The Vulnerable Layer
A lot of old school hip hop heads do a fair (or unfair) amount of complaining about pink hair tight pants and tattoos. These new kids on drugs trap beats and repeating words over and over again…are a much smaller percentage of hip hop than you might think.
I noticed this last year. Youngboy Never Broke Again dropped an incredible project called A.I. Youngboy with all the bounce and flavor of a great New Orleans Hip Hop album and has been following it ever since with searingly personal content. The mixtape that followed was called Ain’t Too Long and wasn’t nearly as fun but instead presented a Boosie level of personal introspection and meditation on loss. He has continued that on his long and very good Until Death Call My Name. At the same time from the well watched streets of Chicago Lil Durk dropped Love Songs For The Streets and it wasn’t weird at all. Durk had begun the year before that drawing the camera lens closer and closer to his actual life friends and troubles, creating a relationship with his fans unlike any other young Chicago MC. That is really what stood out about this in 2017. These two are young! Durk is 25 Youngboy is 18 and they are opening up on tracks in ways we are not used to seeing from mainstream hardcore rap hungry young mixtape people.
This year has compounded the trend. Two very good albums that traffic in staggeringly personal content from rappers born in the mid to early 90’s have dropped. The most recent is from the production mind of The Internet, one of the best groups in hip hop. After the shockingly great 2017 Syd had I was prepared for how good Patrick Paige II Letters of Irrelevance could be or at least I thought I was. The more I relisten to it the more I shake my head at the intelligent design of it. The first song is called The Best Policy where Paige declares his problems with adulthood, his abiding desire to speak the unfettered truth and it sets the stage for what he is able to accomplish. The sonic landscapes shift with a sure hand and dazzling accuracy as we go from a perfect D’Angelo recreation (Voodoo) to a slapping great time with G Perico and Sareal (on Get It With My N’s). All the while if you listen he parses real truth of his topics. The end of the album makes it unignorably resonant. His Ode to Inebriation says “I don’t need a glass man F#$* a flask drink it in just what I bought it in just like my Dad” in a tone so heartfelt and angry that it is awkward and rewarding. You watch him deal with his demons and did I mention that the song after that (The Last Letter) is to his dead Mother?
Letters of Irrelevance just came out 05/18 it will no doubt grow on me over the months to follow. The project that has come into my top 5 albums of the year through the sheer force of its personality (released in April) is Saba-Care For Me. Saba deserves all the credit in the world for devastating lyrical work from tales of his uncle on Life to savvy intellectual critique of the music industry on Grey and possibly the best lyrical song of the year in track 9 Prom/King. In seven minutes and thirty one seconds he weaves an albums worth of content together and it’s not just pain. His pen paints friendship hormones nervousness unexpected calamity and everything in between. Its life in one song and while Prom/King stands out the other songs carry a similar weight. The other people on Care For Me that deserves a ton of credit are the musicians, great bass play, guitar work and subtle keyboard work that never overload the canvas allowing Saba to flourish and deliver on the promise of his last release Bucket List Project.
If someone tells you these new kids are trash ask them if they have heard Noname, Smino, Saba, Patrick Paige II, Isiah Rashad, Kamaiyah, and the list grows everyday. This is not a generation with a lack of artistic perspective or want to experiment it is an industry that gives you what they know how to make over and over for fear deviation will cost MONEY. So if you want depth pay for it. You’ll see more of it become visible and that necessary vulnerability will nourish your playlist.
Patrick Paige II-The Last Letter