Hip-Hop’s State of Affairs: Musings February 2017

My thoughts on this subject aren’t organized, but I feel the need to write about hip-hop in 2017. Today marks the start of February; this first month has flown by, and yet I am already exhausted.

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The abundance of fashion news I’m bombarded with has left me  reeling from the unprecedented level of exposure. I’m accosted by coverage of A$AP Rocky and Bella Hadid at fancy galas, A$AP Bari sends me scrambling to Google “VLONE” (how is that even pronounced?), and Lil Yachty is Nautica’s creative designer for 2017. It’s hard enough just keeping up with brand names, but now that I need to memorize every piece in the Supreme x Louis Vuitton collection, I’m seeing diminishing returns. It’s not as though I can buy any of this stuff.

There’s money in that industry, to be sure. Whether or not Kanye West dies alone, he’s made a lasting impression with his distinct footwear and clothing lines. Yeezy Season has also been a showcase for rappers like Young Thug and Lil Yachty to strut their stuff on the runway, only furthering the duality of rap and fashion. It’s great promotional marketing for both sides: the designers get free publicity from hip-hop artists, and those same artists receive free clothing, invitations to industry events, and opportunities to mingle with models.

Fabolous was just named ambassador for New York Fashion Week. This piece of information, bandied about like news, obscures more important issues. For starters, Fab’s end-of-2016 Trey Songz joint tape, Trappy New Years, was terrible. While I acknowledge that Summertime Shootout 2 was a strong offering, the large volume of remixes saw only a small number of new Fabolous verses. Given that his last full-length album was 2014’s disastrous The Young OG Project, perhaps it’s time for him to actually make good on that Freddy Vs. Jason album with Jadakiss, which would likely be far better than The Young OG Project Vol. 2.

While we’re on the subject, let’s keep the ball rolling and talk a little bit about New York.

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That’s Dave East, who is currently on quite a streak; if you don’t know his name, get acquainted. His breakthrough mixtape Kairi Chanel, named for his daughter, came at the end of last September, and eventually reached #38 on the Billboard 100. Buoyed by East’s vivid storytelling, top-notch features (in particular 2 Chainz, Cam’Ron and The Game), and an ear for both classic beats and modern production sensibilities, Kairi Chanel could only be better if certain songs didn’t start with drawn-out skits. Even in this day and age, skits remain a pox on hip-hop albums.

Dave East hasn’t slowed down, though. Riding on the success of his mixtape, he’s been involved with a string of hot singles and loose tracks over the past couple months. I think of “Time Ticking,” “Vagabond (Eastmix),” “Billboard,” “No Hook,” and “Don’t Run (Remix)” as evidence that he’s got a gameplan. Expect big things from his debut album. Meanwhile, things are quiet on the Beast Coast front. I’m hoping this new year will see big releases from Flatbush Zombies, Pro Era (posthumous Capital Steez album? New Joey Bada$$ album?), and Underachievers (AK stays fine).

Some New York upstarts have failed to impress me. Young MA comes to mind as an artist that doesn’t engage me, creatively or intellectually. Desiigner has also proven to be disappointing as a rapper, although not quite as bad as 50 Cent predicted. His debut mixtape New English  still managed to be an uneven mess, poorly mastered (and also lossy-mastered, as I recall), and quickly forgotten. “Tiimmy Turner”  was always too hook-heavy for me (and much less enjoyable than the original freestyle), but the Kanye-featuring remix was more listenable. He’s a networking genius, however, so I expect to see much more of him (even though all I need to see is the video of him puking mid-“Panda” at a concert).

2017 is also poised to be a comeback year for many aging MCs. “Bain Is Back” by DMX is a declaration of his return, the same concept behind Juelz’s “Santana Bandana.” The LOX has also resurfaced, with the Gucci Mane collaboration “Secure The Bag” and Jadakiss teasing his joint project with Fabolous. Cam’Ron is due to release Killa Pink this year, and maybe a full Dipset project is on the horizon.

Which reminds me, there are a few upcoming albums and mixtapes that I’m looking forward to.

