Rap without raps often still leaves us with excellent rap music. Rap without beats just leaves us with spoken word poetry, and everybody knows that shit sucks.
Since it's beginning and pretty much all the way up through the 90's, rap revolved almost entirely around the MC. Then about 15 years ago that started changing. Producers who had accumulated fairly extensive catalogs of dopeness finally began to get equal or lead billing over their more verbose cohorts. Heads began to recognize that Prince Paul, Pete Rock and DJ Premier had been carrying many of their favorite records, occasionally with MCs who never did much without them. And those guys became just as bankable as any MCs in the increasingly diluted "underground" rap scene of the day.
As we entered the 2000s, there was suddenly a perfect storm of producers getting their proper shine, DJing becoming "cool," and technology evolving to make beat-making far more accessible than it had been previously. Everybody had been having their rapper friends for years, but now everybody knew somebody making beats, too. Producers were no longer select, almost mythical dudes with a studio full of gear and five dead uncles' jazz record collections. They could be your boy down the street with one busted turntable, a few crates of rock records and an MPC. They could be that random kid in the dorms with a laptop and a dream...
Coincidentally, this was about the same time that dummies started to get real insufferable about lyrics.
Maybe it's because I'm an old head from the Best Coast who grew up on Too $hort. Maybe it's because I have a sense of humor. Maybe it's because I'm not a constant drain on the human spirit of everyone around me. But whyever it is, I'm really not trying to hear somebody telling me I shouldn't enjoy a broad range of rap songs based on their lyrical content. Especially in the 2000's. That ship done sailed a loooooooong time ago. And that's not to say there isn't shit out there that makes me cringe. I came up on the Convicts tape awhile back, the group Big Mike was in before he joined the Geto Boys, and Jesus Christ... too much, guys. I haven't listened to EFIL4ZAGGIN in years, but last I remember, that shit's a cartoon. Quite possibly Dre's best work, too, and it's just verbal doodoo all over that record.
But... all the bougie North Oakland girls I went to high school with had all the dirtiest Too $hort songs memorized better than me. So I am perfectly comfortable drawing my own lines on misogynistic rap lyrics without input from kids half my age on the internet, thanks. And people complaining about raps about drug dealing... oh my God. Just lobotomize yourself. Because that's basically what you're asking of me, to forget all the wonderful rap songs I have heard in my life about selling drugs. The Infamous is a top-ten all-time rap record. The whole fucking thing is about selling drugs. All of it. The third verse of Up North Trip alone is on some whoa shit;
I got the powder, combine wit the powder, and water
It oughta, drop in a half and hour
In the, form of oil, watch the cocaine boil
Keep my eye on it so the shit won't spoil
Then I pause... and ask God why
Did he put me on this Earth, just so I could die
I sit back and build on, all the things I did wrong
Why I'm still breathin, and all my friends gone
I try not to dwell on the subject for a while
Cause I might get stuck in this corrupt lifestyle
But my, heart pumps foul blood through my arteries
And I can't turn it back it's a part of me
Too late for cryin, I'm a grown man strugglin
To reach the next level of life, without fumblin
Down to foldin I got no shoulder to lean on but my own
All alone in this danger zone
Tell me I shouldn't be rewinding that.
Back in those days as the one guy at school out and about playing all rap records all the time, it would not be uncommon for somebody to become visibly uncomfortable when, upon being asked, I would tell them that I really wasn't into Common or The Roots. Like nobody can be HIP HOP and not be into those guys... my apathy or mild thumbs up was provocative to them. That's really annoying to me.
So not to hate on the artists, who indeed have made a lot of great music that I listen to myself... and not to hate on anybody else who has ever enjoyed some Roots or Kweli or Mos Def or, in it's most contemporary incarnation, Kendrick Lamar, and what you've taken from them... but you all know there gets to be a certain bandwagon rolling on certain acts that make them what I like to call "pat-yourself-on-the-back" rap. Essentially, the threshold into the sub-genre is our restraint from telling somebody espousing them at great length to shut the fuck up and go read a book or three. Lord knows I spent way too much of my young life and then some listening to music- it wasn't on some save the world shit. In fact, it's basically the opposite. So once you got your nose in the air off how smart the music you listen to is, you've lost the game. Seriously, you like knowledge being dropped on you so bad, you need to be reading books. Or really go out and save the world and do some shit. Reading books and volunteering your time to a great cause would make you a better person than me, a guy who just fucks around with music a little bit. Thinking you're a better person than me because I listen to Totally Insane instead of Dead Prez actually makes you a worse person than most.
That's what lyrics-snobs bring to the table- uninformed pearl-clutching lectures. They are also the group of people we can largely blame for the hip hop vs. rap nonsense, which I will be airing fools out for another day. Beat-snobs though... we fucking rock. We're the people who actually nut up and create or spin the dope shit that falls through the cracks while the lyrics-snobs are stuck on their safe-ass shit on the surface. Beats > lyrics. Which brings us to...
Klaus Layer- Restless Adventures
This is easily my favorite record to come out in 2015. And wouldn't you know, it's all instrumental.
I'm getting a bit of a late pass on Klaus Layer. Redefinition Records is another subject of a future rant, and they started putting him out when I was fairly displeased with them so I passed on his initial handful of releases. Since then I've seen some people who's tastes I respect pumping him up so I gave this, his third LP, a shot. Oh shit... this guy is dope. Way to go, dumbass.
Redefinition is essentially Damu The Fudgemunk's label. If you're not up on him, you're missing out, but don't beat yourself up over it as it's probably more his fault than yours (he's supposedly got new shit coming out this summer which I'm waiting for to put yall on, but given his track record, don't hold your breath...). Damu is a protege of Pete Rock, and sounds like somebody doing their damnedest to make INI-era Pete Rock beats in the present day- and doing an amazing job of it. Klaus Layer sounds like a cross between Damu and Nicolay on that first bangin Foreign Exchange album, a little bit more melodic than your standard head-nodding boom-bap.
The hype leading up to this record made a point of noting that field recordings from forests and shit were used in the production- do not let that scare you into thinking it's on some hippie bullshit. There are a few spacey drum-less tracks featuring the vocal stylings of masturbating salmon or dandelions praying to Shiva or whatever he was fucking around with, but they're not bad. Then the rest of the record is just straight neck snappers. It's would be a disservice to refer to the tracks merely as "beats," but everything is real subtle and never veering off into doing-too-much, vanity territory. This came out a few months ago and I still got it in rotation like it dropped last week.
I was impressed enough to get his previous LP through the mail. I'm not feeling it as much as this one, which is a great sign. If this dude is actually getting better as he goes instead of just sitting on a small stash of heat made when he struck a vein for a few months which we'll never see again, we could really be onto somebody here. Plus, it amuses me that he's a handsome lax-bro-looking motherfucker from Germany.
Redefintion just re-released (because that's what they're best at- *sigh*) that second LP along with Restless Adventures together on CD only. Just thought I'd be a solid br0 and put you onto that, but yeah, I know, nobody buys fucking CDs.