New American Songbook: High Hip Hop
Hip hop has always been fascinated with itself--one of the music’s unique and endearing qualities is its constant self-reflection and self-assessment. This is great for true fans--there’s nothing an enthusiast loves more than to constantly talk about their enthusiasm--but it’s often difficult for casual or first-time listeners to get into it.
As a friend of mine once remarked on the emcee Guru’s rapping: “All he does is talk about himself.” Well, yes, that’s the point. My counterargument that the rhymes exist in historical contexts fell on deaf ears.
There’s no reason that inexperienced listeners can’t get into what we might call "High Hip Hop"; it just takes a little more guts than you might have to muster for somewhat easier music. Think of the difference between Miles Davis’ albums “Kind of Blue” and “Bitches’ Brew.” A fantastic recent release from the underground emcee Jean Grae exemplifies this experimental aspect of hip hop, while retaining some listenability. The album is called “Everything's Fine,” and is a collaboration with Detroit producer Quelle Chris.
“Everything's Fine” probably won’t be that summer banger that you blast from your car stereo, but it has the potential to be that album you return to when you want to think really deeply about what you’re thinking really deeply about. A little self-reflexivity in self-reflection never hurt anyone, after all.