism in Chicago (he marched when McDonald when shot) has brought critical attention to racism and police brutality in the city. Vic will be at Chicago’s Riot Fest this year on Friday, September 16th.
Missy Elliott- “The Rain [Supa Dupa Fly]”
Women are so often left out of hip-hop unless they’re booty dancing in a music video. It’s still a man’s game, but female rappers who’ve made it have worked hard to change the game completely. Missy’s been making hits for decades, and she’s still as innovative and relevant as ever. “The Rain,” released in 1999, really put Missy on the map. She has sold over 30 million albums, won 5 Grammys, and continues to create some of the best songs (and accompanying music videos!) out there.
Run the Jewels – “Close Your Eyes (And Count to F**k)”
Hip-hop has been a consistently important platform for societal and political revolution, and Run the Jewels never backs away from this conversation. Whether voicing their opinions on all-black schools, police brutality, or copious weed usage, Killer Mike and El-P have made it clear that their opinions will never be silenced. The video for “Close Your Eyes” is often hard to watch: an unarmed black man and a white cop fist fighting one another the entire time. RTJ released their third studio album this year and are currently touring and playing festivals across the country.
Blackalicious – “Chemical Calisthenics”
Those who don’t know hip-hop might assume that rappers dumb down their lyrics or sound for radio play, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Blackalicious, fronted by the incomparable Gift of Gab, rap about everything from academic subjects to tongue twisters to impossibly complex multisyllabic verses. Their musical style often samples classic songs from the 50s and 60s (see “Blazing Arrow”) The linguistically advanced group has inspired tons of rappers to branch out and rap outside the box.
I try to listen to new music every week, and this is especially true of hip-hop. Because only the biggest rappers make it on the radio, I often turn to SoundCloud and YouTube to find up and coming artists. At a festival this weekend, I rediscovered my love for two Chicago artists: Saba and BJ the Chicago Kid (both of whom have collaborated with Chance the Rapper and a ton of other local acts). Nothing makes me happier than discovering great new music, and nothing makes me feel more fulfilled than sharing that music with others.