Veteran emcee Sadat X, well-known as a founding member of the group Brand Nubian, recently released Agua, his eleventh solo album. Sadat X is 47 years old, and the entire album displays a mastery of form that doesn’t break any new ground, but hits all the right notes.
It’s a great album, but one line in particular stands out for me. In the track "Freeze," Sadat raps, "A million hits on the tube but not one show, you can’t win on an area flow."
It’s a complicated line, discrediting the cheap metrics of internet fame and establishing the real weight of ‘area flows’, or in other words, rhymes about where you live. In this case, the first meaning of "can’t win on an area flow" is really "can’t win against," but the entire line can shift if you read it literally—in the age of global culture, you can’t win with it!
In some ways, this double-meaning is a theme of not only Agua, but most so-called underground hip hop albums. The music underground artists make is the most authentic because it addresses an immediate localized reality, which dooms it to obscurity because global culture demands hyper-generalized themes. At the same time, underground artists would clearly win any competition against a global internet star, because only they say meaningful things.
Some circles can’t be squared—hip hop fans are, in general, used to taking a "both/and’" position. After all, it’s the stories of our neighborhoods that brought hip hop to the world, and it’s the global popularity of hip hop that’s bringing it back to our neighborhoods, one verse at a time.