In class the other day, I put a claim up on the board: The Roots are the most innovative hip-hop group of all time because of their consummate musicianship, their creative and thought provoking M.C., and their ability to consistently renew themselves. For Exhibit A I showed their video for “How I Got Over,” and for Exhibit B I showed a video of an improv game on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (the U2 homage is very fun!).
Before introducing the band to my class, we discussed refutations and counterarguments, so we spent the rest of class time resisting my sample claim point by point.
If there’s one thing students have an opinion about, it is music, and I always end up learning about new bands and groups while introducing most of them to a band that I really like but don’t love. One student shouted out, “Black Hippy!”
A week prior, I coincidentally bought Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city. At two years old, the album is a relic in Hip-Hop years. After unearthing the packaging and blowing off the figurative dust of time, I listened to it once through, and then, for good measure, once again.
Back when the album came out, reviewers fawned over it, it received four Grammy awards nominations, and I made a halfhearted attempt at listening online. But I wasn’t in the right mood; it never sank in.
Now, like my favorite albums, I want to scour every centimeter of its sonic space. I have about twelve listens under my belt, and tomorrow I’ll probably add at least one more. Several songs are multi-sectioned compositions, several are bangers; there’s incredible wordplay, vivid storytelling, and I even listen to the skits. I hear a whole lot of Dungeon Family, both old Outkast as well as recent Big Boi and Killer Mike; Wu, Nas, The Roots, Dre (beyond the track he spits on), P-Funk, Em, and the influence of numerous, symbiotic electronic producers.
Hip-hop–and this was true of jazz first–is both a style of music and a philosophy. Artists like Flying Lotus are making some of the greatest ‘jazz’ right now, and artists like Kendrick Lamar (and the rest of Black Hippy) make some of the greatest Hip-Hop: real, funny, hard-edged, sweet, steeped in the past, yet entirely new.