Hip-hop is not in a trash state, as some artists may claim


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Joey Bada$$ performing at Hovefestivalen in 2013.


Joey Bada$$ sparked a debate within in the hip-hop community several weeks ago when he tweeted that rap is in a “very trash state.”  

Rap music is currently a zeitgeist. 2017 saw hip-hop dominating the charts, along with Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar leading this year’s Grammy nominations. R&B/hip-hop is currently the most popular genre of music, accounting for 24.5 percent of all music consumed in 2017 according to Billboard.

A lot of hip-hop that makes it to the charts Joey Bada$$ would call “soulless.”  Trap hits like Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” are dominating the charts, but are simultaneously criticized for their repetitiveness or lack of originality.

With the trend of trap-rap being nearly inescapable, those turned off by the hip-hop subgenre may find themselves detesting hip-hop and lining up with the “all rap is crap” crowd. In any genre, the most accessible material rises to the top. If one scratches the surface, the state of a genre may be a different picture than the charts and dollar signs paint.

Hip-hop is actually at its peak with more variety and creativity emerging more frequently than ever before.

If you find yourself saying that all hip-hop today is “trash,” these gems released in that last year or two that you may have missed could change your mind.

“Floss” – Injury Reserve

Injury Reserve is a Tempe, Arizona, hip-hop trio that fronts Stepa J. Goggs and Ritchie with a T on the rapping side, with Parker Corey on production. In 2016 they released “Floss,” their first full-length album, a successful display of the versatility, chemistry, and charisma that Injury Reserve deserves to be known for.

“Floss” kicks off with the banger “Oh S**t!!!” that features a piano-guided instrumental and an echo of the jazz-rap sound that their previous mixtape “Live From the Dentist Office” was fueled by.

Richie with a T opens up his verse with “I say this ain’t jazz-rap, this that spazz-rap. Raised by the internet, ain’t have no dad-rap.” With this line, Injury Reserve lets listeners know they themselves are very conscious of their sound and are aware of their more experimental underground counterparts.

While Injury Reserve may be mentioned in the same breath as more experimental hip-hop acts due to crossover appeal, what they display on this track is a healthy blend of energy that borderlines on being abrasive, but still very accessible and catchy. Their objective exemplified with line from the hook “they said they want some more hits.”

“All This Money” is a bit more on the jazz-rap side, a highlight of the track being a saxophone so catchy it even competes with the hook. Of course, the hook on “All This Money” is catchy as can be, proving that the crafting of a great hook is one of Injury Reserve’s biggest strengths.

“All This Money” lies between the line of bangers like “Oh S**t!!!” and more moody, groovy tracks like “S on Ya Chest” a beautifully layered song with trademark jazz instrumentation and flows that are equally smooth.

With “Floss”, the trio only improved their talents and took another step toward something even greater in future projects. Anyone that enjoys mainstream hip-hop could stumble upon Injury Reserve and be instantly addicted given their ability to make such catchy and addicting hip-hop without any compromises.

“Saturation I, II & III” – Brockhampton

In 2017, Brockhampton released three full-length albums, each to critical acclaim, and amassed a dedicated fanbase. The group formed online via popular hip-hop forum KanyeToThe.com, making Brockhampton the internet’s first “boy-band,” a label the group coined themselves. Led by Kevin Abstract, Brockhampton consists of seven total vocal members, each with different talents and personalities to show-off.  

In preparation for the first Saturation project, they released a handful of music videos, each showcasing a different side of the group than the next.

“HEAT” is hard hitting, with member Ameer Van standing out as a very aggressive and in-your-face emcee. But then there’s the playful, yet boastful “GOLD,” featuring one of many expertly crafted hooks by Kevin Abstract that he plants across the “Saturation” trilogy. Matt Champion delivers a smooth, playful, and low-key opening verse, contrary to the braggadocios hook.

That’s just two singles from the first entry to the trilogy. Keep in mind that Brockhampton released nearly three hours of music in 2017 so there’s a lot to dive into as a new listener.

But if you’re up for it, the “Saturation” trilogy takes the listener on a journey through a colorful spectrum of sounds and styles with much to learn about each member of the collective along the way. Every developing Brockhampton fan eventually discovers who their favorite member is or their favorite “Saturation” of the three. That is just part of what makes Brockhampton’s 2017 trilogy one of the most fun and rewarding music listening experiences in recent memory. Brockhampton’s fun energy, creativity, music output, and growing fanbase shows signs of an exciting future for Hip-hop.

“Atrocity Exhibition” – Danny Brown

“Atrocity Exhibition” is Danny Brown’s fourth studio album, and a new beast entirely when compared to the rest of the Detroit rapper’s catalog.

The 2016 follow-up to his 2013 album “Old,” which saw Brown catering to the music festival crowd that took to his music, “Atrocity Exhibition” took a direction that his casual fans never saw coming. “Atrocity Exhibition,” (the title inspired by Joy Division’s song of the same name) is dark, abstract, chaotic, and the most personal Danny has ever been.

