(AllHipHop Opinion) Wow. Maybe I missed something in recent years, but I this has been a really good year for Hip-Hop and we are only halfway through 2017. Jay-Z’s album 4:44 was like an open handed slap in the mouth to men all across the nation, particularly Black men. As with any slap, it can be taken two ways. It can wake you up or piss you off. I like to think I was both "angry" and "woke" before 4:44 dropped, but others certainly had a varied response to the Brooklyn rapper. It was the title track “4:44” that moved me the most.
"Look, I apologize, often womanize
Took for my child to be born, see through a woman's eyes
Took for these natural twins to believe in miracles
Took me too long for this song, I don't deserve you
I harassed you out in Paris
"Please come back to Rome," you make it home
We talked for hours when you were on tour
“Please pick up the phone, pick up the phone!”
I said: “Don't embarrass me,” instead of “Be mine”
That was my proposal for us to go steady
That was your 21st birthday
You matured faster than me, I wasn't ready
So I apologize
I seen the innocence leave your eyes
I still mourn this death and
I apologize for all the stillborns cause I wasn't present
Your body wouldn't accept it"
Prior to Jay-Z, I was listening to one song almost exclusively. That was Jay Electronica’s “Letter To Falon.” I played that song over and over and over and over. I tweeted and IG’d Jay-E to let him know it was a moving song. He responded with a “like.” I told others about the song and it spread in my circle like a small virus. I even used the song in a small speech I made to young Black and Brown men in NJ’s LIVE Mentorship Program to encourage them to "keep going" and do great things in this cruel, cruel world. I related to the depth of "Letter to Falon."
"I was born on Tatooine with dreams of sand
I kept going
The blind would undermine my plans
I kept growing
God bless the child that has
I kept building
One can't rewind the past
I push forward
The pain was too much to bear
I kept hurting
Nobody could feel me there
I kept quiet
The tears would begin to well
I just fought em'
They say you gotta pay your dues
I just bought em'
What they don't know won't hurt em'
I pledge to never be no one's burden"
After Jay-Z’s 4:44, I was struck by Vic Mensa’s “Wings,” where he’s assisted by the immortal Pharrell Williams and the criminally dope Saul Williams. The song is the opening to The Autobiography, his next album. If “Wings” is any indication, the album is going to be potent truth for the present generation.
"The beat is my therapist, Skateboard, paint the picture
A portrait of the artist formerly known as Vic
I read the signs I was close to overdose like Prince
Picking pill pieces up out of the bathroom sink
Like an armored truck ride in the rink
I'd probably be a vegetable if not for medical attention
My self destructive habits have me itching like Tyrone Biggums
In the cyclone of my own addiction
The voices in my head keep talking, I don't wanna listen..."
These songs are all critically important and potentially an indication of another Renaissance for Hip-Hop music. But, this is not just any renaissance that is comprised of dope bars, bravado and beats. These are men of different ages, walks and caliber showing deep, colorful hues of honesty, vulnerability and maturity. Now, this isn’t new, but these days most of commercial Hip-Hop offers man-children hiding their depression, frustrations and complex issues with false bravado, masks, self-destructive drugs and toxic misogyny. Kind of like the 90's for those not caught up in revisionist history...
Jay-Z, Jay Electronica and Vic Mensa are men. Once upon a time, rappers were super heroes. They were infallible, larger than life and largely one dimensional super beings that could no wrong. When they did wrong, it was often hidden unless it served a greater purpose (like labels being able to exploit flaws and misery for sales). In other cases, we saw grotesque, tortured souls that were like audible reality shows that we watched die, burn out or fall off a cliff of obscurity. We rarely - if ever - saw Black men deal with depression, trial, tribulation, defeat amid victory, drug addiction, women and relationships. Instead, we saw them perceptually at odds with other Black men, women, society and themselves in the most destructive ways.
These three songs are not all there is out in Hip-Hop in this vein. They just happen to be my favorites at the moment and a great sampler of what exists in 2017. They represent to me what Hip-Hop music continues to be capable on a commercial, mainstream level. The greater community and Hip-Hop are disconnected. We object to drug addicted rappers as the “drugs” are being shoved down our throats. We object to the degradation of our girls and boys, but there continue to be forces that allow these counter-Black culture vultures to eat carcasses.
It is time for the community to embrace the artists not named Jay-Z. Although I name-check Jay-Z, Jay-E and Vic, there are many others pushing and promoting progressive messaging. The late, great Prodigy has another song of renaissance on his latest album - “Mafuckin USA”- from Hegelian Dialectic (The Book of Revelation). People didn’t even know that one of the most celebrated artists in Hip-Hop have evolved light years beyond “Shook Ones.”
We're Black and beautiful, Black is powerful
And we all here to stay
Right here, ni99a, United States
Mafuckin' USA, the US of A
Look, we are all beautiful, all powerful
All one human race
Let us remember, we have always had much to give and, quite frankly, we may be offering more if we only paid closer attention to the voice inside.