Once upon a time in a universe far, far away, HipHopDX used to host blogs. Through Meka, Brillyance, Aliya Ewing and others, readers got unfiltered opinions on the most current topics in and beyond Hip Hop. After a few years, a couple redesigns and the collective vision of three different Editors-In-Chief, blogs are back. Well, sort of. Since our blog section went the way of two-way pagers and physical mixtapes, Twitter, Instagram and Ustream have further accelerated the pace of current events in Hip Hop. Rappers beef with each other 140 characters at a time, entire mixtapes (and their associated artwork) can be released via Instagram, and sometimes these events require a rapid reaction.
As such, we're reserving this space for a weekly reaction to Hip Hop's current events. Or whatever else we deem worthy. And the “we” in question is myself, Andre Grant and Ural Garrett. Collectively we serve as HipHopDX's Features Staff. Aside from tackling stray topics, we may invite artists and other personalities in Hip Hop to join the conversation. Without further delay, here’s this week's “Stray Shots.
Is Wale’s Sensitivity Just Him Being Distinctly Human In Hip Hop?
@HipHopDX Yall mad at me or complex? How bout callin it down the line ? One time? U do realize Ur employees contacted me n told me wassup— Young Olu the Genius (@Wale) April 2, 2015
Andre: After Wale called up Complex HQ like a crazed tea partier at the tail end of 2013 I was bemused but not surprised. He’s always been a radically open vein in a scene where everyone is covering their scars with tattoo’s, money and women. All three if you’re good. Tack on culturally relevant, fulfilling art if you’re great. I’d raise a brow and carry on. He was always railing against something or the other, and his music? It was a cavalcade of Pop culture references and genres of black music thrown into a great, giant pot and boom (!), something magical would come out sometimes and then sometimes not. I couldn’t call him experimental (his work was soaked in the tones of D.C., a Go-Go montage of Funk, R&B, Hip Hop and Blues), but what fascinated me about him was his world-view. He seemed, at least through music, like a man constantly fighting two wolves and one of them was winning only slightly. There was a tension to him, like loose string suddenly taut, and you could find him being simultaneously arrogant and heart wrenchingly childlike about his art in the press, in the world. He seems to answer everyone who reaches out to him on Twitter, and treats all of their opinions equally as if he never got the lesson about how not giving a fuck is the right way to roll.
In an open letter to Complex he wrote these words, “I am not superhuman but super human.” And, beyond the puzzling lack of a hyphen it struck me as particularly prescient. That kind of honesty, that kind of vulnerability is what we love about artists like Kanye West, so why not Wale? He’s made great music, and The Mixtape About Nothing is one of my favorite mash-ups of Go-Go, attention to detail and Pop culture. With him moving back toward that concept on An Album About Nothing, I thought he’d have resorted to that kind of hyper-local Go-Go sound sprinkled with Pop culture, the temerity of existence and mourning. I swear that with Kendrick and Thurz damn near bringing Funk back it was a no-brainer. He had other plans, and the album was full of deeply affecting lyrical lament, but not balanced by the quirkiness of his many influences.
"I was depressed... I wasn't sleeping. I was drinking all day and I didn't have anyone to go to. I couldn't fight it," he said in an interview with Billboard. He was mourning the loss of an unborn child -- a loss that I cannot fathom. And he came for us, that he did, for a review that he thought didn’t reflect the wizardry of his new music. Fair. That’s really, really fair. Drake might be the most emotional, on the pulse emcee, and Kendrick might be the oddly humble genius, but Wale is certainly the most human, the most openly raw emotionally. That’s why I appreciate him, and that’s why he’s as impactful as he is. He’s boldly here despite his flaws, and with today’s contrived media driven dalliances, it’s honestly just a breathe of fresh air to have someone be radically honest. It’s the last artistic revolution left.
