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 me, 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.”
Fetty Wap Wasn’t A Fluke?
Ural: Only the internet age could produce Hip Hop’s best come-up story of 2015. Before the top of the year hit, Fetty Wap’s breakout single “Trap Queen” was just a local favorite within Paterson, New Jersey and he was selling mixtapes out of a beat-up Cadillac hoping to grow from his humble beginnings. Matter of fact, the video had only been around under half a year old by the time many caught wind of it. By then, “Trap Queen”s success was nearly a snowball effect. Besides going viral, Kanye, Beyonce, Jay Z and the industry at large were talking about the singing Trap King with one eye. Peaking at number two on Billboard’s Top 100 List and eventually going double platinum, everything sounded like an obvious one-hit wonder after he signed a deal with 300 Entertainment. It was easy to like the song or hate it. On one side, “Trap Queen” fell in-line with the singsong, autotuned dynamics of a post 808s & Heartbreaks Hip Hop. Zoo Wap is the 24-year-old result of someone who grew up having a possibly hefty diet of Southern rap conventions despite being less than an hour away from New York. Thematically, the trap-n-b record is a romantic ode to a woman who helps him cook and sell his drugs. However, “Trap Queen” also represents the overly simplistic music that’s flooded the airwaves over the past decade. Some friends of mine call it the “Me Too With New Paint” era. Then again, when it comes to the mainstream buying public, music taste is always questionable.
As the momentum of “Trap Queen” died down a little, Drake hops on the remix to his follow-up single “My Way” as another older loosie “679” made its way up the charts and all over the radio. This made him the first rapper since Eminem. From that moment on, he became a serious contender in Hip Hop whether people would like to admit it or not. Fetty Wap is a bonafide pop star. One doesn’t have to respect the artist, but the grind was undeniable. For heaven’s sake, Wap became the most Googled artists within the year, placing himself along a more seasoned artist like The Weeknd.
Now, there’s one final step to prove if the Remy Boyz leader has any true staying power. Can he put together a body of work worth its weight in salt? From the looks of things, there’s a chance he may be able to pull something off that’s above average. Unlike most bloated major label debuts, the tracklisting making the internet rounds today for his self-titled first offering lacks big name features and producers. That’s a sure sign that he understands his sound and what his fans are looking for. But, does that mean any creative refinement as an artist? We’ll see when the album drops in a few weeks.
Andre: Roger Ebert said in his review of Saturday Night Fever that the film and thus disco was based on two enduring principles, “First, the desire of all young people to escape from a life sentence of boring work and attain their version of the beckoning towers of Manhattan. Second, the difficulty that some men have in relating to women as comrades and friends and not simply sex facilitators.”
The disco king of Hip Hop is a guy by the name of Fetty Wap. He’s the most Googled musical individual in a year where Hip Hop dominated Google searches. That’s beyond impressive if you think about it, and it’s only natural that he was just named Youtube’s “Artist of The Summer” along with The Weeknd by counting Youtube views, Google Trends, and Google Play data. Beyond that, though, I call Fetty Wap the “disco” king for a few reasons.
All of the things that made the disco era great are currently at work in Hip Hop. And if you casually wander the aisles of comment boards here or wherever else Hip Hop is spoken about, you’ll feel the disdain people have for songs like “Trap Queen,” which is deliriously fun, escapist nonsense, and a really good song. They’ll call it trap-n-b, and other weird things because the one eyed musical oddity sings songs with all the trappings of hardcore gangsta rap, but with this out of this world R&B lilt. It’s beyond Drake. It’s closer to Nelly’s sing-songy flow of the 2000s, but darker and more ludicrous and actually musical. It’s as if he created a voice that was crafted in a laboratory using T-Pain’s autotune melded perfectly with the intonations of a real live human voice. Weird. He makes great pop music, I think because he knows what pop music is about. It’s about escapism and longing. It’s about leaving the world that is essentially lonely and cruel for a meadow of acceptance. This is also what the disco era was about, and it survived and died on these principles. That the world is a stupid, drab place unfit for the full weight of human desire.
So our current landscape is filled with just this kind of music. The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, Young Thug, Kanye West (to a degree), Drake and others live and die by these principles. Though, unlike disco, the goal is no longer to find a place where things reveal some semblance of magic, but the opposite. There is no magic and there never was, their songs cause 2015 to exhale, come down to the depths with me, then. Of course, there’s desire down there, too.
There’s not just one scene anymore, and the fractured Hip Hop landscape would recoil if I compared things like K. Dot’s TPAB to disco. Most of it isn’t that at all, to be sure. But Fetty Vandross having four singles on the Billboard Hot 100 along with The Weeknd, and Drake could lead any reasonable person to believe that what’s popular these days is disco-rap. And Fetty Wap is the current poster artist of that very popular Hip Hop subgenre.
Is The Blueprint Jay Z’s Best Work?
Andre: Up there, Roger mentioned something about kids escaping boring work for the call of the two towers. Of what is affectionately called the city. Jay Z’s best work, in my opinion, is the one he released today fourteen years ago on the same day as one of America’s most heartbreaking tragedies: the destruction of the twin towers in lower Manhattan. For The Blueprint, the album was bathed in the dusty, toxic glow of that tragedy, but also in the sample heavy soul bounce of a guy by the name of Kanye West. According to Guru, a young Chicago producer and newbie to tha Roc named Kanye gave Jay Z a CD with nine beats on it. Seven of them ended up on The Blueprint and with them acting as the backbone, most of the rest of the album was done over the weekend.
Of course, these are the kinds of origin stories that make rap sizzle with comic book like excitement. Here was a masterpiece created over a whirlwind of activity, with Jay Z at his prime, spinning street tales with more of the charm and less of the grit than his previous efforts. Unfortunately, this album would be the beginning of what would be a steady decline for Jigga, as he turned his focus to making crossover hits. After The Blueprint, Jay would make the bloated The Blueprint 2 and then a number of collaborative effort, which hit or miss. But, for one faithfull fall soaked in tragedy, and what Hunter S. Thompson would call the end of peace in our time, Jay Z’s masterpiece would signal both a changing of the guard (as he officially stepped into the shoes vacated by the Notorious B.I.G.) and the beginning of the war on terror that has yet to cease.
Ural: There isn’t an American of age today who doesn’t remember exactly where they were when the nation faced its worst terrorist attack in history. Watching the twin towers fall from my small CRT set nearly two weeks into my freshmen year of high school was a horrifying sight. From my 14-year-old perspective, it sucked living in the hood but obviously foreign threats were nothing to take seriously. The tragic situation hit home a bit as the school I was attending sat directly across from LAX. Before classes were canceled mid-way through the day for safety reasons, the conversation was essentially split between what exactly happened and The Blueprint. I’d totally forgot earlier in the morning that acquiring Hov’s sixth studio album legally was a top priority. The Blueprint transitioned Jay into the legend he is now, it also turned Yeezy into a production superstar.
Everything about The Blueprint was perfect, even the cover. Single selection couldn’t have been any more top notch from “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” to “Girls, Girls, Girls.” Album cuts like “U Don’t Know” and the Eminem assisted “Renegade”(the only featured track) kept the album from any acquisitions of filler material. Today, every track has become a dope Hip Hop story individually. Let’s not forget the biggest story of the album “Takeover.” The track alone is considered one of the greatest diss records ever created and served as battery for a scathing response from Nas later on. While many saw Jay’s album-a-year strategy as overkill despite how successful he’d become, he finally made his most critically loved album since his debut Reasonable Doubt.
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 a 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.