Michael Jackson and Hip-Hop

Guess which one of those things didn't die this year

Drake is almost single-handedly saving mainstream hip-hop. Where's all the Kanye-sized love from Whitey?

Josh Modell
Chicago, IL

"My Job": Recession rap didn't quite blow up as a trendy subgenre the way I'd hoped it would after Young Jeezy brought it to the mainstream last year, but Cam, at least, stayed in tune with the economic times here.

Simon Vozick-Levinson
New York, NY
Gucci Mane, releasing another mixtape even as you read this
Jonathan Mannion
Gucci Mane, releasing another mixtape even as you read this

The Blueprint 3 isn't my favorite Jay-Z album—and it probably isn't yours, either. But who else in music today could drop a one-two-three combo like "D.O.A.", "Run This Town," and "Empire State of Mind" on their sixth-best record?>

Josh Timmerman
Vancouver, BC

Jay-Z tells you it isn't cool to carry a strap. The Clipse wanna watch Madagascar with their kids. And Internet rap is no longer indulgent day-glo whatever, whatever, but wizened, worker-bee rap from every region. In short, hip-hop finally answers a lot of its critics—it grows up, it actually matures, and not in a "Ludacris goes on Oprah" way—and everyone's favorite rap album of 2009 is a facsimile of a 1995 coke-rap blueprint. OK.

Brandon Soderberg
Forest Hill, MD

I don't think even Nas knew what he meant when he claimed that hip-hop was dead— excepting potentially his intentions to kill it himself via continuously shit records—but when Sasha Frere-Jones made the same claim this year, he made explicit his own meaning. In an October New Yorker article, he said the genre "has relinquished the controls and splintered into a variety of forms," pointing out as proof Jay-Z's The Blueprint 3, wherein the rapper's Sinatra jones finally turned him into a crooning Vegas glad-hander, and a pair of much-circulated mixtapes by the newcomer Freddie Gibbs, whose linguistic intensity is somewhere closer to that of Henry Rollins's.

And while Frere-Jones is certainly correct that the genre is becoming less and less of a singular force, proclamations of its death are, like Nas's entire oeuvre after 1996, severe, ill-advised, and ultimately incorrect. As with rock 30 years ago, hip-hop's splintering is a necessary progression, because these things don't just die. So, yes, the year's best hip-hop records resurrected years-old styles, like MF Doom's mid-aughts surrealist myopia and Raekwon's circa-'95 Mafioso vignettes. And, yes, many of the year's best singles found hip-hop cross-stitched into electronic pop music to the point that even Soulja Boy, in a decade-defining turn, elected to sing. But while Frere-Jones is sizing coffins, I find the genre in full, generous grandparent mode. Mixtapes by Lil Wayne, the Cool Kids, G-Side, and Drake all pinpointed a surfeit of vivacity across a variety of regions, exhibiting a scale of resemblances to their shared elder.

What was once separated between a mainstream and an underground has now become too variegated for such a binary. A dude like Asher Roth is now toasted by straight-rap royalty rather than savaged as its antithesis. The burly, surefire flow of Freddie Gibbs finds fame outside of the mainstream format. Gucci Mane releases an hourlong mixtape every 45 minutes. These are the actions of a tree digging its many roots into the ground to feed the crown, directly opposing Frere-Jones's proclamations that its time as the dominant American pop form has concluded. No, when a movement is dead, it is not by old age or irrelevance, but because something else has supplanted it entirely. And if we critics are heeding our only call, we will know such a thing when it arrives.

Clayton Purdom
Chicago, IL

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