My Favorite Moments in 2017 Hip-Hop

Some of these are moments we all experienced, others are personal. Together they make up my favorite moments from one of the best years the genre has seen in a while.

“I’m not Black, I’m O.J. …”

It was perfectly terse, rightfully flippant. It was a piercing eye roll, a smirk at delusion, an emphatic “them white folks don’t care about you” all wrapped into two letters.

“OK,” Jay-Z said in one of the more iconic moments of 2017.

O.J. Simpson’s belief that he was somehow better than others who share his skin tone came back to the surface in 2016 as Ezra Edelman’s brilliant marathon of a documentary, O.J.: Made in America, aired every night for a week on ESPN. While many of us were familiar with his trial and his accolades, this documentary provided a rare glimpse into O.J.’s denial of his own blackness. You know, the same O.J. that so many Black people ardently defended throughout his 1995 murder trial.

I have to imagine Jay was as (disgusted, puzzled, saddened — go ahead, pick one) as the rest of us when the documentary reminded us that Orenthal thought his celebrity and breadbreaking with well-to-do white folks made him better than the rest of us. He also realized that we all know or have run into somebody similarly misguided. And so, “The Story of O.J.” was as necessary a recording as any in 2017.

“I told Meek I wouldn’t trust Nicki”

Wow, Ross, that’s how we’re starting the album?? Sounding like a disappointed uncle, Rozay utters this just mere moments into his ninth studio album. It’s really none of our business, so it is a bit surprising that he offers this information up so quickly. By the time he says it, you’ve already realized that “Apple of my Eye” is an unconventional but welcome way to begin an album — a silky, heartfelt track featuring Raphael Saadiq instead of something more uptempo or trappier.

The line is to the point and doesn’t lead into any salacious details about Meek & Nicki’s demise. Rick only adds that he opted to give Meek distance instead of beef when/if he had a problem with his mentor questioning his trust of Nicki. Aside from it being a nice gossipy tidbit, this line offers insight into Ross and Meek’s relationship. It reinforces that Ross is willing to support and give advice to Meek instead of just benefitting from his success.

Of course, Ross’ push for Meek’s justice was a far more important moment from this year that solidified the duo’s bond.

Migos Makes Me Comfortable

Back in February I checked out a local venue where my beatmaker extraordinaire cousin Amani.Cove, Chelsea Pastel and Cleveland MC/mental health advocate Archie Green performed. Aside from supporting fam, I was mainly there because I knew the show would be steeped in boom-bap and jazzy sounds. Archie proved that as he spat over beats like Common’s “Nag Champa (Afrodisiac for the World)” in honor of Dilla month.

Then, something happened between Archie and Chelsea’s sets: the existence of living, breathing multifaceted Hip-Hop fans was reaffirmed. It came in the form of folks losing their shit to “T-Shirt” by Migos. These were the same people who were just nodding along to Archie over MF Doom instrumentals. This meant that one can, in fact, enjoy Quavo adlibs and Operation: Doomsday. I think I had been reading too many YouTube and Instagram comments to remember that these things do actually happen in the real world.

I relish these moments. If nothing else, I want more people to appreciate the diversity of our genre’s sounds and the variety of the perspectives. To see it happen in real time is always dope.

When Sean Price’s daughter told us who doctored the document

Screencap from Duck Down Records via YouTube

It’s been more than two years since Sean Price passed, but he lives on in many ways, primarily through his young daughter Shaun. It’s her voice that we hear first on his 2017 posthumous album, Imperius Rex, and what she tells us is nothing short of amazing.

She basically broke one of the biggest stories of 2017 months before any of us realized it.

George Papadopoulos
Knock it and pop a nigga papa-less
Papa shit, chocolate doctor that doctored the document
Listen to my father, bitch, P!

OK, so obviously what I wrote above isn’t actually true. She’s not talking about the same guy and she’s not a nine-year-old journalist getting scoops on the Russia scandal. But I’ll remain fascinated that the daughter of a Brooklyn legend did her best impression of her father while rhyming ‘George Papadopoulos’ and ‘doctored the document’ and then calling you a ‘bitch.’ I just will.

“Might cop the white ghost, you not even likable.”

Roc Marciano’s Rosebudd’s Revenge was always destined to be among my albums of the year, and several tracks and moments show why. To end a 110-second assault on the self-produced “Herringbone,” Marc gruffs:

My lexicon’s like an amazing ex-con’s
All my shirts made of chiffon.
I’m not some nigga you could shit on

At that point you’re under the impression that Roc is content riding off into the sunset with another track left in a body bag. But no.

