Hipster Hip-Hop: Nerds in Rap Paradise?


“If Andre 3000 came out right now they’d call him hipster rap,” says The Bronx’s Mickey Factz. “Right now it’s a trend for 50 Cent and Lil Wayne to sing with a vocoder. What we’re doing isn’t a trend, it’s real. When 50 Cent raps over beats like this will they call him hipster rap?”Factz refers to his new remix with the Cool Kids, “Rockin’ ‘n Rollin,” while indicting the buzz term of the moment, “hipster rap.” Factz runs freely when choosing beats (from “Rockin’ ‘n Rollin’s” Clipse-ish accordion all the way to electro and house) and subject matter (from gold sneakers to Sean Bell).

“Hipster Rap” is the box into which a wave of similarly fearless artists including the Knux, the Cool Kids, and even Duck Down signees Kidz in the Hall, have been placed. These so-called hipster rappers are unified by disdain for that very category and by doing what they feel is right for their sound, regardless of eclecticism or consequences.

[Mickey Factz f/ Cool Kids "Rockin' 'n Rollin"]

“Outkast are the trendsetters of the modern era.  Outkast made it cool to be who you want to be and also made it viable. They were able to evolve and…say the way I feel now is not the way I felt two years ago…” Double O (Kidz in the Hall)


“It’s not about a style of music,” says Krispy Kream of Hollywood via New Orleans duo the Knux. “It’s about having the courage to bend genres.” Krispy is talking about the influence of Outkast on his group and this new lane of rappers unafraid to take chances and be themselves, who across regions took the ATLiens’ artistic example to heart. “Outkast are the trendsetters of the modern era,” says Double O of New Jersey and Chicago’s Kidz in the Hall.

“The groups that you see now, Outkast made it cool to be who you want to be and also made it viable.

They were able to evolve and they were the first to say the way I feel now is not the way I felt two years ago and I’ll represent that.” The boxed-in groups and soloists all recoil from the idea of self-conscious, trendy images and the notion of hipster rap. They sound fatigued when answering questions about it but stand unfazed in their creative convictions, whatever bigger stars of who they’re often fans of might say, or what a magazine or two might call them. But they do agree that something new is taking place. “There’s definitely something bubbling,” says Double O. “Every generation has to create their own golden era for themselves.”“A lot of us are definitely coming from a more artistic side of things and trying to keep it creative,” says Mikey Rocks of The Cool Kids, a duo hailing from Michigan and Chicago.

“People group artists like us into this hipster rap category which is associated with not being able to rap very well, you’re all about crazy clothes, or looking a certain way.

They judge artists like us right from the beginning based off of appearance or a name without peeping the music. It’s human nature to put things you haven’t seen before into a category or a group.”The Knux prize musicianship and a self-described garage band aesthetic over lyrical acrobatics, though Almillio is confident he can “swallow n****s all day” and Krispy is the same.


The rest of the aforementioned MCs are similarly assured. But there’s not necessarily a sound that holds everyone together.


The Cool Kids appeared from nowhere last year with Afrika Islam’s keyboard and a dusty song about bikes called “Black Mags” that they rode all the way into a Rhapsody commercial.


Mickey Factz is a rapper who takes his Bronx heritage seriously but is free from convention. Kidz in the Hall are signed to Duck Down, sample Masta Ace, and collaborate with everyone from Bun B to Black Milk.

Given all this, an ethos rather than a specific form of music links everyone together.[Cool Kids "Black Mags"]

“I don’t think there is a general sound because everyone’s doing their thing. The Cool Kids sound is not the Knux sound is not the Kidz in the Hall sound is not the Kid Sister sound is not the Spank Rock sound,” says Double O. “It’s not the sound of the 90s but it’s the feel of the 90s,” adds Rah Almillio of the Knux. “It has that ‘95 feel, it’s natural not contrived. You didn’t know what was coming next then. Everyone strived to be different from the other artists.””You can be good but not original. Give me something to intrigue my ears already,” says Almillio. “The word I hear most about our sound is ‘refreshing.’ People use the word refreshing to describe our music. That’s a good word.”

