Like it or not, but please admit the following: in the 2010s, Nicki Minaj is the number one female rapper. The Trinidadian New-Yorker inherited everything from the ladies who paved her way: she has Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown or Trina's gift of the gab, and the same explicit lyrics or posture; she has Missy Elliott's eccentricity and creativity, both visually and musically. And in addition, she knows how to play with her physique, which is a critical asset, in a world still requiring this from female artists. Last but not least, she knows how to rap, and her ease with the mic puts her on par with – or even above – most of her competitors, either men or women.
Exalted being the third collaborative mixtape from Nacho Picasso and Blue Sky Black Death released in a few months, it was somehow expected that, at that stage, the Seattle rapper and the two producers would get a bit less relevant. But actually, it didn't happen that way. Released not long after Lord of the Fly, this project was, in reality, the best of the trilogy. It was also the first they didn't release for free. They might have assumed that, by then, their fans and listeners had become so addicted to their music, that they would be willing to pay for more.
By the mid 2010's, in Atlanta, the guys from Awful Records would make their best to push even further the borders of rap. They were the next step, or the arrival point, of this long path toward the bizarre, the experimental and the hallucinated, many artists from that city had engaged on. In reality, though, this collective of rappers and producers was not entirely based in Georgia. Father, their leader, had investigated further, when conducting his quest for like-minded non-conformists. He had explored as far as Vancouver, in Canada. Thanks to the Internet magic, he had got in touch with Tommy Genesis, who would become the sixteenth member of the Awful crew, and would release with their support an outstanding first album.
Projects are, in the US, an equivalent for the French HLM. They are large real estate schemes, launched by the public authorities, and aimed at the poorest; and quite often, they end up being no-go areas, where criminality is the only alternative to poverty, and where violence and drugs reign. Of Haitian descent, Dieuson Octave grew up in one of these places: Golden Acres, in Pompano Beach, North of Fort Lauderdale. And most of his inspiration is coming from there, judging by the titles of two mixtapes he released while he was still a teenager: Project Baby, by the end of 2013, and the excellent Heart of the Projects, one year later.
Rap is no longer the light-hearted music it used to be, a while ago. Neither its conscious side – or what’s left with it – nor the materialistic and violent one, radiate joy and happiness. Even the most hedonistic kind of rap, the one tailored for clubs and dancefloor, is more about debauchery, drug addiction and mental disorders, than about passion for life. Even when it is all about power and success, it smells badly of revenge and competition. And so, when in 2015 Kamaiyah released "How Does it Feel", this single was welcome like some bowl of fresh air.
False Hopes is not just one record, but many. Indeed, such were named several solo projects, released in the mid-naughties by various members of Doomtree, before they recorded a joint album with the same title. Prior to this, actually, P.O.S. and Cecil Otter had founded a duo under the same name, even before they created the Minneapolis collective. But others would reuse it as a manifesto, and more particularly their female rapper, Dessa Darling, or Dessa. With the five songs of her own version – songs so good that she would reuse them on her second album, Castor, The Twin – she delivered actually one of the best of the series.
According to some, Eternia is the best female rapper in Canada. Whatever the truth is, this woman from Ottawa looks exactly as expected, from a Canadian hip-hop artist: she is White, her lyrics are on the conscious and progressive side of the genre, and her sounds are deeply rooted into New-York’s backpacker style. Actually, she has collaborated with underground heroes like the Demigodz, the Atoms Family, or Moodswing 9. Silk-Anne Kaya, also, is a feminist. Her lyrics, as well as her public activities, go into that direction. For example, she launched a campaign named "My Favorite Rapper Wears a Skirt" (including a series of t-shirts bearing this slogan), targeted at the sexist stereotypes her chosen music is full of.
In case some still have doubts about why mixtapes are so great, or if they wonder why rappers give for free what, actually, are real albums, they should have a close look at Future's career. Twice, he's been the herald of a new evolution of Atlanta's trap music based on Auto-Tune raps and vulnerable lyrics, a subgenre at the very core of the 2010's. By 2011, True Story and Streetz Calling had paved the way to Pluto, his first album. And after his second opus, Honest, hadn't met expectations, the rapper went back to the mixtape format, with a series of releases respectively titled Monster, Beast Mode and 56 Nights. Altogether, these had restored the critics' faith in Future, and helped DS2, his third album, collecting rave reviews.
By the end of the noughties, a dance called jerk, or jerkin', became all the rage in the streets of Los Angeles. Soon, it would create its own musical genre, a bit like its Bay Area cousin, hyphy. Though ephemeral, this craze helped putting dance back to the heart of West Coast hip-hop, and prepared the ground for ratchet, another style, popularized later on by the likes of YG and DJ Mustard. Among the bands at the spearhead of jerkin' was Pink Dollaz, a quintet exclusively made of female teenagers, with a taste for sexually explicit lyrics. Like the movement it belonged two, the band was short-lived, but a few years later, twin sisters Cammy and Cee Cee would become visible again, under the names of Cam and China.