Instead, a loud, bright, Sesame Street-type soundscape bursts through and the absurdity ensues.

Lights!
You know how the game go, Burberry raincoat.
My stable of hoes came with a stage coach.
Ya show lame, you need a stage coach.
I’ll show you how to rock this Polo, just take notes, I’ll show you the ropes.

You’ve come to expect comical lines like this that are still delivered in Marci’s no-nonsense monotone, but not over an instrumental quite like this.

If someone was to play that to me, I’d be like, ‘What kind of music is this? Is this rock? Soul?’ Marciano told NahRight. “I liked the strangeness of it, but it was also hard to me … it’s not typical.”

“I want reveeenge!”

I watch far fewer videos than I did when they were commonly viewed on TV. It seems like every day I’m “liking” a video I haven’t watched on Twitter, using the feature a mechanism to save the videos for later. I might watch a few of them on the Fire Stick when time allows but probably not. When this video came out, there was no waiting. When Roc Marci drops a visual, you watch immediately.

For me, I think that’s largely because of the mystique the Hempstead, Long Island MC has maintained in this digital age. He shows you just enough of his lifestyle and talents to make you want more.

The end result is a video with a few songs from Rosebudd’s that wet the appetite for that album like an initial video used to do back in the golden era.

Flygod hoodie

From Biggie to Parliament Funkadelic, I’ve added a few music-inspired shirts and hoodies to my wardrobe. That’ll continue, but I’m not sure any forthcoming purchase will be as special as opening a package that contained the Flygod hoodie.

I haven’t hands quick enough to partake in any of Westside Gunn’s vinyl drops with Daupe, so it was imperative that I secured something tangible from the mighty era of Griselda Records. I accomplished that with the black hoodie with legendary Flygod album cover emblazoned on it. I’ve worn it sparingly, but it was an honor to rock it in Buffalo as I visited with family and heard about just how proud they were of WSG and his entire crew.

BOTH Griselda concerts in Cleveland

Naturally, the aforementioned hoodie would also get rocked at not one, but TWO Griselda concerts in Cleveland. First, in June at the Grog Shop, followed by the Cleveland stop of the Key to Life Tour in October at the Agora.

The timing was perfect. Earlier this year, Shady Records and Griselda struck a deal for both Westside Gunn and Conway. Anybody who is even tangentially associated with Eminem has a decent chance to blow, so my thinking was that intimate shows at the Grog Shop would soon be a thing of the past. I also did this pseudo-serious thing where I realized that WSG and Conway were the frontier of a grimy renaissance of sorts, and I needed to be there to witness all of that descend upon Cleveland.

Westside Gunn, Conway, Benny and El Camino performed at both shows, but the Grog show included sets from Daringer and DJ Green Lantern. Yep, the same Green Lantern whose mixtapes I’d been listening to since I was screaming “G-G-G-G-UNIIIIT” in stairwells on Ohio State’s campus. Also Daringer played a bit of a Westside Gunn track from way before Hitler Wears Hermes that had him rhyming over one of Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s ridiculous instrumental interludes. It left me and Amani’s faces screwed for quite some time.

The Griselda gang basically performed the same sets at both shows, though WSG threw in some of his Westside DOOM collaborations to keep things extra current. The second show was obviously the better one, considering The Lox and Smoke DZA were also on the Key to Life Tour. Still, that Grog set is etched in my memory, especially the way it ended with lighters swaying to Westside’s beautifully gully “Mr. T.” It felt like a moment. One of my favorites of the year.

Eminem’s Trump Freestyle

And since I mentioned Shady, let’s relive his cypher freestyle from this year’s BET Awards. Now, normally I wouldn’t do this for any rap that actually began with “that’s an awfully hot coffee pot,” but I make an exception this one time.

This clearly was not his best material, but that’s not what this is about. This is about Marshall using his platform and privilege to speak out against the demagogue-in-chief. Nothing more. Now, he does a much better job of this on his album cut, “Untouchable,” but this set the tone.

Black Thought freestyle

You want a better freestyle? No problem. Yes, you’ve seen this before, but just accept this as an opportunity to watch it again. I’m not sure we’ll ever witness something this incredible again. Long live Black Thought, AKA Riq Geez AKA the guy your favorite rapper never wants to rhyme after.

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