Attention avid rap fans: this is an opinion piece. If you are spiritually unprepared for rancorous, downright whiny editorializing, please avert your eyes. Reader discretion is advised.
As the Onion quite accurately satirized last month, people are worried about the state of hip-hop. Genre-centric music listeners are, perhaps by definition, very protective of their soundscape. I am one of these aforementioned worriers.
I will not lay claim to some sweeping statement about the ills of modern rap, rather I think it's more telling to question some raps biggest rhymers that I feel have committed sins against the game. So, without further adieu, here is my take on rap’s most dubious successes right now.
2 Chainz, formerly known as Tity Boi, was brought up by Ludacris, featured on many of the South’s top act’s songs, and is a 3-time certified gold artist for “No Lie,” “I’m Different,” and “Birthday Song.” MTV and BET have both given him solo accolades for his 2012 breakout, and that year he was The Source’s Man of the Year. His 40 guest appearances in that time are impressive in theory, and his hit songs have the snagging hook and catchiness for days, but, all of this does not excuse him of his completely uninspired verse.
Chainz most memorable lines are the type that inspire ironic glee: “She got a big booty, so I call her: big booty” is almost defiant in its lameness, which is probably why it is so often repeated by people looking to scream random shit out the window of a passenger’s seat.
Moreover Chainz's stilted, pausing flow is identical from one song to the next. He could have written everything all at the same time ten years ago, and we would be none the wiser.
Much like 2 Chainz, Juaquin James Malphurs is a bit of a groundball for a list of this nature. Much like 2 Chainz, he is not exactly a critical darling, nor do the hardcore, Beats-by-Dre bashing fans admire him very much. Like 2 Chainz, he is an animated showman. Like 2 Chainz, he is a Georgia native with a penchant for chorus writing. And, like 2 Chainz, Waka Flocka’s status in hip-hop sits high above his verbal prowess.
Waka Flocka has admitted to not being a lyricist, and, better yet, this cosmic claim: “I ain't got not no lyrics” affords his slack jawed sensibilities a bit of honest credibility. However, call me old-fashioned, but I think household names in the rap game shouldn’t eschew the use of … lyrics, or consonants for that matter.
The M.O. of any given Waka Flocka track is a tired one, literally. He shamelessly slurs his way through a bunch of misogynistic tropes “ben’ over, drop it girl, blablabla bands” in any given song like he just discovered ordering a woman around as replacement for actual thought. What he actually discovered was a paradox in vocals: lazy shouting. Then, perhaps as an apology, Flocka arhythmically calls over his own shouting on backup vocals, often screaming his own moniker over and over again, as if we forgot it was him. “Flocka, Waka, Waka, Flocka, Squad!”
It is well documented that Waka's mother is the former manager of Gucci Mane, who brought Waka to the forefront. Whether or not we can chalk Waka’s fame to this unclear, but either way it is not important. What is important is the fact that Waka is devolving Southern hip-hop. Did we really need a second rate Mike Jones on Xanax?
It was painful to put Kendrick Lamar in the same sentence as Waka and 2 Chainz, but even K Dot cannot avoid the scrutiny that the limelight has earned him.
Kendrick Lamar first gained a robust internet following for his independent albums, and then got stadium status for his hit singles off Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City (what’s with these backronyms in the album name? Whatever.) At any point in his career, there is a thread of chill: the warm sunny breeze of Compton, California, and the faint smell of weed-laced zen blows through his sound. This is enough to warrant a successful career, but sold out arenas? Really?
Perhaps it is physiological inkling that I find irksome when I hear it, like the opposite of hairs standing on the back of one’s neck, if there is such a thing, but I find Kendrick Lamar to be stylistically unsavory at times. Indeed, much Kendrick’s mindset is based on the inception point in his career: being 16-years-old and rapping from the seat of parked car. However, this rather quaint approach falters at many points, even in his hit songs. Whether he’s singing fantasies about pools of liquor, sitting under a tree made of money, or having his “dick grow big as the Eiffel Tower,” his imagery and, more often, his cadence, are just as worthy of an indignant, oafish guffaw as they are a bloodshot-eyed head nod. His staccato flow, his points vocal emphasis in his phrasing (Ya BISH) and host of other tricks give him a distinct brand to float on, but that same unique approach does not always amount to something good. Straight up, he just sounds corny.
In case you forgot, which is understandable, this supposedly untouchable cultural icon, former franchise owner, and current sports agent is also a multi, multi-platinum rapper who hasn’t put out a good solo album in over a decade. While working to strengthen the buttresses of his oligarchy in hip-hop, and stretching to Renaissance man status, Shawn Carter lost that hunger for the rap game kept his lyrics tight, his songs hard, and his flow mercurial.
One of his last hit songs, “Otis,” is an embarrassment. He and Kanye West trade off on some of whackest lines of their careers, over a loud, obnoxious beat the sowed the seeds for Yeezus, without any of the lascivious, horror-core edge. Most of Watch The Throne was winning, but, it was obviously Kanye’s turn as the dominant creative force on all fronts, not just the production (On “Gotta have it”: Kanye equates himself to LeBron, and then Jay-Z to D Wade. “wait …” Jay Z mutters in the background, as if he could deny his little brother the truth).
Worst of all, there is his biggest hit in recent years, the confectionary, soppy drip of radio syrup, Blueprint 3’s “Empire State of Mind.” We New Yorkers point to Nas’ Illmatic as rap’s best attempt to communicate the local’s perspective on the feeling of normal life in the real, grey metropolis, far flung from the I heart NY shirts, the bright lights, and tourists skipping around gleefully. “Empire State of Mind” is their New York it is not our New York. Shouldn’t Jay-Z know that? Has he lost touch? This 43-year-old hundred millionaire was moving crack at the turn of the 90s (as he loves to remind us, between songs about “redefin[ing] black power”). “Yeah, I’m from that Bed-Stuy/ Home of that boy Biggie” Jay-Z recalls, faintly, his Brooklyn heritage. “Now I live on billboards.” You said it, Hova, not me.
Macklemore (neé Ben Haggerty) has had a very recent, and very triumphant jump to the top. The Seattle-born hairdo is known for his collaboration with producer Ryan Lewis. The duo has gone double platinum as independent artists, which is an unmatched achievement in this era of music.
I encourage the public to consider the lyrical content that Macklemore brings to the music. The chorus he penned for the singer Wanz in the wonky hit song “Thrift Shop” go as follows: “I'm gonna pop some tags/ Only got twenty dollars in my pocket/I - I - I'm hunting, looking for a come-up/This is fucking awesome.” This is probably the only song to go platinum wherein the artist basically gave up on writing the chorus halfway through. For such ham-fisted, cornball songwriting, you would hope that some of the words would at least rhyme, right? Well they do not. “Awesome,” “tags,” “come-up,” and “pocket” do not even slant rhyme.
The chorus in their only other noteworthy song, “Can’t Hold us” is more appealing, but Macklemore ruins that song, too with his red-faced flow and inane braggadocio. “I’m eating at the beat like you gave a little speed to a Great White Shark on Shark Week” he blurts out, while, ironically enough, trying desperately to keep with the breezy pace of the melody.
Even the rather wonderful, pro-gay “Same Love” is bogged down by a lack of rhythmic tidiness. Conscientiousness is hard to fit into a rap song, but M&RL have a good go at it. Still, Macklemore’s words for thought are better suited to slam poetry, in that song or any other.
Perhaps he should just let Ryan Lewis just go at it by himself with other artists on the next album, maybe?