So now we know there’s gay hip-hop (read the article, listen to the tunes, it’s all fabulous), but this is a relatively recent development. Historically hip-hop doesn’t have a great track record on the promotion of gender equality/anti-violence/politeness, and it’s contributed in a big way to the dominance of misogynistic male sexuality in many aspects of popular culture. You know what I’m talking about; NSFW music videos which glamorise men as ‘pimps’, where women are mute, obliging ‘hoes’ and ‘bitches’, or collectively referred to as ‘pussy’; stuff you wouldn’t want to show to your Nan.
The impact of this side of hip-hop culture goes way beyond just the musical genre: Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’, for example, is not a hip-hop song, but its video uses the aesthetic palate that’s been OK’d as an industry staple by the incorporation of hip-hop into mainstream culture. This is the result of the music industry’s appropriation of the parts of hip-hop culture that sell records – sex and violence – which goes back to the late 90s, when gangster rap (2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G) had been commercially pushed by big record labels and MTV. This was in a time before people had the space and freedom of choice that we have on the internet, so the impact was all the more powerful for it. This meant that hip-hop came to be defined, for a while, by the money-making elements of sex and violence, which still colour a lot of widespread popular music and culture today.
The groups/albums/songs/things listed below are antidotes to the crass, showy and unsavoury sides of modern hip-hop, picked on the basis that you’d be happy to show them to your Nan. (That is if you wanted to get your Nan into rap, but really, who wouldn’t?)
80s hip-hop is almost all really, really benign and lovely. There’s next to no swearing and it’s equal parts ‘drugs and crime are bad’ and stories about how good they all are at rapping. The Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ has verses about underwhelming food at your friend’s house and stealing Lois Lane from Superman by impressing her with a rap. Pre-comeback LL Cool J raps about how good his radio is, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five rap about urban decay and how nice summer is. You get the picture.
I Can’t Live Without my Radio:
A Tribe Called Quest
These guys were some of the first people to rap over jazz instrumentals (along with De La Soul), and it sounds good in a warm, laid back, analogue way. Their style marked a departure from the macho posturing that hip-hop was built on and took it in a smart and artistic direction. All this while addressing social issues including date rape (Infamous Date Rape) and confronting problems in the record industry (Show Business).
Most other jazz rap – Q-Tip, Digable Planets, Pete Rock, De La Soul, early Common – is dead good and Nan friendly, so give it all a spin.
Show Business (TCQ):
Buddy (De la soul):
Rebirth of Slick (Digable Planets):
Early Kanye West
Silly child names aside, Kanye is an absurdly talented rapper and producer, and his topic of choice throughout his career has been himself. He spends most of his earlier albums talking about the person he doesn’t want to become, only to eventually become that person later on, but after 808s and Heartbreak it all gets a bit heavy. It’s still totally excellent, but not so Nan friendly.
Touch the Sky (Kanye):
OutKast – B.O.B
I would defy anyone to not enjoy this song, and that includes your Nan. Like, how can they rap that fast?! How is this song so good?! OH MY GOD!
Die Fantastischen Vier
They’re German so I can’t understand any of the words, but I feel like that’s a testament to how good they are, because it’s still good, funky, rhyming fun. I’m assured their words are nice; Die Da?! is a conversation between two friends who accidentally date the same girl, which sounds like the plot of a well executed American romcom.
Chance the Rapper-Acid Rap
This mix-tape from a self-declared ‘tobacco-packin acrobat’ combines all the good things about rap music post-MTV. The raps and guest spots are outstanding, and he rhymes like vintage Eminem over amazingly allusive R&B. It’s a personal favourite.
So take these tunes to your Nan and she’ll be a little bit more G by the time it comes to Christmas dinner this year. Enjoy.