The Current State of Hip-Hop: A New Golden Age?

Brendan Paige ’20, Guest Columnist

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Last week I wrote an album review for “Mirrorland” by EARTHGANG and it got me to think about hip-hop in recent years.  While I will be going back to more album reviews next week, I thought this would be a good time to talk about the state of hip-hop currently.  Each week, the top charts are full of hip-hop singles and albums that were released.  In 2017, hip-hop passed rock music as the most popular genre in the United States and continues to be year in and year out.  Now of course, the top charts are full of mainstream rap music and “pop” rap because that is the music that always sells.  We continue to see this every week and many people have been stating that we are in a new Golden Age of hip-hop.  However, I don’t think it is because of popular music, like Drake and Post Malone, as to why hip-hop is in a new golden age.  While, of course these artists contribute, their music is usually very surface level and can pretty much be summed up as music only looking for streams and popularity.  I am going to be exploring who is actually contributing to this new Golden Age and why we are in it right now.

Hip-hop was born in the 1970s in New York City and quickly began a rise that was something no one had ever heard before.  It mixed elements of jazz, reggae, disco, and plenty of other genres creating something that was totally different. Now the first “Golden Age” of hip-hop was in the 1980s to early 1990s where artists were taking the genre to a new level.  Hip-hop built on Afrocentrism and had much stronger political messages and themes.  The music was much more diverse, had a higher quality, innovation, and influence on the masses around them.  With strong jazz influences and sampling beginning to become more popular, hip-hop was developing into something bold and more unique than any other genre.  Groups like A Tribe Called Quest, Boogie Down Productions, and Public Enemy were leading the way into this new innovation which eventually led to the birth of Nas, the Notorious B.I.G, and Tupac.  I feel that while this was the main “Golden Age” a new one is beginning to appear today.

Artists today are doing the same thing these greats were doing when developing rap.  We see artists finding a completely new and unique sound that are constantly getting more popular.  While these artists are not as top charting as Drake or any “mumble” rapper, they are creating raw and authentic music that is completely new and unique.  Artists like Tyler, the Creator, JPEGMAFIA, BROCKHAMPTON, Danny Brown, Injury Reserve, EARTHGANG, and so many more are creating a new type of hip-hop.  These artists are taking influence from the past but expanding on it even more.  This “alternative hip-hop” has been leading the pack of this new “Golden Age”, by developing sounds that are sonically so diverse that every single song sounds completely different. I have fallen in love with so many of these artists for the bold takes on the genre as each of them are not afraid to step outside of the typical hip-hop lines, unlike Drake, and try a totally new sound each album. “All My Heroes Are Cornballs” by JPEGMAFIA is one of the most unique sounding albums I have ever heard, and JPEG is never afraid to step outside the boundaries of typical hip-hop.  IGOR, which is currently my favorite album from this year, is one of the most sonically diverse sounding albums in recent memory, developing this tragic love story behind weird and crazy production.  Tyler has always been developing a very unique sound, but IGOR takes the production and music quality to a whole new level by having deep bassy synths along with striking piano runs. These artists are taking hip-hop to a whole new level of production and quality.  Just like the first Golden Age, these artists are not afraid to step outside the boundaries and make strong political messages along with unique production.

While of course the greats of Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole are contributing heavily to this new Golden Age, I feel that the lower, underground artists are contributing more than ever by pushing the genre into a new direction.  They aren’t afraid to step outside the normal top charting boundaries, while still paying respect to the old ways.  I think hip-hop needs this subgenre because it pushes the mainstream artists to try and find more unique sounds. It continues to show that hip-hop is one of the most creative genres ever and will be pushing new sonic boundaries for years to come.  The great part of this, is that it will never get boring due to these artists that are continuing to push the genre.