By: Peter Kolb – Opinions Editor
The Beauty in the Arrogance: Why hip-hop has consistently been climbing over its competition
Spotify recently created what it called a live “musical map” of the world. It tracks what we listen to, when we listen to it, and how our location is unique in its musical preferences. Toronto loves Drake. London loves Jamie XX (Dayton’s playlist is just pure UD: “Jordan Belfort”, “Molly Cyrus”, “F*ck Her Brains Out”. I’m not kidding; the playlist is too good to make up). For the most part it’s pretty predictable; cities repping their homegrown talent. However, one interesting result Spotify’s census yielded was which genre people listen to the most. By far, the most listened to genre of music across the globe is hip-hop. There is not one of Spotify’s “Sound of [insert city name here]” playlists that doesn’t include at least one hip-hop song. To give this vague statement some tangible meaning Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly was the fourth most streamed hip-hop album of 2015 with 38 million streams. That number is borderline meaningless without context so use the 15 million streams totaled by Mumford and Sons’ new album Wilder Mind, which was the most streamed rock/alternative album, for comparison.
So what’s the magic ingredient to hip-hop’s immense success in the past few years? Well, mothers cover the ears of your youngins because when it comes to making art humility is overrated. The reason rap is dominating the music industry is the same reason most of us probably still can’t blast it throughout the house when we’re doing dishes. It’s gross. It’s brash. It’s obnoxious. And most of all, it’s arrogance is out of control. Afterall, it’s no surprise Meek Mill suddenly dropped two of his best projects after getting publicly shamed all across the internet. Nothing’s more powerful than a rapper with a bruised ego.
If you’re going to give 100 rappers a census asking: “Who is the best active rapper?” you better leave off the option “myself” or else you’ll most likely get a 100-way tie. There isn’t a DJ Khaled song that starts without rings of “We the best!” Kendrick claims he has love for his competition but he’s trying to “murder you n****s”. Eminem feels like he’s a “rap god”, while Kanye West claims he literally is a god.
It’s sort of hilarious isn’t it? You have grown men and women shouting: “I’M THE BEST!” “NUH-UH, I’M THE BEST!”. Sure, laugh at it, mock it, criticize them for their rudeness, but don’t forget for a second that this mentality is what makes Lauryn Hill, Andre 3000, Ye, Dre, MF DOOM, Lil Wayne, A Tribe Called Quest, the list goes on and on, absolute legends.
Roughly thirty years ago Eric B and Rakim dropped Paid in Full. Minimalist production with what would be considered monotonous lyricism by today’s standards that set the sound of hip-hop. Then Wu-Tang set the tone for the early 1990’s East Coast scene with the sound of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Until Biggie and Nas came along, nearly perfecting the art of hip-hop, showcasing its full beauty. Five years later, Eminem destroyed the “art of hip-hop” turning into a grotesque horror show that you couldn’t quite look away from. Kanye then poked a hole in the idea of the glorified rapper with College Dropout, only to rip that hole wide open four years later with 808’s & Heartbreaks. Nowadays, Drake’s introspective, 808’s-inspired pop-rap battles against Kendrick’s hardened Compton, socially aware lyricism. The world of rap never stops evolving because “thugs” like 50 Cent come along and see The Marshall Mathers LP and think “well, looks like the bar just got raised a little higher”. 3 years later we got Get Rich or Die Tryin’. The respect these artists have for one another that allows them to recognize when they’re losing the crown, coupled with their belief that it’s rightfully theirs yields the great art we hear today.
This is something so unique to hip-hop! I’m no expert when it comes to the genres of EDM, rock, folk, country, etc., but I like to think I stay relatively in touch. I have never heard a country music star openly call out another on his/her new album. There’s no need to evolve when no one is pushing you to! Why does Luke Bryan need to reinvent his sound? His sound is working. Meanwhile, the only reason 40 year olds like Kanye are still relevant today is because he has managed to reinvent the “Kanye West sound” with every single album he has put out. If Kanye puts out a Graduation pt. 2, he’ll drop off faster than Kid Cudi after Man on the Moon 2. The rap game is simply way too cutthroat to stay stagnant or lose focus.
I’m not saying other music genres need to adopt this mentality. What I am saying is that the cockiness of rappers, which we love to “tisk-tisk” at, needs to be recognized as the only reason they’re still growing as artists. They know they have the potential to be great. They just need to make enough dope music to prove it to us.
The amount of times I’ve heard someone say: “I don’t know. I like [Kanye/Travis Scott/Young Thug/Eminem]’s music but ugh he’s such an a**hole” is infuriating. We’re getting incredible, evolving art in exchange for a few obnoxious interviews. I ask: can we as a human race just accept that sometimes arrogance is worth it?
Even Chance, who’s taking the rap game by kindness, never hesitates to remind everyone: don’t mistake his positive vibes for weakness.
Not only do rappers acknowledge their confidence, they say: look, let me justify it. Maybe the rap world should be tisk-tisking us, not the other way around. We’re too afraid of stepping out of line that we deem any shred of self confidence we may have as cocky, useless, or dangerous.
Channel your inner Kanye. Show the world why you’re a god.