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Rap 2020 For Dummies

To follow pop music in 2020 is to follow hip hop in 2020. Hip Hop is pop and if you don’t listen to it you are missing the point. So why bother? Why not go back to your Bowie, Beatles, and Stones, right? Music works through repetition and if your ears are not willing to listen to a song until you can actually hear it, it will be difficult to understand rap at all.

Making matters more difficult is just how large and diverse the scene is. Let’s say rap as a force began around 1979 with Kurtis Blow signing to Mercury and the Sugarhill Gang releasing “Rapper’s Delight”, well, that is over forty years ago. And if you wanna, just keep your eye on 2020 and it is also a big, big deal to catch up. There are so many genres and subgenres and so many rappers, producers, and beat makers, it is a dazzling thing, where new stars are minted every day.

So to break the breaks down (and I’m no pro either… but)

1 – Old School: you know the names, Kanye, Jay Z, Nas… the school of 1990s are the top names and not top sales of 2020. And even within that, you have half the old school who sample huge sections of songs,  as Puff Daddy wrote back during “Mo’ Money, Mo Problems” and Jigga with his game changing “Hard Knock Life.” and poets like Nas and Rakim.

2 – Atlanta – I mean Trap but not just trap, yes Gucci Mane. Gucci kicked in in 2005, and remains the patron saint, but then came the mid 10s waves of Trap: Migos, Future, the school of Coach K. Lil Baby is explicitly part of that scene, and DaBaby is also trap heavy pop.

3 – The Children Of Kanye: starting with the biggest hip hop star of them all, Drake (plus the entire Toronto YOLO crowd), Travis Scott, that  squad of heavy sampled and woven electronica created in the studio.

4 – Tik Tok – here, I am a little stumped. The one place I find difficult to find is Tik Tok. After I missed Lil Nas X till he broke pop, I wasn’t even aware of it. But I did download it but not unlike the Pokemon in real time game, I didn’t get it and wouldn’t play if I could. So I checked out what I could and most found teenagers dancing to rap hooks. Which is fun but frustrating, so I figured I’d wait till it broke pop. There is a price to pay for that, you know? You are always following other people’s leads. But there is so much recorded music out there it becomes a waste of time to search it out, give it a minute and it will find you.

5 – New York: The death of Pop Smoke upended Drill and Fivio Foreign is talented but not talented enough to make New York Drill the next Atlanta Trap. Pro Era should have been the next big thing, heavy politics and even the First Daughter toted them., but Joey Bada$$ didn’t have the concentration or organizing skills… maybe because Capital Steez killed himself and forced it on Joey.

6 – UK Grime And Drill: Grime came out of London at the turn of the century with Tempa T and Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, and names like Stormzy (a huge song who has performed with likes of Ed Sheeran). Despite props from Drake and Kanye, it has never really broken here. The sound is a modern day gangsta ra, all wets, drips and drive-bys.

7 – Artists: Kendrick Lamar at the top of the list…

8 – Women In Rap: Sure, it is sexist but it is also a subset. The only thing that connects Cardi B to  Azealia Banks to Young M.A. to Megan Thee Stallion to the Queen of rap (beyond their admiration of Missy Elliott) is that they are women. Women are hardly unknown in rap, Lil Kim and Foxy Brown are just two names from the 90s to jump. MC Lyte was a personal favorite… Salt N Pepa, on and on… but it is not the men of rap.

9 – Emo Rap: despite the genre’s three biggest stars, Lil Peep, XXXtentacion, Juice Wrld, dead way too soon (XXX was 20, Juice and Peep were 21), the genre is the sine qua non of pop, it is where hip hop meets r&b, with autotuned sing speak and rapping a plenty, it is where depression and pussy chasing meets fresh tunes.

There is more, San Francisco art rap, experimental rap, the mid 10s stars like Action Bronson that don’t quite fit in the box. But this should start you off…


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