Ural: During the red carpet event for Furious 7 Wednesday evening, I actually got a chance to interview Wale (along with a plethora of other media outlets) for a couple of seconds, which were viewable in yesterday’s DX Daily. I told him I liked the album, asked him a few questions and kept it moving. The same morning, I saw Wale shoot off some tweets pretty disappointed with Marcus Dowling’s fair review of his recently released An Album About Nothing. Unlike most media outlets racking up the page numbers HipHopDX acquires normally, our freelancers and core staff have a wildly different opinions on everything. It just works pretty well and could be the reason why there’s such a level of independence here. With that in mind, though some in the office sort-of disagreed with Dowling’s review, it was respected and backed. That’s just how things work here. However, there was an inkling feeling the D.C. native was going to have an issue and become very vocal because historically, it’s just who he is. The MMG soldier is an open book for better or worse. Sort of like a double-edged sword. Honestly, it’s pretty interesting to see the scope of his career. Especially next to peers he started with like Drake, Kid Cudi and J. Cole among others. Those guys have essentially eclipsed him both critically and commercially by miles. With that said, the frustrating feeling of under appreciation is completely understandable.
Regardless, singling out a few publications (including Pitchfork) isn’t helping as bigger publications like Billboard rated the album around half-a-point higher. The general consensus on Wale’s An Album About Nothing? It was an above average album that fans of Wale will obviously enjoy. Everyone else, the mileage may vary. The Tweets to DX, Pitchfork and even a few random accounts with less than one hundred followers is everything that makes Wale such a fascinating figure. His history with Complex to even members within MMG proves that the unfiltered attitude at least is fairly consistent. In an era where media and artist relationships are blurred when the next exclusive is needed, Wale deserves respect for at least voicing his opinions.
Has Kendrick Lamar’s TPAB Ruined Hip Hop For 2015?
Andre: I think maybe Kendrick Lamar has ruined rap in 2015 for me, and I mean that in the best possible way. Action Bronson’s debut was convex and bluesy, hilarious, and the full mettle of the Albanian king’s godliness. I could literally feel within myself the rumbling metal of the 7 train casting dusty shadows as I listened to it. Joey Bada$$ made an impressive debut album as well, dark and earthy like a thunderstorm of billowy clouds and damp soil, and no one can forget what the embattled Lupe Fiasco did this year. His album was complex, ethereal ambrosia, a worthy addition to his catalog, and a complete return to form. Drake’s surprise; I described Wale’s effort above, and Ludaversal was a welcome return for Luda. Then there were the indie’s I loved, Open Mike Eagle’s EP, Ibeyi’s eponymous mysticism and Phony Ppl’s run through the sun. But, will there be anyone that can come up with the sort of ambitious, deliciously referential and soulful cinema that was Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore record? I’m not sure. I don’t go looking for it, but it lingers behind me in elevators and beside me at stoplights. It irks me as I dig through stacks at libraries, and read essays about on my timeline. Here we are, most of us, giving this album some of the best words of our careers because it somehow enabled us (well, me) to cut through the noise and get back to the complex, lush machinations of reality.
It’s a matter of proverbial fact at this point that Kendrick’s record is a magical fruit you bite into and it reveals to you a different, separate flavor each time. That magic wanes and you long for it. Longing creates great music, but it ruins everything. So until this post To Pimp A Butterfly haze swerves into the left lane and zooms past me, I’m stuck. For good or for ill, Kendrick Lamar has made it very difficult to enjoy something in the same way that I enjoyed his turn of the screw, but maybe this will be like 1994 and we’ll get an Illmatic and a Ready To Die in the same year, right?
Ural: Let’s keep things completely honest and simple here folks. There isn’t an album released this year that’ll even remotely touch To Pimp A Butterfly. Outside of that, everything else will be bad, good or great. *Drops Mic*
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant that has contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Features Editor for HipHopDX. He's also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.
Ural Garrett is an Los Angeles-based journalist and HipHopDX's Senior Features Writer. When not covering music, video games, films and the community at large, he’s in the kitchen baking like Anita. Follow him on Twitter @Uralg.