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World Hip Hop Day

 

By Nicolas-Tyrell Scott

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Since its inception in the early 1970s, hip-hop has cannibalised global music, beyond its New York origins, bringing with it an effortless flair, as well as surreal realism that has facilitated honesty, truth, socio-political reckoning. Giving audiences a transparent sense of introspection to reckon with what’s being said, but also ruminate on how the words and soundscapes work in-tandem to story-tell. Nearing its 50th year of existence, the sound has contorted itself, still evoking powerful narratives and cultural moments wherever it touches. From NWA’s “F*ck The Police”, to Kendrick Lamar’s “We Gon’ Be Alright”, it’s acted as protest music, but also, in songs like Azealia Banks’ “212” been appropriated as a song of unapologetic joy and carelessness.

In hip-hops growth, it’s also seen sister or sub-genres enter the fore. Artists like 21 Savage, Young Thug, Migos and Future have helped in spearheading trap, making it one of the most popular variants of the sound in recent history. Elsewhere, gangsta rap across the 90s, helped in sharing the perspectives of those affiliated and in priming acts like 50 Cent for mainstream dominance in the mid-2000s.

As the genre celebrates this year’s world hip-hop day, Ballantine’s looks back at artists, producers and creators who have stayed true to their sound across the ages.

RZA

 

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Whether it’s as a soloist, or as a part of a collective, RZA has always utilised his influences and flair to hip-hop wherever or whoever he’s recorded with. As one of the founding members of the ubiquitous collective A Tribe Called Quest, RZA produced a lionshare of the group’s material — particularly across their inaugural LP Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Imparting an essence of organic, louder productions with a liberated flair augmented around them, RZA would often imparts his vinyl screw sounds, odeing the sounds of yesteryear within the space. Whether it’s on “Method Man” or “Uzi pinky ring” RZA frequently honours his love of nostalgic, jazz and hip-hop hybrid productions, with a youthful and refreshingly blunt approach to the beats selected.

 

This experimentation has allowed his palette to flourish across the late ‘90s and 2000’s and contemporarily. Falling in love with the sound due to his inauguration with it at house parties and gaining the respect of his peers through his skill at production, RZA eventually ascended and grew with his band members — like Ghostface Killah — as well as other titans such as Raekwon and Prodigal Sunn individually producing solo records and projects in tandem.

Reggie
Rockstonne

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Like most sounds within the Black diaspora, globalisation, as well as globalisation has allowed for many sounds to penetrate markets like the UK and US. As one of hiplife’s forebears, Rockstonne would merge his native tongue with the English found in conventional hip-hop. His debut album Makaa Maka, inspired many across Ghana, the strong and fluid drum and keyboard heavy productions locomoted in his mother tongue of Twi.

 

Quickly able to inspire lineages of young talent like Obrafour, Rockstonne stands as one of the most prominent examples of hip-hops ability to transcend beyond the walls of New York City. It’s a practice that still informs hip-hop variants today. Even in cultural appropriation dialogues surrounding Drake, Rockstonne proves that its in musical’s D&A to experiment and cross pollinate.

Queen Latifah

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As one of the most prolific figures within hip-hop, Queen Latifah is a living extension of polymathic approaches to life. Beyond her comedic and acting-based endeavours of late, it’s in one of her earliest vocations — music — Latifah unapologetically embraced herself and her womanhood and began advocating for socio-political optimism in her verses unashamedly standing either together or in solidarity. One of her inaugural releases “Ladies First” featured in its imagery social agitators like Angela Davis.

 

Translating her ode to women Latifah created one of the biggest statements in regards to sex across the sound in the 1993 release of the now classic “U.N.I.T.Y.” in strong advocation of wxmen’s safety. Amidst saxophone led sonics, Latifah is spurred on by the injustice both inside and outside the booth; misogynoir rampant in rap at the time, and a larger state of play where Black women still faced intersectional violence domestically. “Who you callin’ a bitch,” she opens her prolific song with.

 

Latifah has inspired generations of rappers to embrace who they are, their liberation and womanhood and sexualities. There would be no Lil Kim, without Latifah, no Noname, no Rapsody.

Timbaland
and
Missy Elliott

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Photo: Missy Elliott

As individuals, Timbaland soared (and is still soaring) as a juggernaut hip-hop producer in his own right. Missy Elliott is now known as one of the most prolific rappers to ever live, her futuristic appeal rendering her in a league of her own.

But together, Missy Elliott and Timbaland harnessed all of the fundamentals of what hip-hop was at the time (the mid 90’s) and channelled it into helping to craft Aaliyah — one of hip-hop and R&B’s most cherished creations. Crafting a large bulk of the late-singers sophomore album One In A Million, both parties tightened Aaliyah’s approach to story-telling on numbers like “Fire” and the album’s title track focusing on vivid, evocative lyricism paired with a bass-heavy, sophisticated but funk infused hip-hop production marinated in the oft-heard Timabland ad-libs which have now become known as a staple across his career.

 

The pair gave Aaliyah a youthful flair and the edge that she needed to double with her tom-boy exterior, it birthed a more robust Aaliyah, able to groove with hip-hop’s audacious approach to story-telling and confident approach to the mic. Infusing her R&B offering with this characterisation ultimately led to the world building on their allure to the singer and mapping that as a bonafide love and adoration for the trio and the mark that they left in music prior to Aaliyah’s tragic 2001 passing.

 

Timbaland has tried to recreate that magic in rappers like Tink, but undoubtedly the one of a kind approach with Aaliyah is one that can’t be replicated with ease.

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