“Kanye, Pharrell, and Lupe opened up doors because they were among the first successful artists that made it okay for black guys to be different. Before them it wasn’t okay to be an eclectic black guy.   They allowed the public to see that there are black artists that aren’t on the same old Hip-Hop thug s**t.” -Mikey Rocks (Cool Kids)


Along with Andre 3000 and Big Boi, Pharrell Williams and Kanye West are antecedents that align these new outcasts. This is in addition to the benefits of the Internet era where artists can develop themselves and reach fans free of industry constraints. The Internets may have killed the music industry but not music itself. This factor combined with the new rap icons’ presence definitely created a space for these neophyte acts.  “Kanye, Pharrell, and Lupe opened up doors,” reasons Mikey Rocks, “because they were among the first successful artists that made it okay for black guys to be different. Before them it wasn’t okay to be an eclectic black guy. You couldn’t wear different clothes or address certain subject matter. These dudes opened up a whole new door for black artists to be who they are and I really appreciate that. They allowed the public to see that there are black artists that aren’t on the same old Hip-Hop thug s**t. It’s become more acceptable to be able to tell your own stories, you don’t have to tell this pre-made rap story.”[CRS "Us Placers"]


“The internet let’s people do what they want and also because of the Pharrells and the Kanyes, people can get out there and be themselves,” adds Double O. “It’s reality rap in a new form.”“The new revolution of file sharing and MySpace and the credible blogs helps us,” adds Rocks. “It’s a direct window from the artist to the listeners, if they don’t like it they’re gonna tell you about it. It’s a no holds barred connection, it’s not watered down, it’s not your publicist talking. That honesty is a good thing.”

[Kidz in The Hall f/ Bun B, the Cool Kids & Pusha T "Drivin' Down The Block Remix"]

Rocks is confident in his B-boy stance no matter how others take his rhymes or regardless of what he’s wearing. However, there are trends in style and clothing that get thrown into the hipster rap box with the groups named, to the artists’ shared dismay. The fashion is often termed retro and is casually spoken of as those tight pants and funny colors. Add to that mix scarves, punk rock belts, snug shirts, multi-colored Nike dunks and a general 80s sensibility and you provide easy fodder for the industry’s reigning gangsta rappers, the Game and G-Unit, even if they’re perhaps commenting on a media designation, or a clothing style, rather than anyone’s specific music.“I work with Kanye,” the Game recently told AllHipHop. “You know the leader of the hipsters and that’s my man.

I leave the little mini-hipsters to everybody else man.”“It bothers the f**k out of me,” says Lloyd Banks, who also offered his opinion to AllHipHop.

 “Think about an aspiring artist, somebody that’s right now with the pad and he had Biggie and Pac, he had 50, he had Snoop. Then the s**t changes up. What do you write about…the n***as wearing glitter belts and tight a** pants?”“Them n***as need a new name first,” said the Game in his interview, proving that him and G-Unit can at least agree on one thing. “The hipsters that sound like a f***in group at the convalescence home or some s**t – the hipsters, [them] n****s better not be like, ‘Yo I’m a hipster.’ That ain’t cool.” The rappers thrown into the hipster rap mix generally and ironically agree with the Game about the term of the day. Some established artists are defenders of retro curiosities though, like Immortal Technique, himself sometimes labeled a “conscious rapper.” Despite truly being a hardcore CNN for current events, he sees looking backwards as something positive.“People sh*t on them, I guess what they call Hipster Rap or whatever the f*ck it is,” says Tech.

“I think it [prompts] a lot of people to look into the history of Hip-Hop because that’s been the big issue… ‘If you’re really making a tie to the 80s’…well then let’s talk about what the 80s is.

Now a lot of rappers are becoming aware of the fact they have to be accountable for what they say and they have to do the knowledge.

So it’s reverberating inside the minds of kids.

