When people who experienced the beginnings of rap, in the late 70's and early 80's, are asked about them, many confess that they hadn't realized, at first, that this was a brand new kind of music. What they heard sounded like a declination of funk, or disco, not a musical genre per se. And nowadays, it seems that rap itself has reached the same point. Now that it is giving way to sing-song, especially in Atlanta, its current capital city, some wonder if rap should still be called the same. Listening to artists like ILoveMakonnen, indeed, this question sounds legitimate.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The CunninLynguists have been, in many ways, an exception. The duo – later on, a trio - had represented more or less the backpack rap tradition in a place, the Dirty South, where it scarcely existed. Also, in an anachronistic way, they have been loyal to some 90's and Dungeon Family inspired kind of hip-hop, at a time when Atlanta had moved to other subgenres, like crunk, or trap music. And curiously, by the mid-00's, with their third album, A Piece of Strange, they started meeting some success, at least on the critics side, exactly when their kind of rap had seemed rejected to the dustbin of history. As a matter of fact, by the end of the decade, the group was fully part of the hip-hop landscape; it could mix with people coming from other worlds than indie rap, and be a full part of the game by 2009, when mixtapes reached an unequaled status, when they were all the rage.
In 2002, Sage Francis stopped being the underground's best kept secret, due to the release of his first album, Personal Journals. Thanks to some great tracks and beats – maybe, also, because of his rock music compatibility – and despite the record's heterogeneity, the rapper and spoken word artist from Providence suddenly extended his audience. However, per one of the universal laws of music, some fans were disappointed. They thought that his Sick of… mixtapes had been much more exciting, especially the first of the series, Sick of Waiting Tables...