When our generation’s history is written on papyrus scrolls and committed to hidden crypts accessible only to the most daring Lara Crofts of the distant future, one sheet of parchment will be etched with a list of ‘90s R&B jams and stuffed inside an old C90 cassette tape. It was a genre that created some of our doomed species’ most precious works. The cultural footprint was as wide as Arthur Ashe Stadium.
If there’s one image of Sean Combs fated to be fossilized in time forever, it’s a shot of him in the “Victory” video. Forget the flashy suits and formal dinner jackets—the Puff Daddy I like to remember wore pitch-black threads, sunglasses on a rainy night, and resisted the force of the most intense weather machine.
I was in my second year of college when I noticed there was something wrong with my skin. Sitting in the middle of a drafty boxing arena that doubled as an exam hall, I fidgeted with the pen and stared at the cold, wooden desk, thinking about the euphoria to come from all that crammed information being promptly exorcised from my body. That, I thought to myself, would feel pretty great.
Anderson .Paak might have been more comfortable in the era that popularized his plaid, polyester suits. The prolific soul man has shown his worth on everything from the electronic blips of “Drugs” to the UGK-swerve of “So Slow.” But a lot of .Paak’s best stuff steps with a ‘70s strut. With hip-hop hippie Knxwledge, he might just have found his silkiest garments.
Frank Ocean is 28-years-old. That’s young, but not so young that his whole his life remains in front of him. It’s the age when the past begins to feel long. When you say goodbye to a significant chunk of your adulthood, and deal with the fact that you’re never going to get it back.
Has Boogie ever slept well? His biggest song, “Oh My” rattled trunks, but beneath the bass was a banger about getting shot up and booked in jail. The Compton rapper’s two excellent mixtapes, Thirst 48 and The Reach, reflect on the questions that keep black parents all over America up at night. Woozy synths and crawling drum machines hang over Boogie like shadows.
Dr. Dre keeps a tight grip on his legacy. Last year’s Straight Outta Compton (which Dre co-produced), opens with the beat from his “Talking To My Diary” and ends with the Good Doctor dramatically exiting the bleakness of Death Row towards the light of Aftermath . Dave Chappelle once joked that making a movie about your own life brings the temptation to lie. Dre might not have been totally dishonest, but he lasered away the warts.
Mobb Deep were barely out of their teens when The Infamous dropped, but they never sounded that young. Nasir brought an innocent wisdom to Illmatic; the Wu-Tang Clan would clown around after the knuckle-dusters came off. But Havoc and Prodigy have always sounded world-weary. Scowls permanently etched across their young features, no glint in their eyes, it was like the Queensbridge pair had already lived a thousand lifetimes before coming into this world. Between the bruising beefs and creative missteps that have happened since, they’ll feel they’ve lived a couple hundred more.
This year’s Academy Awards boycott was about as well-understood as Bizzy Bone’s verse on “Notorious Thugs.” Reports harnessed the movement’s spirit only in the most oblique ways, paying lip service to the lack of diversity among Oscar nominees but seldom speaking to the systemic issues that created that imbalance. Those who enjoy their neighbors’ Oscar party were happy to believe this was all about an upset Will Smith not picking up a nomination for his sappy concussion movie. That there were 20 white faces among 20 nominees in the acting categories was just a fluke. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled is convincing the world he doesn’t control the red carpet.
Will history absolve Jeru The Damaja? I want to believe our descendants will be rap omnists, safeguarding every hero of ’94 from falling through the cracks. A perfect vision of the future sees portraits of King Tee and Ice Cube hanging side-by-side over grandparents’ fireplaces. A statue of Easy Mo Bee towers outside the Brooklyn Museum. Oil paintings of Jeru and Nas sit next to each other on the high alter of hip-hop. But the passage of time can be either cruel or kind to a legacy. What will the children be told about Kendrick Davis, who made one of the greatest albums of all time but followed it up by feuding with everyone around him?
Anderson .Paak is a child of nowhere. Sure, his driver’s license once read Oxnard, but in four short years the former Breezy Lovejoy has crafted a musical canon that has absorbed almost every genre. From trippy electronica and smoky neo soul, to neck-snappin’ Southern swing, the wheels have never come off .Paak’s suede-seated Caddy—no matter what octane he puts in the tank. But there’s one thing his eclectic catalogue has never answered. What does Brandon listen to when he’s at home?
The Star Man might have been universally-recognized as one of the greatest songwriters in our galaxy, but he never forgot his earthly roots. David Bowie consistently took on the songs of his favourite musicians, whether live on stage or laying them down on wax. His goal wasn’t always to do anything radical with the compositions, but maybe the drive of hearing them come from his own guitar and vocal cords was enough satisfaction. Behind Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke and a thousand other layers laid the beating heart of a simple music fan.
If Jay-Z built a modern day imperial empire then guys like Timbaland were the Shogun’s assassins. From the block to the boardroom, Mr. Carter ascended the throne of thorns, but the music was always his militant wing—where he flexed his strength and dared you to question his authority. More so than any of the pricey instrumentals fed to him, Timbo’s beats crushed with the power of a panzer tank.
It might be tempting to force Kanye West’s career into a tidy narrative: rise, fall, then rise again. The polarizing kid from Chicago was a superstar producer, then the brash-with-a-backpack breakout star who eventually shed the Jansport to scale the highest peaks of pop music. Then the pioneering production methods, grandiose vision for hip-hop, and occasionally tabloid-baiting antics gave way to a public meltdown of sorts, which only set up his grand return. But did it really happen so neatly?
Could the much-fabled DOOMSTARKS project actually be happening? I was skeptical about it when writing about the most recent Ghostface Killah-DOOM collaboration track “Ray Gun” back in February. The super villain has been living so far off the grid that not even Iron Man himself has been able to fully coax him out of his hidden Technodrome. Who knows what goes through the mind of the evil genius—his scattered recent output ranging from a couple of team-ups with Flying Lotus to a flawed joint album with Bishop Nehru under the name NehruvianDoom. It’s been decade since the two gods announced they’d be releasing a record together, tentatively titled Swift & Changeable, and DOOM has always seemed content to do something else. Anything else.