Some people are too talented to be confined to just one lane.
Vincent Edward “Bo” Jackson was the rare two-sport athlete. He could have been a Hall of Famer in both baseball and football.
Lauryn Hill was the rare two-discipline musical artist. She could have had the greatest career as both a rapper and a singer.
They also shared several other traits in common: reaching incredible heights; colleagues accusing them of being difficult; focusing on their families; and, above all, not being interested in living up to the outsized expectations created by their early acts of brilliance.
In the opening moments of the iconic track, “N.Y. State of Mind,” Nas almost mumbles, “I don’t know how to start this shit.”
It’s appropriate, almost poetic, that this line kept running through my head as I thought about how to approach this review because Daniel Levin Becker’s What’s Good: Notes on Rap and Languageis all about lines and lyrics – how they’re created, how deep they go, how they get stuck in our heads, and, awkwardly, what they mean within the larger societal context.
The approach of Westside Gunn and his crew offers valuable wisdom for not only music, but business, writing, and even life
“I really like that whole, like, cliquing up, Griselda shit. It’s just ill to me…I think what they’re doing is great. It just reminds me of a different time and it’s not easy to do. To make that music and just come off wavy and be interesting.”
The 2010s was a decade in which the line between rap and other genres became not only blurred, but largely nonexistent. Referred to by some as the “melodic era,” it was no longer a rarity or even a surprise to see a hip-hop artist transition into harmonizing, and while that had certainly been done in the past, it now became de rigueur as Drake, Young Thug, and many others rode that wave to stardom.
At the same time, some dudes stepped onto the scene and began flooding the market with their own music that sounded fresh but at the same time reminiscent of projects that had been released in the mid-’90s. No singing, no theatrics, just grim street tales of drugs and violence delivered over grimy, pounding basslines, creating a “gnarly sound inspired by the slimy criminal underbelly of Buffalo, New York.”
For the most part, whenever I heard a J Dilla (previously known as Jay Dee) beat, it sounded…off, wrong, maybe even sloppy. I couldn’t totally follow it. I wanted to like it, but I couldn’t fully appreciate it. It made me feel a bit discombobulated.
Only much later did I realize that was the intention. Dilla was not only reinventing what was known, he was inventing what was previously unknown.
As Dan Charnas writes, “What Dilla created was a third path of rhythm, juxtaposing those two time-feels [straight time and swing time], even and uneven simultaneously, creating a new, pleasurable, disorienting rhythmic friction and a new time-feel: Dilla Time.”
A one-on-one interview with Brian Nagata, the man behind RapZines
For us hip-hop superfans that came of age long before the internet and streaming era, we had to get our fix in other ways. Years before blogs and social media, we got our info from the scant TV programs that focused on the culture – Yo! MTV Raps; Urban Xpressions; Rap City – but most of our knowledge and insight came from publications.
The Source was the bible, but there were others. Only in these magazines could we get a regular diet of in-depth features, reviews, and previews of everything happening in and around the music.
No one appreciates that fact more than Brian Nagata, the founder, owner, and operator of Rapzines.