I have had a hard time getting into (and just plain getting) hip hop for basically my entire music-listening life. One of the major barriers to me has been rap – I am a fan of musicality in music, and rap is often not very musically interesting to me. This is especially true of early rap, which is much less sophisticated in terms of flow. (Think about every classic hip hop song where the word on the beat is emphasized to a degree which is borderline self-parodic at times. The Beastie Boys are particularly egregious.)
Well, I don’t know when the more melodic style of rapping began, who pioneered it, or whether it has existed for years or decades before this record – I don’t know much – but I know that I like the way these guys rap. I have only ever heard one other rapper this melodic and that’s Ol’ Dirty. And he’s a a character, to put it mildly. (I should mention that in Dancehall there is, of course, a spectrum between speaking and singing that likely greatly influenced more melodic rap.) As I said, I have no idea if what these guys are doing is pioneering in any way, but it more melodically appealing to me than almost all other rap I’ve ever heard.
I’m not sure why I’m so surprised. I remember watching “Crossroad” at my cousins’ on MTV and remember realizing there was something different about them. But, honestly, I haven’t thought much about that song in the intervening years. I think, if anything, I was expecting more singing on this record, rather than the boundary blurring that is occurring.
I don’t love the production, which isn’t really a surprise. It’s a West Coast vibe to my ears, even if they’re from Cleveland. (I associate this slicker production with LA, wether or not that’s fair. And this was recorded in LA…) And, as usual, I do not love the actual lyrics. (I am a white guy who grew up in an affluent neighourhood in a very safe city.)
But I’m not sure either of those things matters right now – I remain very impressed by the delivery of the group. Now, I know I have no idea what I’m talking about, but it sure seems to me like this record – or, at least, this style of delivery – was pretty damn influential on 21st century Hip Hop. The number of rappers I’ve heard in the last few years who do a hybrid style between singing and speaking…well, it feels like a lot.