Art is always a product of the climate and context in which it was created. But who can predict the atmosphere required for a great work to reveal itself? Axl Rose had unlimited time to fuck about with Chinese Democracy, painfully and expensively pursuing a career-defining opus only to serve up a half-baked turkey, the pompous self-importance of it all weighing every song down like an air conditioner clinging to the wheel of a motorbike.
Rock up, rock up, rock up to the wild and crowded session that is the Irish rap scene, and you’ll see Jafaris floating in his own corner. The rising young virtuoso’s small body of work has already showcased an omnivorous musical appetite, inviting elements of uptempo R&B, smooth neo-soul and slick EDM to his funky stylistic palette.
Who could have envisioned Boogie and Elton John joining forces to hawk candy bars? Yet there they are together, pocketing Snickers’ money to hold up the product in a flashy new commercial. Anybody who spun Thirst 48 ought to be surprised by such a switcheroo. The Comptonite’s debut mixtape was a cerebral collection of quiet rhymes over bleak synths and crawling drum machines. He looked anything but the guy you could promote a brand on. Cut to a half-decade later and Boogie’s move up the rap game hierarchy is toasted over a ceremonial concoction of caramel, peanuts, and nougat.
Jaye P. Morgan was a true celebrity of the postwar era, a jack-of-all-trades entertainer who set up residency in the pop charts during the 1950s with her glitzy big band numbers and swooning ballads. She was a fixture on American TV screens, too, appearing in a string of variety shows and even helming her own twice-weekly showcase, The Jaye P. Morgan Show, on NBC in 1956.
Has a rap group ever boasted broader geographical roots than NUXSENSE? The collective’s various origin stories cover more terrain than a Mission: Impossible movie—four continents, at least. Living and thriving in Dublin, a bunch of school kids drawn together by their shared immigrant experiences and a love of hip-hop became a defining force in the Irish capital’s youth culture.
More Irish artists made marvellous rap music this year than ever before. Here’s 20 of the best songs to prove it. The rules are one track per artist because there are too many fine people worth highlighting and I’m sure all included wouldn’t begrudge sharing the wealth.
There’s a touch of the Wu-Tang Clan’s careerism to SOB X RBE’s unfolding ascendance. Early in the Wu’s saga, RZA artfully strategized a five-year plan to establish clan members as solo stars. SOB X RBE’s blueprint might not be quite so clear, but even in the infancy of their careers, the Vallejo rappers have dropped a number of solo projects and started to establish themselves as viable individual artists.
There are a lot of people out there who think everyone in the 3Arena on Friday night is a sucker. We’re all a bunch of poor chuckleheads, airheaded chumps, and silly patsies. We are Homer Simpson, walking through a carnival with a handful of money and a pigeon for a head. They believe this because laying down cash for a Lauryn Hill show has become a leap of faith that even the most dedicated apostle would struggle to find within themselves.
It begins with the devastating sounds of a life support machine. The fragile, ping-ponging beeps that underpin opening track “Say You Will” resemble the hollowed-out audio signals that ring from the machinery used to prolong human life—sounds that once they cease, typically signal death. In 2008, devastation stalked Kanye West. His response was a work of desperation and catharsis, the attempted exorcism of a cracked soul. As it turned out, heartbreak was the sound of a Roland TR-808 drum machine.
As it turned out, 400 Degreez is the temperature at which Southern rap percolates. Place Juvenile in the roaster for 72 scintillating minutes, sauté the pop ‘n’ click patterns of Mannie Fresh, add in the spices of Big Tymers and Juve’s fellow Hot Boyz, allow Bryan “Baby” Williams and Ronald “Slim” Williams to stir the pit, and voilà – or as a teenage Lil Wayne spits at the end of Juve’s Back That Azz Up video, “wobble-dee, wobble-dee” – Cash Money Records plates up a New Orleans gumbo fit for a king. Bon Appetit.
Lil Peep’s existence was short and chaotic. But within that brief span, he delivered a 160-second distillation of his electric star quality. Like many Peep cuts, “Benz Truck” rides a sinister and muddied guitar line that sounds snatched from the 1990s alternative rock canon. The instrument highlights the half-lucid vocal style that made him an instantly quotable hook machine.
There’s no need to sterilize the hyperbole: London’s local jazz scene is having what you might call “a moment.” We are witness to a surge of ingenuity that may well meet the criteria of being historic; a creative boom led by young musicians finding new angles to a classic genre that feel fresh and imaginative. It’s music that captures the pluralistic flavor of the U.K. capital. In the backdrop of Brexit-era Britain and the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment — punctuated by the horrors of the Grenfell Tower fire and the Windrush scandal — this doesn’t just feel refreshing, it is vital.
Edan’s Beauty and the Beat was a glorious record. A full clip of kaleidoscopic samples, rumbling electronics, and streetwise bars rooted in the classic lyrical tradition, it encapsulated the inventiveness of independent rap in the early 2000s, before labels like Definitive Jux evaporated into dust. I threw Beauty and the Beat on recently and can happily report that the album is aging beautifully, 13 years after its release. (To its great credit, the label behind the record, the small UK outfit Lewis Recordings, still has its doors open).
Music crit pep talk: I won’t slobber over Antics, I won’t slobber over Antics. Interpol, though, right? Phenomenal stuff. A definitive band of the early 2000s, when indie felt vital and exciting. Their first two albums, Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics – oh, precious Antics – are blog-era guitar music classics. These New York pulpiteers pulled from the darkest corners of throwback post-punk to make dapper guitar music shrouded in sin. If the Grim Reaper does exist, maybe he comes to collect souls in a slim-fit suit and skinny tie.
At the 1999 Grammy Awards, Lauryn Hill marked her coronation by singing a simple song about her newborn son. With legendary axe-man Carlos Santana caressing his acoustic guitar by her side, Hill delivered a cutting four-minute sermon on the pressures facing young women at pop music’s top end. Looking out on to the industry’s most-influential, it felt like a reckoning more commonly associated with historic speeches or biblical passages.