The best time in Alley Boy's career was 2011. Taking place between his first steps as a rapper, in Gucci Mane's shadow – he had featured on Chicken Talk 2 in 2008 – and The Gift of Discernment in 2012 – his most exposed and visible project, at least here in France – that year had been some kind of turning point. In 2011, indeed, the Atlanta rapper had released two great mixtapes: the second edition of Definition of F#ck Sh*t and, a few months before – but much later after it had been heralded – Purgatory: The Story of Judas, a collaboration with DJ Drama.
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.
The dozens are an old African-American tradition. It goes back to the times of slavery. Since the work the poor fellows were condemned to, in the cotton fields, was not exactly a pleasant and distracting one, some slaves killed times with spoken words contests, consisting in insulting the other participants. This practice, it is known, survived in rap music. Knowing about these roots is understanding why outrageousness and insanity are so central to it. It is all about competition and playfulness. Ignoring this, means misunderstanding hip-hop, approaching it through the wrong way and, many times, being horrified by it. This practice, of course, started in the South. And it is still there, that it is the most vibrant and extreme; in New-Orleans, for example, where it is know as "rib", or "ribbin'", a discipline Samantha James became an expert at, while she was still a schoolgirl.
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.
Lord Narf honors Awful Records, and their collection of weirdos mostly based in Atlanta. She fully complies with the experimental aspirations of this iconoclastic band of rappers. Like them, she is the representative of a new generation for whom rap music is obvious and omnipresent – this young lady said in an interview that it was her parent's music: yes indeed, we are already there – but who don't feel obliged to preserve or elevate it. They don't have any special respect for it. They feel free to change it into anything they have in their little twisted minds.
Those familiar with Starlito's - strong - latest releases may have noticed this: the Nashville rapper now frequently collaborates with a man called Mobsquad Nard. He featured on several of his projects, Manifest Destiny, Hot Chicken and Funerals & Court Dates 2. His very first appearances, though, predated these collaborations. The Jacksonville rapper, actually, started being noticed with his song "Right Ni", in 2015. And afterwards, he has been taken in charge by Cinematic Music Group, the Sony subsidiary already supporting rap luminaries like Joey Badass, Mick Jenkins and G-Herbo, which allowed the young man to start being covered by the media.
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.
So, Kodak Black was not alone in Pompano Beach, in the Floridian county of Broward. Revealed in 2016 with his The Koly Bible mixtape, Koly P was another rapper coming from there. And of course, the two of them were connected. The guy formerly known as Kolyon had originally been a member of The Kolyons, with Dirty 1000, and Kodak B had been associated with them. The first time the duo was noticed, actually, was when it featured on "My Wrist", on Heart of the Projects. And they had collaborated even before. Nowadays, though, Koly P is his own man. And, after the warm welcome his first mixtape received, thanks to "Rich Gang" and "Gooked Out", he confirmed his greatness on April 18, 2017 – on his birthday – with a new release with a religion-inspired title: Rap Game Messiah.
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.
There's not just one Peezy in the rap game. While the buzz is growing around OMB Peezy, another guy with the same name deserves our attention: Team Eastside Peezy (per a new trend, rappers include now their bands' name to their own: will we talk soon about WTC Raekwon?). His Ballin Ain't a Crime mixtape is, indeed, one of the best in 2017. Contrary to the young rapper from Alabama, though, this Peezy is experienced. Based out of Detroit, his collective is active since the early 2010's. Now almost 30, Phillip Glen-Earl Peaks already released several albums or mixtapes, like Mud, Sweat & Tears in 2015, so far his most noticeable project.