If 2007 had “Blog-House” then 2012 has “Blog-Rap,” that is, an explosion of acts whose notoriety can be traced back exclusively through blog posts and mentions on Pitchfork. Equally insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but just like in 2007, there are a few stand out acts that I believe will stand the test of time (in internet years, of course).
Sunday night at the Roxy was essentially a showcase for this new term I’m coining, with poster-children and somewhat polarizing act Das Racist in the headlining slot. Overall, it was a smooth show for everyone. What’s more important, and what I observed however, is how this particular show reflected a new sea change in rap.
NYC-based rapper and Mishka brand golden-child Lakutis was the first full opening set to go on, and while he gave it (sort of) his all, it came across as messy. He took the stage and immediately asked the still-growing crowd if we were ready for “real hip hop,” motioning to his DJ to press play on his HP laptop. He mumbled through his verses, which included charming lyrical chants like “I’m better than everybody, fuck you”and “mad cause I’m dead hoe, call me Laura Palmer.” Still, the crowd ate it up, throwing their hands up and down at the stage (for all of you not in the know, that means “I approve of your music” at hip-hop gigs).
His set was followed by Safe, which ended up being quite a pleasant surprise/departure from the rest of the acts on the bill. In his white-high top sneakers and overgrown beard, he looked the part for his mix of chillwavey beats and calm, collected verses. He seemed a little intimidated by his own presence on the stage, but nevertheless, his entire set was charming.
Safe was succeeded by the real star of the night, NYC based hype-commander LE1F. After taking to the stage, LE1F plugged in an iPhone, threw his arms out, and proceeded to steal the entire gig. LE1F stood out despite having no props, no elaborate costumes, nothing but his vicious lyrics, and maddening beats. That’s it. It was impressive, and captivating, without being over-the-top and excessive, and this is very important to note. This is what music of this vein should continue to be. Too many live acts (in every genre, not just hip hop or rap) continue to rely on spectacle rather than quality. Is it entertaining? For the most part, yes. People respond well to hat tricks. But does it add meaning to the music itself? Absolutely not. LE1F’s set represented everything I think is going right with music right now. Not only from an aesthetic viewpoint, although I was impressed at how well the crowd responded to such a bare-bones presentation, but genre-wise as well. He pushes boundaries in terms of what we accept into the genre. Many people, writers and reviewers especially, try to (in a sense) dismiss him as a “queer” rapper, but on stage his identity meant nothing. “Queer” doesn’t define his act, and his sexuality isn’t a spectacle nor a gimmick. It’s merely the perspective from which he creates. If this is the direction that we’re going in, I welcome it with open arms and truly look forward to what’s coming.
And then there was Das Racist, who played a simply good, straightforward set. Again, it was a set lacking gimmick or spectacle, but they got the crowd hyped up. What did stand out for them was the level of fun they seemed to get out of being on stage together. Watching them was really just like watching a group of old friends banter back and forth, except with really strong beats and a killer application of an Erykah Badu sample for “Shut Up, Man.” This is a good thing though. What this show really represented was where this “genre” is headed. I say “genre,” because that’s part of it: attempting to pigeonhole any of these artists is useless, because they’re breaking apart the standards of what understand about hip hop and doing truly innovative and exciting things with music. If the past few years for hip hop have been about Minaj-type excess, then I think I can safely say that the next few are going to be a complete departure to somewhere minimal and genuine.