This year was the greatest year for hip hop, of all time.
There was a brief moment, somewhere at the latter end of the 00s, when hip hop entered a transitionary period. Stalwarts like Jay Z, Eminem and Lil Wayne released the most mediocre records of their career. Young Money had released a collaborative album full of half-arsed ringtone production in which almost every verse was literally phoned in from a different studio. Mr Hudson was ruining one track at a time with his pained, Kentish Town vocals and the hottest ~rap~ record in the charts was about a pair of apple bottom jeans, with the boots, with the fur - basically an ode to George at Asda.
Like an ex-premier league footballer now playing for a League 2 Cheltenham, hip-hop was exhausted, out of ideas, and resting on its laurels. (Americans, insert your own hackneyed baseball metaphor here)
But new artists, like Drake, Kid Cudi and Tyler, The Creator, who all put out their first mix tapes at this time, signalled a shift in both the sound and aesthetics of the genre. By 2010, the floodgates were opened, and riding in on a lifeboat built upon web 2.0, a myriad of countless other new artists were born, unafraid to exercise their own creativity and pushing it out to their own digital native fanbase.
The past two years felt like the best in hip hop for a long time, seeing a new legion of internet born artists - Kendrick, A$AP, Danny Brown, Tyler - come good on their hype, all making assured debut records or genre bending mixtapes and visuals. But it turns out, just as 2011 was the introduction to 2012, last year was just the prologue to 2013. This year has been more colourful, varied, and produced the most consistent run of exciting hip-hop LPs in a generation.
A new release has come almost weekly, with new records from Kanye, Mac Miller, J Cole and Jay Z, and Drake, Pusha and Danny almost falling on top of each other. Yet rather than a feeling of saturation, the top releases of the year, WOLF, Nothing Was The Same, Yeezus, Old, Acid Rap are all stubbornly different. Not just aurally, but in their artwork, marketing campaign (or lack thereof), and visual identity.
Hip hop is now an art form. It’s not that it wasn’t one in the past, it’s just that now, everything is much more meticulously crafted. The banal platitudes, that hip hop is about guns, bitches, and will demonise children, although still perpetuated, are a minor detail in a high definition portraiture. It’s at the pinnacle of the creative world, projecting videos on to buildings, releasing short films, and turning child pop stars into tabloid fodder. When Kanye West says that rappers are the new rockstars, he’s almost right. They’re cultural footsoldiers, unafraid and affirmative in their decision to charter new tangents and own them, spirographing the genre off in multiple directions.
Old people with sticks in their butts will always negate modern music because of its lack of concreted scenes. But this year, we’ve feasted on an all-you-can-eat buffet of every cuisine, in a musical restaurant that is frequented by a high-proportion of the popular culture-loving world. This new found place that hip hop has, of sitting atop both the think-piece and twitter discussion pecking order, saw its evolution point in that transitionary period of the late 00s.
It didn’t matter if they were a “fucking walking paradox” who had “threesomes with a fucking triceratops”, or a “pretty motherfucker” who repped Harlem, the new-school of hip hop were successful because they did exactly what they wanted. Instead of subscribing to the quite clearly defunct blue-print of the past, they drew up their own one, on the internet, with all their fans involved in the process. Beyond trying to cling on to something that just didn’t work anymore, no one cared about Tha Carter IV, or Lasers, and to be honest, beyond the hype, even Watch The Throne (be real, how many times have you bumped that in full since 2011?).