The first single leading up to album’s release, “When It Rain,” begins with Brown unleashing one of the most challenging verses of his career. The beat is eerie and faint, yet Danny has no trouble delivering his trademark wacked-out, vulgar rhymes through the manic voice complexion he’s known for. The hook begins with Danny stating “you ain’t heard it like this before.” Highly accurate for the single, but even more accurate for the rest of the music that filled “Atrocity Exhibition”.

Much of the album takes on drug use much like a lot of Brown’s past work, but on “Atrocity Exhibition” the tone is more grim. Brown presents the downward spiral of a man fighting addiction but tragically knows no other way.

“Ain’t It Funny” is a detonation of sound that is hard to prepare for. The booming bass and screeching jazz instruments build the foundation for one of the most off-the-wall performances of Brown’s career. While it’s absolutely the most upbeat track on the album, “Ain’t It Funny” contains one of most disturbing narratives Brown puts together on “Atrocity Exhibition.”

This contradiction makes “Ain’t It Funny” a nightmare you almost want to be a part of. Brown raps about his drug abuse and knowing that one day it will kill him. He knows he has a problem and wants to ask for help, but everyone around him believes that it’s just a joke, so he goes on laughing too, summed up by crying out “ain’t it funny how it happens?” over-and-over.

“Atrocity Exhibition” is one of the wildest hip-hop albums I’ve ever heard and thus far, Brown’s creative peak. All 15 tracks on “Atrocity Exhibition” are so profound and unique that the album doesn’t sound like it was made at any specific era of hip-hop, but a masterpiece brewed out of the passion for music and desire to make something nobody else has heard before, making it an excellent example of what today’s hip-hop artists have to offer.

 “Veteran” – JPEGMAFIA

In January of 2018, 28-year-old Baltimore rapper and producer JPEGMAFIA released “Veteran,” an album that is yet another coming in a wave of abrasive and experimental hip-hop flowing through internet today. However, JPEGMAFIA, who also refers to himself as “Peggy,” lets loose a distinct sound and character on “Veteran” that firmly plants himself a proud flag in the ground of the experimental hip-hop phenomenon.

The only single for “Veteran” released a month before its release, titled “Baby I’m Bleeding,” is a burst of commanding lyricism and hostile emceeing. The instrumental begins with a simple voice loop that builds tension for nearly a full minute. The voice loop is then layered with distant raspy shouting and swearing.

The track is eventually set-off by the iconic “you think you know me,” a sample of WWE Hall-of-Famer Edge’s entrance music. This instrumental build-up takes up a large chunk of the song which tends to be the case for many tracks on “Veteran,” alluding that Peggy is just as much a producer as he is a rapper.

“Baby I’m Bleeding,” like many other tracks on “Veteran,” is under three minutes, but regardless, Peggy employs such a gratifying and extreme skill on this bull-ride of a beat. It’s an achievement how he’s able to effortlessly maintain his balance the whole way through. You couldn’t miss a word if you tried.

Many of the instrumentals on “Veteran” sometimes hijack the track on purpose. The song “Real Nega” samples the legendary throaty and high-pitched noises Ol’ Dirty Bastard used to begin his song “Goin’ Down” and turns it into one of the craziest hip-hop instrumentals I’ve ever heard. Side-by-side with the heavily experimental production, there are elements of more melodic, glitchy, and trendier hip-hop, which feel ironic and in parody. It’s as if Peggy is laughing in the face of trendier hip-hop trademarks. This disheveled set of ideas and sounds on “Veteran” only adds to its appeal. 

Expert level emceeing over challenging and unpredictable production is only half what makes “Veteran” so great. JPEGMAFIA confronts cultural issues and politics in a one-of-a-kind style. Peggy has a wicked sense of humor and nihilistic attitude, yet also is just as much hostile and harrowing as he is humorous.

Between the lines, however, lies an unconventional progressive perspective. JPEGMAFIA doubles this refreshing and intriguing way of taking on cultural and political topics with constant left-hook references such as multiple name-droppings of WWE wrestlers and even a shout out of sorts to Myke C-Town of Dead End Hip-Hop, a relatively small hip-hop review channel on YouTube.

Peggy puts his sense of humor directly on display, with song titles such as “My Thoughts on Neogaf Dying,” “Libtard Anthem,” “Panic Emoji,” and even “I Cannot F*****g Wait Until Morrissey Dies.” Catching and reacting to all the strange jokes and sharp jabs sprinkled throughout the album is one of the most enjoyable parts of the “Veteran” listening experience.

JPEGMAFIA’s “Veteran” is a celebration of the off-the-beaten-path creations emerging from the depths of hip-hop, but simultaneously creates its own sound, not relying on any distinct influences. “Veteran” is not only the beginning of a promising creative stride for JPEGMAFIA, but also a reminder that there is still so much to be explored within the hip-hop art form.