Maybe people got bored, after all the craze around mixtape series like Dedication or Da Drought. Or, possibly, all were convinced now that Lil Wayne was on a downward slope. Or maybe it was no longer surprising, in the 2010's, to have major rappers releasing better mixtapes than their official albums; it had become a standard. Another theory might be that Weezy himself was now outpaced by the new transformation this musical format was quickly going through, while they became actual albums, instead of compilations of freestyles and existing tracks. Anyway, whatever the rationale was, the situation with Sorry 4 the Wait was the following: it didn't create as high expectations as the rapper's previous mixtapes.
The wait was long, before Fatimah Warner's first project, Telefone, was disclosed. Released in 2016 only, it had been heralded three years earlier, when Noname Gypsy – now just Noname – made a name for herself with her contribution to Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap mixtape. Quicker to feature on others' projects than to record her own, she also participated to Mick Jenkins's conceptual – and very strong – The Water(s), and more recently, to Late Knight Special, an album from New-York's rapper and producer Kirk Knight, and to Saba's Bucket List Project.
A few years after we published it, and to celebrate the release in 2014 of our new book dedicated to the history of indie hip-hop, it was time to deliver an updated version of the selection we published first in 2009, listing 100 key albums related to this movement. Here starts our new countdown, extended now to 150 records.
By 1997, just when some feared that hip-hop was getting corrupted by its own success, "independent" and "alternative" had become buzz words. And no other claimed them louder than Company Flow. A product of New-York's underground, these self-produced and self-promoted rappers had created their own label, Official Recordings, and they targeted the music industry as the main enemy. And their slogan, a very definitive "independent as fuck", was everything but ambiguous.
Prior to this album, Qwel was mostly known as one of the Typical Cats, a rap trio who had helped making Galapagos4 a central label, in Chicago's indie world. His two albums, If It Ain't Been In a Pawn Shop... and The Rubber Duckie Experiment, had also collected praises in the underground. As for Maker, he had authored Honestly, a semi-instrumental record, and produced Seconds Away, another great album recorded jointly with DJ DQ and the rapper Adeem, under the name of Glue.
Antipop Consortium's very name, as well as its first album's cover art, hinted clearly about the trio's purposes: they were all about arts. Originally identified through the Nuyorican Café and the Rap Meets Poetry movement, High Priest, Beans and M. Sayyid – and E. Blaize, the DJ – belonged indeed to N.Y.'s spoken word scene. Their influences were jazzmen such as Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman, their collaborators alt-rap figureheads like Company Flow and Mike Ladd, and they would also work with luminaries like Arto Lindsay, Alec Empire and Vernon Reid.
Being open to feminine talents was one of the Good Life Café many peculiarities. This scene's best testimony, the Project Blowed compilation, shows this clearly. One of its central tracks, the "Heavyweights Round 2" freestyle, had as many femcees as males. There, Medusa and her cousin Koko – a.k.a. S.I.N. - Nefertiti and T-Love were measuring themselves against Freestyle Fellowship's Mikah 9 and Self Jupiter, Volume 10 and a few others. The record's best song from women, though, was "Don't Get It Twisted". Recorded by Jyant (Ronda Ross) and Eve (Ava DuVernay), a.k.a. the Figures of Speech, it was a perfect sample of the Good Life style, with its erratic and unpredictable music, full of rhythm and flow changes.
We are close to the end. The last albums Fake For Real considers as the best from the independent hip-hop movement, will be revealed soon on our dedicated article, and we will publish soon, in May 2014, a full book dedicated to this matter (in French only, unfortunately). In the meanwhile, we are offering to YOU, our readers, the possibility to nominate your 10 indie rap favorite albums, as part of a poll whose results will be published in a few weeks or months.
By 1999, the excellence of the newly released Operation Doomsday album was not a surprise, to those already familiar with New-York's underground rap scene. By then, MF Doom had already released several great singles on Fondle'em, Bobbito's iconic indie rap label. And all of them were compiled on this opus, recorded by a man who was not exactly a newcomer. The guy, indeed, was Daniel Dumile, a.k.a. Zev Love X, an ex-rapper from the band K.M.D., who had reoriented his career after the death of his colleague and brother Subroc. Moving forward, he would start hiding his face behind a mask, and become rap's underground super-hero.
By the early 2000's, the Living Legends were the archetypical indie hip-hop band. They were highly revered in the backpackers international underground, where they fully deserved their name. In the Wu-Tang Clan way, this collective was made of various subgroups and solo artists, and people from countries as far as Japan and the Netherlands were affiliated to them. Thanks to such a network, their aura was global; and they reached a high standing without any help from major labels.
Kool Keith has been twice a crucial character, in hip-hop's history. In the 80's, he was the main rapper of the influential Ultramagnetic MC's. And later on, in the mid-90's, he was Dr. Octagon. As such, he reinvented rap once again. Playing the role of an extraterrestrial killer gynecologist, he pushed it out of its comfort zone, with the help of a new generation of talents from both New York and the Bay Area: the beatmakers The Automator and Kut Masta Kurt; the DJ Q-Bert; Sir Menelik, a rhyme partner; and even DJ Shadow, who contributed to the project with a remix.
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