Five Rap Essentials
Rap is a pretty big deal these days.
Just turn on your radio or iPod and that’s the default genre out today. Walk down your dorm some Friday night and hear what’s playing. Ask if anyone you know can rap and you’re bound to find five gangly kids, off three beers each, standing in a dramatic circle, spitting rhymes over a mediocre attempt at beat-boxing.
If you like it, let me help you like it more. If you don’t, let me try to change your mind.
1. The Underground
Rappers who try to get you to watch their videos on Youtube (“I’m a fourteen year old rapper and…”) do not qualify as underground rappers. Underground rappers are rappers who actively retreat from the mainstream while being good enough to cut out their own corner. Such rappers include the strange syrup-and-videogame flow of MF Doom, or the socially conscious Brother Ali. There’s many more of many sorts of types, and equally important, these are real rappers with shows, money, and fans. There’s room for all sorts of rap styles and types in the underground, and it’s much bigger than you might expect. Check it out and find the rapper right for you.
2. Lil Wayne’s Mixtapes
Are you ready for a controversial opinion?
Lil Wayne, at a time, was not only good but great.
It’s true. His earlier albums The Carter and The Carter 2 were both between good and great, either one somewhere between “worth a listen” and “worth paying for.” But ironically his best work, his “worth paying for” work is free.
Lil Wayne released a bunch of mix-tapes. The best of these: Dedication 2, Da Drought 3, and No Ceilings, are stellar. Google and download them now. It’s everything that’s right with rap. Lil Wayne, in his absolute prime, rapping over other rapper’s best and most famous instrumentals and having fun. It’s everything that’s right with rap: free, fun, and damned good.
3. Big L
Big L is rap’s lost king.
You’ve heard of Biggie and Tupac, but Big L should be right among them on rap’s Rushmore. Big L was around the same time, a Harlem rapper with sick flow, wordplay, and the best punchlines around. He also, importantly, pioneered darker styles in rap (early Eminem and Odd Future should pay him taxes) and, also important, he was the best freestyler in history.
Go ahead. Youtube it. I’ll wait.
Big L not only was an early great and an amazing freestyler, but on one of his longer freestyles you may notice him trading verses with another young, talented rapper. That rapper? Jay-Z. Who comes off better? Big L.
You should check out Big L.
4. The Mainstream
This is a controversial comment, but I think the rap mainstream now is pretty solid.
Boos. Hisses. But let me finish.
Late Eminem has no soul, but his technical skill on Recovery (check the rhyme-scheme) is unparalleled. Rick Ross (yes, that Rick Ross) has the best beats of any rapper out. Listen to “Diced Pineapple” sometime and tell me you don’t catch shivers…and that’s Rick Ross. Nas and Jay-Z are still kicking to some level and Kanye’s team of super-friends might not be the future of rap, but as the present, their quite nice. Odd Future’s still doing it’s thing, Frank Ocean and Drake are crooners with the best of them, and Lupe just dropped a new album that many are calling a return to form.
Rap’s going to be okay, guys. It always is.
But go and get those Lil Wayne mix-tapes anyway. Come on. For serious.
Rhyming words: Dr.Seuss did it, Mother Goose did it, and so can you. Anyone can write a rap or work to improve at it. It’s free, doesn’t need an instrument, a lesson, or even an audience. Give it a shot. Hey, it’s got to be better than your singing at least.