Here’s a guest drop from Phillip Mlynar, who was the Deputy Editor at Hip Hop Connection magazine before people stopped buying rap magazines.
Talking about rappers whose fanatical fan worship bore no relation to their actual talent or recorded output used to be easy. Someone would say that 2 Pac was the greatest ever rapper. Someone who’d listened to more than three rap records in their life would counter by pointing out the patchy nature of his music, and how he was prolific in the sense of hopelessly lacking any sense of quality control. They’d be hit back by someone talking about how Afeni’s son was the hip-hop generation’s James Dean and how his whole thug life aura and rapist-without-a-pause mentality was bigger than music and all of that. Then someone would mention “Brenda’s Got A Baby” and everyone would shake hands and move happily on.
These days though there’s a slew of rappers and rap chaps whose publicity, fan worship, and reputation makes ‘Pac looks positively underrated. Here are the five leading exponents…
5. Freddie Gibbs
There was a time when you’d pick up a copy of The Source and read how one of the emcees in Da Lench Mob had gone to jail for mass genocide and was to be replaced by another mid-level Los Angeles rapper. Freddie Gibbs is the modern equivalent of that rapper – complete with that level of skill and charisma. Unfortunately, after a fleeting mention in a New Yorker article, the whole world seems to be inhaling Freddie’s vapors and pretending that he’s gonna drop an NWA level debut. He’s not. And, as I’m sure Harold Ross would agree, Dorothy Parker writes wittier lines than the boy Gibbs. When Fred calls time on his rap career, his hip-hop tombstone should read: “Freddie Gibbs, a rapper who sounded like he should be playing left back for Arsenal FC. Or Diddy’s Crystal Palace.”
4. Bun B & Pimp C As Soloists
Together, Bun B and Pimp C are a good combination, like a down south Tribe with big Bun’s studious flow complimented by Pimp’s catch phrases, and with “One Day” they can lay claim to one of about three genuinely poignant rap songs. On their own though, they’re close to intolerable – as bad as attempting to listen to an entire album of Phife and his incessant American sports references. Where Bun B’s flow perks up a track when he’s used as a guest rapper, three verses of him rhyming alone soon becomes as abrasively off-putting as a barrage of Papoose freestyles. And while Pimp C admittedly did say, “It’s Pimp C, bitch!” better than any other rapper ever, on his own he comes across like a bad attempt at Too $hort on a karaoke night.
Madlib could have been the finest producer of his generation. Unfortunately, he refuses to show any restraint or quality control, instead preferring to pump out new music with the speed of sonic diarrhea. Which his fans lap up regardless of quality. There’s a strange cult around the ‘Lib which has resulted in some people being brainwashed into actually thinking that Yesterday’s New Quintet was a good record and not, say, something that sounds like a five-year-old bashing away tunelessly at a Fisher Price keyboard. Unfortunately, Madlib’s back catalogue is riddled with such bloopers. This year he’s going to drop an album a month. We’ve already had Flight To Brazil and now there’s Beat Konducta In Africa. At this point he’s clearly making music inspired by the take-out menus stuck to his fridge door. (If he’s interested in going Chinese and locking down the stroller mom fan base of Brooklyn’s Park Slope area I’ll happily send him a menu for Red Hot 2.)
As a testament to how fanatical Madlib’s followers are, consider this: About five years ago, while briefly working at a mail order rap store, there was an in-joke that you could sell pretty much anything on eBay by putting “Madlib” as a term in the item description. I tested it out by listing a piece of A4 paper with “Madlib is gay” scrawled on it in purple marker pen. Two people actually bid on it…
2. Jay Electronica
Four score and seven years ago a young rapper called Jay Electronica was touted as the next big thing. Today, in 2010, he’s still being touted as the next big thing, despite doing little more than popping out a kid with Erykah Badu. By the time their progeny is in high school Jay will still be appearing in ‘ones to watch’ lists. Only indie rock kids who know no better gush over “Exhibit C,” and only people who haven’t listened to Illmatic in over ten years refer to him as the next Nas. Go put on Illmatic again and then play on a Jay Elec song straight after – he’s not even the second coming of Ill Will.
Bonus Traveler’s Tip For Jay: Next time you find yourself walking around Meserole Avenue moaning about the rain and not having a slice of pizza to eat, try walking a few blocks over to the corner of Franklin Street and Greenpoint Ave and taking advantage of the Aligator Lounge’s ‘free personal pizza with every beer offer’. It’s probably just what you’re looking for.
1. J Dilla
These days, if you don’t spend three hours of your waking day sitting outside selling homemade lemonade for a dollar a cup and donating 27% of profits to a likely non-existent J Dilla foundation, then you’re accused of sacrilegious hip-hop behavior, such is the blind worship that surrounds the cult of Dilla. People are sensitive when it comes to criticism of Dilla, but his legacy would be served and preserved far better if there was more level-headed perspective about what he did and did not do. As a producer he’s made a few great songs (mostly early productions), lots of good ones, and also lots of nondescript ones. He also made one of hip-hop’s most beloved groups, Tribe, turn a bit rubbish for their last two albums, and rapped like a third tier No Limit soldier.
No one’s saying Dilla wasn’t a good producer, but unfortunately he never managed or never had the opportunity to raise up to the rank of a hip-hop production genius by completely and repeatedly masterminding projects. Marley Marl, Dr Dre, DJ Premier, Prince Paul – all producers behind many certified classics (and in Premo’s case he took two rapping retards and teased out of them one of the greatest ever rap albums of the ’90s, Group Home‘s Livin’ Proof). Dilla came closest with Slum Village‘s Fantastic Vol 2, but it’s a stretch to place that next to Three Feet High & Rising, Straight Outta Compton, Hard To Earn, and the rest of a very long and prestigious list.
A while back, someone commented that Dilla was the new 2Pac in terms of attracting zealous, ludicrously defensive fans. Unfortunately, he was right.
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