My long journey with hip-hop music began when I fell in love with De La Soul’s startlingly creative album 3 Feet High and Rising and its follow-up De La Soul is Dead.
The pain-filled narrative of Millie Pulled A Pistol on Santa blew my mind as did the up-tempo defiance of Say No Go. De La Soul managed to conjure up the image of Much Ado about Nothing set in a Burger King and exhibited satirical wit and sincerity in equal measures. These albums made me believe that rap music was limitlessly creative and socially conscious. They also coaxed me to start rapping myself.
22 years later I’m still a rapper, but what does the word ‘rapper’ even mean now? A tattooed, dollar-bill-littering superstar? A hooded, council-estate teen rhyming along to a mobile phone beat as he walks his pit-bull to the off-license? A friend of mine has gone as far as to label what he does as ‘talk music’ just to avoid the connotations of the word ‘rap’.
For a short time I too fell out of love with rap. It was the spring of 1999. At a friend’s house I caught a few minutes of the music video for Nas and P.Diddy’s single Hate Me Now. The video depicted the two rappers being crucified inter-cut with them entertaining a nightclub of writhing pole dancers and adoring fans. It was all so ridiculous [and if not blasphemous at the very least crass and egocentric]. That day I felt embarrassed to be involved in hip-hop.
In 1996 I wrote a dissertation in which I predicted that in the years to come mainstream rap would become more hedonistic, materialistic and pornographic and so I really shouldn’t have been too surprised when obnoxious, petty, chauvinistic rap songs became standard fare on the radio and TV.
But the mainstream has never been where hip-hop music truly lives and thrives. Through the years I’ve bumped into hundreds of genuinely inspiring rappers, djs, beat-boxers and producers, so of course it irks me when people write hip-hop off as a self-aggrandizing mess of vapid beats and juvenile rhymes.
The fact is that now a shrewd Google search can lead you to progressive, sharp-witted, and painfully honest rap artists such as Eternia, Akala, Jean Grae, Propaganda, Nneka, Brother Ali, Aesop Rock, Pumpkin or Ruby Kid. We’re actually living in a new golden age of hip-hop music right now.
Since the industry spotlight is still squarely aimed at the most shallow and narcissistic manifestations of the rap genre, I felt I had to do my part in drawing attention to rappers worldwide who are elevating the art form.
As well as coaching and promoting fellow rap artists I decided to write a blog. I’m simply introducing the reader to 70 men and women who are examples of heart-on-sleeve, experimental and even revolutionary rap lyricism. If you’ve steered clear of rap music, then perhaps 70elevators.com will offer new insight into the beauty, power, wit and vitality of rap.
Image of Eternia by Heather Smith.