Kids want to know more about that political era that Hip-Hop came out of; about the things that were going on in the black and Latino community during that time.”Tech also adds: “If it comes at the price of some people that are confused about fashion or whatever… I don’t want to wear tight clothes but who the f**k am I to criticize anybody else? I’m not here to point fingers at nobody because when you do that, there’s three fingers pointing back at you.”[De La Soul "Ain't Hip To Be Labelled a Hippie"]

Online will be the forum where the most hate and debate on these groups takes place.

It is worth recalling that a group named De La Soul once eschewed the Uptown drug dealer fashions of LL Cool J and Eric B. & Rakim for something more related to their daily lives, and sampled across genres in their music.

Revisionist history aside, De La Soul were labeled as “hippies” rather than hipsters. Even then, it boiled down to the oft-asked question of what was Hip-Hop and what was not. That said, the MCs and producers down to the one are non-discriminating Hip-Hop junkies. Krispy and Almillio lovingly quote 2Pac and mention how “you feel Pac in your bones,” as well as giving full and unsolicited props to Scarface and Juvenile. Mickey Factz emphasizes that he didn’t grow up a hipster and that he listened to Rakim, Nas, and Biggie. Mikey Rocks says, “As soon as I was born, my parents were playing Slick Rick, I was born into this.” Kidz in the Hall are students of the genre who can analyze its every aspect in conversation. These acts are Hip-Hop purists at heart.

“The poetry of Hip-Hop. It doesn’t matter whether I rhyme over a rock track, boom bap, something futuristic, an electro beat or accapella. It has a certain feel to it when someone is passionately pouring his heart into his words… The voice is your instrument, the poetry is the instrument.” -Naledge (Kidz in the Hall)


“If you can move a crowd with words, that’s the key,” says Kidz in the Hall MC Naledge. “The poetry of Hip-Hop. It doesn’t matter whether I rhyme over a rock track, boom bap, something futuristic, an electro beat or accapella. It has a certain feel to it when someone is passionately pouring his heart into his words talking about his lifestyle or someone else’s lifestyle, telling stories, words rhyming. There’s a way it’s done. The voice is your instrument, the poetry is the instrument.”They also share strong opinions on rap versus the rap game.“We need to stop supporting people that don’t respect our craft,” says Almillio. ”Go ahead and hustle but don’t mess up our thing.”“Put this in there for me,” says Krispy. “We don’t worship money.”Kidz in the Hall’s new video for “Driving Down the Block” from their latest album, The In Crowd, debuted on TRL of all places, the Cool Kids sell out shows all over the world without an album [they’ve recently announced The Bake Sale EP on Chocolate Industries will be available in June], the Knux have a deal with Jimmy Iovine’s Interscope, and Mickey Factz continues building a strong live and on-line buzz. These new rumblings may have mass appeal in an era where Hip-Hop for everyday people stands out.[Kidz in the Hall "Driving Down the Block"]

“I come from a city where things do happen,” says Almillio. “But you hear people talk about how I came out the door and some n***a let off some shots and those things went on but nobody talks about the rest of it. So are you really real?”

“I’m human,” says Factz. “I can speak on Sean Bell and on buying a sneaker made of gold that you wear like a chain on the street and then I can talk about struggling to pay my phone bill and how today I have a job interview and I’m gonna skip on it. People are gonna relate to it because it’s real life.”

Though the artists reject the hipster rap category, they’re not wasting too much time on it. Regardless of where the movement goes or what it’s called, they for now have lofty role models and a down to earth approach and attitude that focuses on the art form.

“People are afraid to be different. But we’ll take the bullet,” -Krispy (The Knux)


“When Rakim came out, no one had his flow or his swagger, everything was totally different,” says Mickey Factz.

“When Biggie and Nas came out, everyone was trying to sound like Fu-Schnickens and Das-Efx.

Certain people had a set idea of how they wanted to rap and they changed how rap was looked at from then on.” “People are afraid to be different. But we’ll take the bullet,” says Krispy.

“We’re staying on the move,” says Mikey Rocks, “and continuing this grind with the music. The music is the most important because nothing is possible without it. We keep that at the forefront.” [The Knux "Cappucino"]

[Mickey Factz "The Flood"]

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