At the top of the todays Mt. Rushmore of hip-hop you’ll find names like Drake, Kanye West, J. Cole, and Future among others, but there are two rappers that are changing the direction of hip-hop in ways that go beyond anything we’ve seen in the last 20 years.
Hip-hop has evolved beyond plain 808’s and high-hats as the nature of the music that these two individuals are releasing do not only please the hip-hop purists, but achieve mainstream success without a feeling of selling out on the values of their music for commercial gain.
These two artists are as comparable as they are incomparable as they’ve taken turns running through their competition at the Grammys the past two years, while putting on powerful performances that display the character and nature of their music.
Leading off, it’s Kendrick Lamar.
Visualize yourself at a jazz club in the heart of New Orleans watching as the trumpeter drifts from the sound of the ensemble and creates a unique wave while still fitting the rhythm and nature of the accompaniment.
You’re watching an artist work beyond the grain and within the flow of his own mind as the sound coming out of his instrument matches the feeling he’s trying to convey out loud.
But are you still at jazz club or have you entered the realm of Kendrick’s “To Pimp a Butterfly”?
It’s brash and it’s loud.
It’s gritty self-expression mixed with influences of distorted jazz, Motown, and west coast rap with flow on top of flow that can range from spoke-and-word poetry to an angry diplomat.
The greatest music is music made through raw human emotion and tone that radiates a feeling that translates the true expression of every line in a song.
And just as the thinking patterns of the human mind are as distorted as they are rapid, the pace of an album like “To Pimp a Butterfly” or “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City” matches it.
You can’t duplicate the connection an artist has with their music and though elements of Kendrick’s sound can come as a shock to listeners, through time you create your own personal connection to it.
The emotion of Kendrick’s live performances in intimate venues show moments where he drifts off into his own thoughts and pace.
Performances that give you that “uuufffff” face as your head bops and the hairs on your forearms rise like the tempo of the performance as it reaches its climax.
The satirical aspect of songs like “Swimming Pools” that are played at every party, but contain lyrics about the struggles of the youth doing their best to “fit in with the popular” by drinking and doing drugs.
The message of the music can either be disguised behind a radio-friendly track like “Swimming Pools,” or it can be painfully obvious like “this plot is bigger than me, it’s generational hatred, it’s genocide, it’s grimy, little justification,” on “The Blacker the Berry,” but whether obvious or hidden, the music has a message and a purpose.
These are reasons I resonate with the hip-hop rhyme savior.
Kendrick’s music makes me feel, whether angry or motivated or political, it makes me feel.
On the other side of the tale stands Chance the rapper.
He’s the fresh and endearing leader of the new wave and the unsigned.
The new school vibe of Hip-Hop is alive with the sounds of gospel and spoke-and-word equally as powerful as Kendrick’s, but perhaps not as brash.
If you skip church on a Sunday or need a little bit of gospel in your life, look no further than Chance.
With music made from experimental studio sessions with his team, you get innocence, strength, and vulnerability through drums, synths, backing vocals, and poetry.
“I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail” he says on his verse on Kanye’s “Ultralight Beams,” a verse that not only stole the song, but hijacked Kanye’s entire album.
The transition from Acid Rap to Coloring Book shows a seamless, yet risky changeup, especially for an artist without a label.
You see that Chance is in the industry not just to make radio-friendly music and get a paycheck, but to live out the dreams of a young kid from Chicago through meaningful and fun music and there’s no substitute for that level of purity.
The first artist, not just rapper, to win Grammys with a streaming-only album, showing that you don’t need labels and million-dollar marketing to celebrate and promote artistic excellence.
Chance makes music that’s pure, real, and relatable.
Chance’s music makes me feel, whether holy or motivated or pensive, it makes me feel.
The truth is that Hip-Hop has evolved, and these two are taking on the roles of the prominent leaders of the revolution.
Now originally, I was going to end this post right about here, but one life-changing line changed that.
“Ya’ll got till April the 7th to get your sh*t together”
Well April 7th passed, but it’s now April 13th and we are officially on the eve of the release of Kendrick’s fourth studio album “DAMN”
I could’ve either chosen to post this blog post-album release or post it right now, and the reason I’m choosing to post it now is because if I can convince even one reader who may have never looked at these artists from my point-of-view to sit down and engage with their discographies, then it would have been worth it.
So, if you’ve made it this far down the blog:
- Listen to Chance
- Listen to Kendrick
And I hope it’ll change your life the way it changed mine.