Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Five Albums To Change Your Mind About Hip-Hop

Hip-hop is one of musics most misunderstood genres, despite it being one of the most commercially successful. For years, critics have maligned hip-hop for a whole host of different reasons, claiming that it incites gun crime or that there is no skill in rapping, but the truth is that hip-hop is an art form and just like any art form, the quality varies from genius to just plain awful. Of course, some of the accusations of misogyny, homophobia and racism are valid and I am by no means condoning that kind of lyrical content but it is wrong to assume that all hip-hop is like this. Just check out Macklemore's song 'Same Love' for its inspirational message about gay rights if you don't believe me. 

So you're not a fan of gangsta rap and its obsession with pimped out cars and bitches. Where do you go from there? For me, great hip-hop is poetry that reflects the time and society in which it is created. Check out the five albums listed below to explore a range of issues including feminism, religion and the US judicial system just to name a few. And even if these albums don't make you an instant hip-hop fan, I hope that they will at least help you see that there's more to the genre than just money and pointless swearing.   

Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

Let's start off with a modern classic, 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy'. Kanye West's fifth studio album won a ridiculous amount of awards upon its release and topped most critics end of year lists for best album of 2010, regardless of genre. Every album that West releases seems to surpass the previous one in terms of creativity and scope but it's almost impossible to see how he can improve upon his latest. Yes, some of the more typical hip-hop themes such as consumerism and excess do appear throughout but these are delivered in a radically different way than your standard rap album. West has become disillusioned with the American Dream and it is fascinating to listen to. 

What's perhaps even more impressive is that on top of writing and rapping, West actually produces all of the songs here as well. For this project, the superstar even created a 35 minute film titled 'Runaway' to accompany the album, which uses striking visuals to further explore the issues contained in his songs. Sure its nonsensical for the most part but its ventures like these that make it impossible to deny that West is an artist in every sense of the word, whether you love or despise him.

Tracks to download: Power, All Of The Lights, Monster, Runaway, Blame Game

Kid Cudi - Man On The Moon II: The Legend of Mr Rager (2010)

In the same year that Kanye West's epic masterpiece won a plethora of awards, his longtime collaborator Kid Cudi released his own second studio album, the second and last entry in the 'Man On The Moon' series. I feel that this collection was unfairly overshadowed by Mr West, despite both rappers appearing on each others albums, but 'The Legend Of Mr Rager' is no less incredible. More intimate in scale, Kid Cudi's second release has become a huge hit with the alternative crowd and has received some rave reviews, yet commercial success still seems to elude him. 

This is hardly surprising though, given that 'Man On The Moon II' is a concept album divided into five acts that each represent different aspects of his lifestyle, as well as his inner consciousness. The album is as trippy and psychadelic as it sounds and although there are some more commercial songs hidden away amongst its 17 tracks, 'Man On The Moon II' definitely needs to be heard in its genre-bending entirety for the project to make sense. You may find that not all of it works for you but I personally love Cudi's raw intensity and his sheer ambition makes him one of the most innovative rappers working in hip-hop today. 

Tracks to download: Scott Mescudi VS The World, Marijuana, Mojo So Dope, Erase Me, The Mood

Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)

In the wake of Tupacs and Biggies deaths, most of 90s hip-hop revolved around East and West Coast rivalries with a firm emphasis on gangsta rap. It was easy for mainstream audiences to think that all of hip-hop sounded like this but then in 1998, Lauryn Hill released her first solo album to almost unheard of acclaim. 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' won an astonishing five grammy's and became one of the most celebrated albums of all time. 

What I love most about Hill's debut is how she seamlessly blends hip-hop and soul into something so deep and yet still so accessible for commercial audiences. Hip-hop was no longer seen as just an underground phenomenon but it could in fact now be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age, race or gender. Sure this wasn't the only album to propel hip-hop into the mainstream but it is one of the key releases that enabled this to happen so successfully. But why did 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' have such a huge impact? The answer is in Hill's beautiful lyrics. Whether sung or rapped, there is a rawness in the way that her words are delivered that resonates with people across all walks of life. Genius.   

Tracks to download: Lost Ones, Ex-Factor, Doo Wop (That Thing), Superstar, Everything Is Everything  

Missy Elliott - The Cookbook (2005)

Lauryn Hill had incredible success with her solo debut but has achieved little since then. Missy Elliott on the other hand, has been making huge steps for feminism ever since she first released music back in the late 90s. In a field dominated mostly by men, Elliott was one of the first rappers to talk about relationships and sex from a female point of view. As one of the most successful rappers of all time, Elliott was a pioneer for female musicians everywhere and has since paved the way for artists like Nicki Minaj and Azaelia Banks.  

It's hard to pick one Missy Elliott album that could change your mind about hip-hop as they're all so fantastic, but 'The Cookbook' is a personal favourite of mine and its a great showcase for how eclectic Elliott's style can be. There are great old-school style hip-hop tracks to be found here amongst the more commercial RnB flavoured fare and what's even more impressive is that Elliott sings and produces as well as raps. What I love most about Elliott though is how clever her lyrics are. Slower tracks showcase the beauty of her songwriting and the faster hits let the rapper show off her ridiculous flow. There will only ever be one Missy Elliott and I'm still not convinced that new acts like Minaj are good enough to replace her just yet. 

Tracks to download: Lose Control, Meltdown, We Run This, Teary Eyed, Click Clack

Common - Be (2005)

Despite some peoples preconceptions, hip-hop rose not as part of gang culture but as an art-form in response to social injustice and racial inequality. It's a sad irony now then that some rappers promote inequality of a different kind in their songs but luckily, there are still many socially conscious rappers out there who enjoy success in music that deals with issues that matter. Common is one of those rare artists who has become popular on both the alternative and commercial scenes and its remarkable that he has achieved this while continuing to promote his own social agenda. 

'Be' is regarded by many as Common's best album and it is a fantastic introduction to his more politically influenced style of writing. Yes, Kanye West did produce the majority of it but please don't think that I'm obsessed with Mr West. The production is great but again, it's the lyrical content here that really impresses. Common is a storyteller in the truest sense and more than any other rapper on this list, I would say that his rhymes are a kind of poetry that needs to be listened to carefully to be truly appreciated. Themes on 'Be' include food, women and race but that barely scrapes the surface. 

Tracks to download: The Corner, Go!, Testify, The Food, They Say

If I've managed to change your mind about hip-hop even slightly with my choices, then I recommend you try some more alternative hip-hop artists such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli and The Roots. And for anyone who still thinks that rapping isn't a skill, try releasing a multi-platinum selling hip-hop album that receives rave reviews across the board. Good luck with that.

So do you have a favourite album on this list? And are there any other hip-hop albums that you think I should have mentioned? Let me know what you think by commenting, liking and sharing below.

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