I live in Bushwick, Brooklyn which is virtually a hop, skip and a jump from the notorious neighborhood of Williamsburg in New York. Notorious, not in the sense that it’s likely to get your ass lit up like Grandma’s glaucoma “medicine”, but in the sense that you come across perhaps the most universally despised people in all of New York city, the hipsters. Now seeing that I’m best friends with many a “hipster” myself (and some would probably argue that my ass is a hipster but I would literally scream and beg to differ to my bloody torture chamber death but I digress), I don’t really personally have anything against them (other than say their choice in ironic haberdashery) but they do seem to spring up in various different neighborhoods in the city like cockroaches; bringing the wonders of gentrification and retro ‘80s t-shirts. Once, they’re there, they’re there to stay. The definition of a hipster is pretty nebulous as what qualifies one as a hipster is broad and sweeping but there is one unifying theme that unites all hipsters: No hipster considers themselves, in fact, a hipster. It’s a dirty word signifying pretension and a tragic taste in culture. Nobody voluntarily wants to be thought of as a hipster. It’s actually a pretty good determiner if you have to defend yourself as not a hipster, your tight jeans wearing ass is probably a hipster. Sorry, to break it you, folks. We all deal.
Bronx rapper, Mickey Factz, recently caught major feelings from Nah Right’s Eskay when he was classified as a hipster rapper. He went to great pains to categorically reject the notion as did the Kidz In The Hall when confronted with that same notion. Lord knows an aspiring rapper wouldn’t want to be associated with white upper middle class douche bags in thick black framed glasses (Full Disclosure: I wear black framed glasses quite regularly, myself) even though they are often fond of those same thick black framed glasses himself. Hipster rap has become short-hand in recent times for a retro aesthetic that leans on a late ‘80s/early ‘90s sound and culture. The Cool Kids, Wale, The Knux, Jay Electronica, Lupe Fiasco, MickeyFactz and the Kidz In The Hall all have an aesthetic and style that leans heavily on what is being dubbed as “hipster rap.” Pretty much all of them hate it. I’m not necessarily sure that’s a good thing. I think they should embrace it.
The notion of hipster rap is actually pretty damn awesome. It uses the old school aesthetic of 80’s rap and culture and updates it for a modern audience. In a sense, as an audience we are getting the best of both worlds. It’s swaggerific enough for fans of shitty LCD rap to be conned into listening to but purposely old school enough to keep geezer’s like myself (all of my 24 years and counting) to get behind. If anything is gonna save hip hop, at least, artistically, this genre could be it.
Chicago’s unfortunately named, the Cool Kids are perhaps the biggest “stars” of the burgeoning sub-genre, perhaps are the most dogged in their adherence to their retro dogma. Their Totally Flossed Out LP is full of RickRubin-esque minimal but booming 808 production and Run-DMC tandem rhyming but it updates it with “chopped and screwed” hooks and use of dark, menacing synths. “Black Mags” is a stunning, dystopian ode to the pleasures of BMX-biking and “88” is a banger that sounds as if something that would come out of Oakland circa…well, 1988. The Cool Kids’ craft, a consciously retro look as well, rocking colorful t-shirts, vintage Jordans and enough dookie rope chains to make even Raekwon admit they were only built for the finest of Cuban links.
Another group that is making major noise, The Kidz In The Hall, are prepped to release their sophomore release, The In Crowd, are a group that met in college when emcees Naledge and Double-0 competed against each other at a University of Pennsylvania talent show. The group is heavily informed by the sounds of the Native Tongues and other early 90s artists. The stunning single for their second album, “Driving Down the Block (Low End Theory)”, samples Masta Ace’s classic “Jeep Ass Niguh” for a chopped and screwed hook but sounds like the artistic cousin of the menacing minimalist thump of “Grindin’.” The drums and break beat informs a Too Short-esque production but the plinkin’ synths add a modern edge to the song. The song just plain bangs. The Kidz In The Hall are also able to bridge a social conscious with dark bangers that seem destined for the club if given a chance by the radio to break through the Southern monotony. It’s truly a modern sound.
Perhaps, the group that I’m most excited about are New Orleans’ own, The Knux. The Knux are in the tradition of 3 Feet High and Rising De La Souland the mighty Outkast. The duo compromised of brothers, Krispy Kreamand Rah Al Millio, sound as if they were cloned from Big Boi’s lyrical DNA and transported back to the time of high-top fades and gazelle shades. “Cappuccino”, the brilliant funky new single off their upcoming album,Remind In 3 Days, is THE best song released all year. The song is funky, fresh and sounds like it’s channeling M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” by way of the Pharcyde It’s an ode to sexual frustration and the pleasures of being fresh. The group displays humor about their own vulnerabilities that is almost completely absent in modern hip hop. It’s a triumph of the genre and if this does not get major airplay on both pop and hip hop radio than the notion of a benevolent deity goes completely out the window. It’s too good to be languishing in backpack rap circle purgatory.
The aspect that I like the most about the burgeoning genre of hipster rap is that it’s not informed of the sermonizing of pandering socially conscious rap of modern backpack rap. It’s not trapped in antiquated notions of what real hip hop should be about. It’s simply just damn fun to listen to. It’s become the most rank of clichés to hail alternative hip hop groups as a “breath of fresh air” against the sordid ignorance of modern mainstream hip hop. Hipster rap isn’t a “breath of fresh air” but rather the vengeful but fun-loving wrath of yesteryear manifesting itself against the forces of cliché in modern hip hop. You can’t help but nod your head, smile or scowl when posed in your b-boy stance when listening to this shit. The hipsters may have completely ruined indie rock, haircuits, and fashion with their dreaded irony but they might as well save hip hop. Who the fuck knew?