We are witnessing a fundamental change in hip hop. Listening to B.o.B.'s Adventures of Bobby Ray (check the review), one thing stands out - new mainstream rappers are getting really good. Better than they've been in a long time actually. Ever since Nas said Hip Hop Is Dead, people have been criticizing today's hip hop for a lot of reasons: not enough lyricism, creativity, depth, or realness were getting through to the mainstream.
Since 2006's Hip Hop Is Dead, we've seen debuts from Fashawn, K'Naan, Kid Cudi, Wale, Drake, Flo Rida, Asher Roth, Skyzoo, Blu & Exile, and now B.o.B. Those aren't all great rappers, but they have a lot of different flows, styles, personalities and subjects. And those are some of the more mainstream debuts - I'm not counting great mixtapes by everybody from J. Cole to Wiz Khalifa.
In other words, we're witnessing an explosion in hip hop's variety and creativity. You like rap with an R&B/pop chaser? Drake mastered it in So Far Gone. You like introspection? Fashawn and Blu both made incredible albums with Exile producing. Pure lyricism? J. Cole, Blu and Skyzoo are all sick. Innovative beats? Kid Cudi. Want to see the music expand? K'Naan and B.o.B. are doing things I've never heard before.
And at the same time, the titans of the industry are all still here. Lupe is gearing up to release another album later this year, and he's still got it. Kanye has a new album with Pete Rock, Q-Tip and RZA producing. Jay-Z and Lil Wayne are guaranteed mainstream hits, even with half-assed albums. Shyne got a new style, Ice Cube is pissing off everybody, Scarface is making a mixtape, and Reflection Eternal is Back Again this May.
For years, hip hop fans have had to defend the mainstream's lazy approach to hip hop with the underground's great variety. But in the past couple of years, the cream has really risen to the top. The entire landscape of rap music is changing, and it looks beautiful. I've complained a lot about hip hop's faults, but the reality is that hip hop is constently growing, changing and evolving.
We are in the midst of a fundamental change in the rap industry. As hip hop continues to get older, there are more rappers in their 30's and 40's who are still successful. That means that the younger rappers are being forced to find new lanes to succeed, and they are.
There is no formula for mainstream hip hop right now. Auto-tune is dead, gangsta rap has faded, bling and crunk are distant memories, and everybody from the radio to the labels is trying to find the next big thing. That's great news for hip hop fans, because we're getting bombarded with new, creative sounds from everywhere - not just the underground.
Bottom line: hip hop is alive and breathing again, so enjoy it now.