The gift and the curse of ageing Hip Hop fans is that they are judgemental, fickle, unforgiving, obsessed with tradition, etc. It’s a good thing because it enforces the quality of the culture, but it is also an ageing ethic that doesn’t move with the times. A ‘keep it real’ 90s mentality that was relevant in the 90s, but doesn’t account for the fact that the standard of lyricism evolves with each new generation as does the way that an artist pays their dues.
There was a time when DJs could make or break an artist, when an album review in the press could determine whether stores stocked an album. The failure to recognise the rise of great new emerging talent is why DJs lost their influence to the internet, why journalism lost it’s authority to the internet. The traditional gatekeepers that failed to keep up were caught slipping, the net bought about a level playing field for artists and the gatekeepers relevance was eroded, they don’t have the keys anymore. Without realising it, we’re actually living through a digital revolution and probably wont refer to it as such until we look back in 50 years time.
It’s reminiscent of what Kanye was saying when the ‘College Dropout’ dropped. Magazines didn’t want to give him 5 mics or 5 star ratings because he was new. Even though the album is a modern day classic and it was plain to see that Kanye was already great, the then ‘gatekeepers’ didn’t give it up until his second or third album….or paid his dues as they saw it. Looking back, it already seems kind of ludicrous. Yes hindsight is an amazing thing, but the fans knew at the time that Kanye was great, the people who live this culture knew what was coming thanks to the ‘Get Well Soon’ mixtape or his earlier work.
If someone is great, I’ll say it. I really dont give any fucks at all about some archaic standard left over from the 90s. We shouldn’t be berated or discouraged from saying that a new artist is great until they have released 3 or 4 albums, when the album is actually a dieing concept because of the way fans choose to listen to music.
’The Warm Up’ by J Cole, ’So Far Gone’ by Drake, the early Kendrick EPs, ‘1999’ by Joey Bada$$ were more than ok. They were better than good…they were great. Great bodies of work, there is no other way to describe them. Cole, Drake, Joey, and Kendrick were great artists before they dropped a traditional album. They were great then and they are great now. Most emerging artists today sell out tours across Europe before they get a deal not because fans think they are ok, or good, its because they are great. What artists refer to as a mixtape is their debut body of work. We shouldn’t be judging artists by a major label debut, or perceived parameters of success. We’re in a very different era.
Recently I tweeted that Chance the Rapper is “One of the greatest artists of this generation”. A statement that I vehemently standby and a deliberate repetition of how Drake described J Cole when he bought him on stage at his recent ‘Summer 16’ tour. Drake’s words set the internets on fire, various sites, bloggers, and social media thought it was such a big deal that Drake said that. I didn’t think so. It’s plain to see that J Cole is great, he has been since ‘The Warm Up’. So I repeated the statement, but instead referred to Chance, the majority of people who replied agreed, but the tweets by those who were outraged inspired this post.
I’m a massive fan of Chance and over the last few years i’ve listened to his work daily. His music is Hip Hop at it’s best; provocative, inspiring, innovative, and spiritual. His approach to releasing music doesn’t fit in with anyones model which is why many people still don’t get him or understand his artistry. Like Chance says on ‘UltraLight Beams’ he’s “just having fun with it”, and as OG 1xtra listener Taoufik says ‘he’s just getting started’.
If I said that Chance was the best, or the greatest, I understand that this is my subjective opinion that many may not agree with, and thats cool. I dont care if whoever disagrees with what I say, but to question whether someone is great because of time, or the no. of releases that they have dropped….that’s some dumb stuck in the 90s shit.
Calling someone great isn’t giving them an accolade, it is merely recognition that they are above average. Greatness is in the eye of the beholder or the ears of the listener. It isn’t an exclusive club. It isn’t an elitist term given out by a ‘gatekeeper’ for those artists that have produced major label albums or begged for relevance.
Chance is great and there is no doubt that he will be greater. Can’t wait to see how people react when he becomes the greatest.