A better tomorrow

Pub date December 17, 2008
WriterMosi Reeves
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

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In the real world, the New York Stock Exchange did the butterfly flop all year, and the global economy sank along with it. But in the fantasy world of hip-hop, stock options on prime talent just went up and up. If it wasn’t XXLmag.com proclaiming its Freshman Class of ’09 — led by Blu, Kid Cudi, and Wale — then it was top blogs Nahright.com and 2dopeboyz.com posting hundreds of videos, MP3s, photo galleries, and other ephemera per week. Web sites like Okayplayer.com lavished attention on its favorites — "real hip-hop" artists like the Roots and Common — with audio/video items and high review scores, doling out 92 of 100 for Q-Tip’s The Renaissance (Universal Motown).

Of course, MTV and its poorer cousins, MTV Jams and BET, still showed plenty of Young Jeezy and Rick Ross videos, mean-mugging thugs and "dimepiece" models looking soulfully in the camera, eager to show their souls and shake their asses. On the Billboard charts, dependable superstars such as Kanye West and T.I. dominated with subpar albums and MOR malaise.

Meanwhile, like a cheery prospectus, the new hip-hop media teemed with blogs and Web sites promising a better tomorrow of future stars. Seasoned music journalists found the hype difficult to ignore: this year’s CMJ Music Marathon included a panel asking, "The Hip-Hop Renaissance: A Cultural Rebirth?" Meanwhile XXL magazine, the bastion of conservatism that seemingly puts 50 Cent on the cover every month — the Freshman Class list was a rare lapse — wondered, "What the hell happened to good ol’ gangster rap?" Apparently, the new breed of MCs’ penchant for appropriating nerdy icons (Charles Hamilton’s Sonic the Hamilton), paying homage to old-school classics (Pacific Division’s "F.A.T. Boys"), issuing 10-minute linguistic exercises (Mickey Factz’s "The Inspiration"), and rhyming over dance beats (Wale’s cover of Justice’s "D.A.N.C.E.") present a major threat to rap’s G’s-up-hos-down kingdom.

It needn’t have worried. The new Internet landscape flourished on buzz, not actual achievement. Indie-rockers were doing it for years — witness the rise of mediocre talents Vampire Weekend and Lykke Li — before the Cool Kids learned how to blow up with nothing more than a few demo songs and a flashy MySpace page. By the time the Cool Kids finally put out The Bake Sale EP (Chocolate Industries), an ode to limited-edition sneakers and sugar cereal, the Chicago duo had already spent several months basking in magazine covers and sold-out national tours. The Bake Sale may have been good, but its release felt anticlimactic. And let’s not even mention Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III (Cash Money), and his "100 best Lil Wayne songs you’ve never heard." That’s so 2007.

The Cool Kids may be the best example of how to manipulate the new hip-hop stock market — ply the blogs with YouTube videos (popular topics: Top 10 R&B chicks worth a "smash"), and distribute mixtapes via Zshare.net (popular topics: Barack Obama and freestyles over Lil Wayne’s "A Milli" and old J Dilla beats). Original material such as Kidz in the Hall’s The In Crowd (Duck Down) and Black Milk’s Tronic (Fat Beats) drew positive reviews from magazines and traditional Web sites. But once the free MP3 downloads and shaky-camera videos dried up, the new hip-hop media didn’t seem to care about actual albums one could buy in stores — or, sadly, just download for free. It thrived on fresh content, not critical analysis.

Some actual hits emerged amid the deluge. Kid Cudi’s "Day N Nite," Asher Roth’s "Roth Boys," Q-Tip’s "Gettin’ Up," Kidz in the Hall’s "Drivin’ down the Block," B.O.B.’s "Haterz," and Jay Electronica’s "Exhibit A (Transformations)" drew universal props. Mountaintop pronouncements from Jay-Z ("Jockin’ Jay-Z," "Brooklyn Go Hard"), Eminem ("Number One"), and Nas ("Be a Nigger Too," "Hero") were heeded by all, though these utterances paled in comparison to past glories.

Mostly, though, there was a lot of crap to sift through. If critics and fans couldn’t agree on whether Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III was a certified classic or just an above-average hit album, it was because we were too busy downloading music, surfing blogs, and watching videos to think about it. Perhaps we’ll figure out what 2008 means many years from now, long after that tomorrow finally arrives — for better or worse.


1. Flying Lotus, Los Angeles (Warp)

2. Daedelus, Love to Make Music to (Ninja Tune)

3. Black Milk, Tronic (Fat Beats)

4. The Cool Kids, The Bake Sale EP (Chocolate Industries)

5. Kidz in the Hall, The In Crowd (Duck Down)

6. Blue Sky Black Cinema, Late Night Cinema (Babygrande)

7. Invincible, ShapeShifters (Emergence)

8. Black Spade, To Serve with Love (Om)

9. Common Market, Tobacco Road (Hyena)

10. Lyrics Born, Everywhere at Once (Epitaph)