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Word of Hy!£UN35 came way back in July of 2015, when Lyor Cohen dropped the single “Pacifier” in support of the album. This was a little after Barter 6 had come out, a tremendous project that should be considered Young Thug’s proper debut album, but is instead referred to as a commercial mixtape. What followed were a series of leaks, the Slime Season mixtapes, I’m Up, Bankroll Mafia, and the universally acclaimed JEFFERY. Through this all, we’ve still never gotten Hy!£UN35, and it would be nice for this to be the year.

And what of Thug’s former Rich Gang companion, Rich Homie Quan? Sadly, Quan was overlooked and denied the rocket ascent to stardom of his labelmate, leading him to end his affiliation with Rich Gang and leave Cash Money. His late 2015 mixtapes DTSpacely Made This and ABTA were both awesome, seeing him tread on new ground, but he never made good on the promise of “Flex” from the If You Ever Think I Will Stop Goin’ in Ask RR (Royal Rich) mixtape. His only time in the spotlight last year came when he forgot the words to Biggie’s verse during a performance of “Get Money” for the VH1 Hip-Hop Honor Awards. With his website in shambles and no useful information coming out of his Twitter feed, perhaps I’m one of the few still holding out for his debut album, Rich As In Spirit.

In addition to the prospect of new solo releases from Curren$y and Freddie Gibbs, I’m also holding out that they make good on their collaborative EP. Of course, “Scottie Pippen” is one of the best rap songs of all time, pairing a dope beat by Alchemist with exceptionally good verses from both rappers. “Fetti” and “Stash House” are also such worthy tunes that I’m confident a joint offering from this duo would be fantastic. Gibbs has dropped off a few tracks since he was cleared of any wrongdoing in last year’s sexual assault case, but his output has slowed with age, so I’m not putting too much stock in seeing Bandana this year.

Another one I am interested in seeing is Flockaveli 2. This one has been delayed for years, at least in part due to the actions of Atlantic Records (who apparently suck; even Weird Al had beef with them). However, with the good news that Flocka has been released from his contract with Atlantic, I’m hoping that we’ll finally see this masterpiece released. In the meantime I’ll keep bumping Flockaveli 1.5 to keep me occupied.

Then there’s Gucci Mane’s Drop Top Wop, Future’s next project, Lil Uzi Vert’s next project, Migos solo albums, a new Schoolboy Q record, Joey Fatts, Robb Banks, Vince Staples, Earl Sweatshirt, SpaceGhostPurrp, Metro Boomin, PeeWee Longway, Lil B, Tony Yayo, A$AP Rocky, Tiny C-Style, and so much more that may or may not happen. Chief Keef’s Thot Breaker mixtape, after years, is actually happening, but there are too many projects caught in a limbo, stuck on label hangups or personal issues. For all the albums and mixtapes I’d love to see in 2017, I feel like the year so far has shown that nothing can be taken for granted.

So what else is going on? Let’s talk briefly about a few final topics.

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First off, fuck Soulja Boy. This worthless shill has no talent, yet managed this past year to renew interest in his brand, for dubious reasons. First, he claimed to have signed a $400 million deal, when in reality he just signed a deal to receive stock options with an earnings cap of $400 mil; very big difference. Then after belligerently beefing with Lil Yachty and Quavo, Soulja was arrested for violating his parole and is now facing felony gun charges. On top of that, he’s trying to promote a boxing match with Chris Brown in Dubai over some bullshit stemming from a Karrueche Tran Instagram post. This is pathetic and embarrassing, as was Soulja Boy’s last mixtape, King Soulja 7.

There’s no denying that 2016 was a big year for Kanye West. He was active both in the music industry and in the fashion industry, whilst also making a foray into reality television, as he’s set to be a regular cast member on next season of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. The dust is still settling after his dramatic breakdown and hospitalization, and the weirdness of his meeting with Donald Trump still leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth. In 2017, I’d like for him to retire from the public eye and live out the rest of his days peacefully in private. I know I would benefit from that.

Hip-hop would be so much nicer without the posturing and bullshit. Interference from record labels and a lack of transparency and accountability means that rappers do whatever they want and rarely are held accountable. Even as so many media are reforming, the music industry is up to the same antics as always. My last wish is that more time be spent producing quality art, rather than marketing the artists.

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