By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
"You Know What Never Disappoints Audiences? Sequels!"
OK, I know, Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II was one of the best rap albums of the past five years. But for every Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II, there's every other rap album sequel that's ever been made. With very, very few exceptions, the rap album sequel are more often promotional stunts than inspired successors, hoping to goad former fans into returning to the fold or a desperate attempt at inspiration. Busta Rhymes's Extinction Level Event album was predicated upon the concept that the world was going to end at midnight on New Year's Day 2000, so why is there a planned sequel 14 years after the world was supposed to end? Take note rappers: instead of trying to live-up to your artistic peaks, why not make sequels to your most critically derided albums? That way you might get the increasingly rare compliment "it's better than the original!"
"I'm So Proud of This Song, Let's Tack a Skit to the End of It!"
You would think being over a decade into the MP3 era would dead this relic of music's past, but it's sadly not the case. While I admittedly enjoy rap album skits more than most, in the CD era there was nothing worse than having to wait through 90 seconds of non-actors acting in order to get to the song we wanted to hear. Today, that irritant has morphed into the skit creeping up at the end of the track, awkwardly ruining playlists and shuffled listening sessions alike. N.O.R.E. landmark 2013 collaboration with Large Professor "Built Pyramids" was one of the most surprisingly stellar tracks of the year, but imagine our shock when the track's conclusion on the album version included a full minute of Peter Rosenberg gushing over how great they are, putting a weird chunk in our year end playlist. Keep making skits, gents, but please keep the party in mind and give them their own track.
"Oh, and Here's A Conspiracy Too! Anyway, Next Subject"
Remember in the mid-2000s during the Bush era when every rapper worth his weight in Rawkus slipmats would throw in a stray commentary line about how awful politics were? Well now that shoddily made YouTube conspiracy videos are easier to watch than ever, rappers have taken to not only dropping Info Wars-inspired punchlines, but keeping them vague and immediately moving on without even the courtesy of a Jesse Ventura-style explanation. LL Cool J had a new album last year, but waited until the closing track "We're the Greatest" to utter "I got a lot of crazy crazy on my mind / Like what's the real reason that the pope resigned?" and then never return to it. It's even hit the battle rap world where lines like Shotgun Suge's "you both fake like the Boston bombings" are sadly not met with the response "you're incapable of Googling Snopes.com !"
"...and did I mention I'm CRAZY?!"
Remember that day in your high school English class where your teacher stressed the important of "showing, NOT telling" in your writing? Evidentially, a lot of today's rappers missed that one. There's nothing wrong with being an unhinged eccentric in hip-hop, in fact, the most out-there artists like Kool Keith, Ol' Dirty Bastard and Lil B have made some of the most memorable contributions in the genre's history. The thing is, they never actually had to tell you that they were "insane," it was something you just knew from what they talked about and how they talked about it. There's few things as painfully uninteresting as a rapper constantly reminding you how crazy/insane/nuts/psychotic they are, and yet the most out-there thing they'll do on a record is kill someone else or themselves, which are both fixtures of thousands of rap records since the late-80s. That also goes for songs like "I'm Not Crazy" where the implied twist (SPOILER ALERT!) is that the artist is crazy. And no, sampling a horror movie and shooting a music video at night doesn't change that either.
"Rap Game Grandpa Simpson!"
In 2013, it seemed yesterday's rap veterans (who a few sites have taken quite the liberal use of "legend"-status with) realized a way they could feel their insatiable desire to be looked at was, not by trying to reconnect with an audience by making the quality music they were once known for, but ranting about social issues with the perspective of a bitter out-of-touch shut-in whose spent less time in the past decade rapping and more time telling young whipper-snappers to get off their lawn. Just because a member or Brand Nubian is making headlines again doesn't necessarily mean it's a good thing. Along with tarnishing their legacies by, whether you agree with them or not, whoring their perspectives, it's potentially alienating the new hip-hop generation from understanding what made their original contributions to the culture so valuable.