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New American Songbook

When Hip Hop Gets Weird

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What happens when hip hop gets weird?

This is a group called Anti-Pop Consortium, just one of many hip hop groups that are exploring the outer edges of hip hop music. Often this exploration is musical—Anti-Pop has collaborated with improviser and pianist Matthew Shipp—but the borderlands of hip hop have always included performative frontiers as well. The emcee has always been a character, in more than one sense of the word. The trickster, a familiar trope in African American literature, is a direct ancestor of the emcee, and its lineage is explicit in hip hop to varying degrees.

New York artist Kool Keith is probably at the head of the host of what we might call ‘character emcees’ that also includes names like MF DOOM, Sir Menelik, and recently Ghostface Killah. Keith began as a member of the Ultramagnetic MC’s, but is most well known for his excellent but not-at-all-safe-for-work album and persona Doctor Octogon. In the nearly 20 years since that album, he has taken on several personas, including a dada-ist semi truck driver and most recently on the album Time? Astonishing!, where he’s most likely a space-faring time-traveler.

As hip hop grows, so do the boundaries of its presumed scope. As these new frontiers become tomorrow’s normal, the next weird is always just beyond the horizon.