"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed." -- William Gibson
There is a whole generation of young people who would have been entering the job market for the first time during the economic collapse of 2008 and its dubious long recovery.
In that time we have seen the decline of the record industry splinter off and find a begrudging acceptance of the same technology, which caused its monolithic empire to crumble. This has empowered the listener and given us unimaginable economic choices within the previous music industry paradigm.
My friend Shane Ingersoll is always putting me on to new rap. The guy has an ear for it. Last summer he played me the Pro Era mixtape, which got me excited for rap again. Most recently he exposed me to the delightfully bizarre Noemotion Gold Mask. I began to think about what it must be like to be young (under 30ish) and rapping now.
One thing I'm noticing is a return to craftsmanship amongst young MCs. What has consistently been valued in the underground, had been missing for so long in the mainstream. Joey BadA$$ is consistently releasing singles that remind me of the young Nas, yet newer. Azealia Banks can rhyme circles around any of her contemporaries in a way that Eminem could when he had something to say in the early 2000s in terms of rap mechanics -- precision, vocabulary, style, etc.
Noemotion Gold Mask feels as if he's coming out of the underground traditions of the weird; such as Kool Keith or Doom, yet he still retains a certain level of craftsmanship that had been missing for a number of years. For awhile there, Rap was bloated and flush with champagne, much like rock in the 70's before punk put the spike through it's fat belly. There were occasional moments of clarity, yet you didn't hear it emerge as a moment like it is now. I'm convinced it's due to a generational response to the postmillennial economic condition. There's no clear payoff to conform to the mainstream market.
During its adolescence, rap had something to prove -- it went through a golden age around 1988 until 1995 or thereabouts. The era seems to be influencing the young people who would just have been born and missed it while it occurred. Much like my friends and I were experiencing with punk in the early to mid 90's.
I recently saw a YouTube clip from the late '90s of Chuck D of Public Enemy debating Lars Ulrich of Metallica on Charlie Rose on the subject of Napster, it should have been clear that the paradigm was shifting towards this economic dissolution. The young people I mentioned above, grew up in it and intrinsically got it.
The paradigm of an artistic era is always characterized by economic expansion and reduction. The reductions are cleansing away things that are unimportant. When nobody is going to make any money, it's an exciting time to be experimental and weird. Super weird. Subculture is dependent on the acceptance and patronage of the bourgeoisie, which in contradictory equal measures -- drains its vitality.
So far there wasn't any TARP-like, Keynesian intervention to save rap from its own excesses. It had to do itself in to become vital again. Currently, limited vocabularies by MCs like Rick Ross and Little Wayne feel really dusty and old fashioned. Would this upswing in craftsmanship and straight weirdness in rap be so widely accepted during an economic boom? It's hard to say. For the time being, the kids are alright.