Rap Music Ain’t Dead — It’s Gonna Be Alright
A crop of Rappers are making noise and literacy reigns supreme
Chance the Rapper had just wrapped up his third Grammy Acceptance speech, a segment of Rap Twitter (see what I did there?) was celebrating with Chi-Town’s latest darling artist.
A few weeks before that, two albums came out, The Return of the Cool & Grateful and on 10 March, Watercolor will be released.
What does any of this have to do with the price of tea in China? Well, if you were living in England in the 1700s — everything. But since we live in this modern world — everything.
By and large, lyricism is dead. Artists are more concerned with atmosphere, catchy hooks, and taking on rock star personas. Sure, you have your Kendrick and Cole. Some would even say Big Sean is a contender.
But Rappers…rapping…in 2017? Rappers are more apt to sing. Chance the Rapper, while he may bust an occasional verse, “The Rapper” is more a Surname than a function.
Most new artists don’t even pretend to care about the technique and skill necessary to be considered “Rappers.”
A search for the next big thing or even the next thing from Portland to Pensacola will yield hundreds of Drakes and Futures with some imitations being better than others.
But Rappers…rapping…in 2017? These three are stand-out artists. While two of them have yet to get mainstream, national exposure, all three are doing what few dare do — Rap.
The Rappers I’m speaking of are Bobby Sessions, Nick Grant, & Porter Ray. All hailing from areas not normally associated with rap: Texas, South Carolina, & Washington, respectively. They carry the mantle that New York has seemed to have dropped.
Although all of their music is completely different, what they all seem to be focused on is the Art of Rap & not chasing hits. And all of them appear to do something else similar…read. Clever punchlines, extensive vocabularies, & variety of topics, so long as there are Rappers like these three, Rap as an art form stands a chance of lasting a few more decades.
Fun Da Mentals, the radio show that focuses on curated rap from every era and every area, has had several start and stops. As we talked about here, we been at this since 11.
The hard part, of course, was finding a platform that wouldn’t eliminate half of our playlist with their “automatic content protection system” due to licensing. That was the hard part. The difficult part was finding artists that weren’t carbon copies of someone else or making music that sounded like it came from the Clinton era.
This was the beginning of the Joey Badass/Pro Era & Timeless Truth era on the East Coast. Around the time that Tyler the Creator shocked folks with “Yonkers” and Odd Future began making noise on the West (Coast).
They were the last bastions of Rap. As the popularity and success of Drake continued to grow and the influence of The Future began to invade the urban areas of America, hearing rap in a rap song became a possibility not a given.
But this is what made me dig in the proverbial digital crates. The lack of originality and overflow of imitations made artist like Michael Christmas, Boogie, Ishdarr, Rapsody, and others stand out even more. (We gonna have to write something separate for Mr. PG, Oddisee)
Once we decided on Mixcloud our search for artists went into overdrive. We advertise ourselves as having rap from every area so that means we would be remiss in our rap duties if we limited our search to the hotbeds of rap like New York, LA, and now Atlanta.
And that, boys and girls, is how I came across the three artists of this article.
Searching for Texan Rappers for Episode 034 is how I stumbled across Bobby Sessions.
Cops have been whopping our ass and killing us wholesale for over a century but by the summer of 2015, Black folk were fed up.
Marches and protests ensued.
Yet most Black musicians were disgustingly silent. That’s why I KNEW Bobby Session’s “Black America” would strike a nerve. Not quite sure that it did.
One of my main motivations for starting Fun Da Mentals was the glaring lack of variety played on the radio and far worst, the limited exposure of great artists that haven’t found a wider audience. Although Bobby Sessions released “Black America” on MLK Day, I didn’t hear it until September of 2015.
Nine months prior, tired of slaving away for five days and 40hrs a week, Sessions quit his job and with the support of his parents, pursued his rap career full time. He had $50 dollars in his bank account.
“Black America” had me anticipating the release of Sessions debut album, Law of Attraction which dropped in November of 2015. Not only are the songs different from all the music that people are putting out, each song is different. “Famous” doesn’t sound like “Helicopter” which doesn’t sound like “LOA” and yet it’s all cohesive.
Whenever someone talked about the sad state of Rap, I played them “Peyton Manning.” That tiny bit of “Ashley’s Roachclip” connects the very modern song with the legacy of rap as does Sessions flow and lyrics.
Olympic, I’m just sprinting on the goal — I went to Mount Olympus for my Soul
Dog, they should play me on the station so the Playstation ain’t the only game that I control
I don’t know much, but I can count on my hands how many times a Rapper has referenced Mount Olympus…one. Yeah, I think one time. Whether Sessions read about Greek mythology or was just Googling something that went with Olympic doesn’t matter, the desire to have a new take on a line does.
The whole song is clever line after clever line.
Sessions could easily have put this style on repeat and filled an album with it…but he doesn’t. He also doesn’t follow the current trend of releasing six or seven projects in the span of a year.
I frequently checked Soundcloud to see if Bobby Sessions was doing the drop-a-song-out-of-nowhere approach that is so common nowadays only to find nothing. It wasn’t until the end of 2016, that news was put out there that a new album was on the way.
I expect to have a long career that will span way past a decade, so why would I not take two years off to really learn and master my craft as much as possible? If I make the music and the music is good, then it really shouldn’t matter when I put it out. Bobby Sessions
Grateful is a complete departure from LOA. More organic and acoustic, this album will play well with Oddisee (I promise, I’ll get to him soon), The Roots, or De La. Sessions has said that he’s grown musically and it’s quite evident.
Released 3 February on his own label (and not iTunes or any other streaming site) when a slew of albums came out, Sessions is giving Grateful away for free. I would imagine that there’s a strategy behind this as it seems that everything Bobby Sessions does is well-thought out and written in advance.
Listening to his music, it’s quite evident that Sessions was once a poetry and philosophy major. If you don’t know anything about those majors…that’s a lot of damn reading.
Oh, and that Fun Da Mentals episode mentioned up top…we never played any music from Bobby Sessions…he’s from Dallas. Episode 034 is dedicated to H-Town.
Unlike Bobby Sessions or Porter Ray, Nick Grant has been receiving beaucoup press.
Grant attributes that to hooking up with music legend Jason Geter and I would agree. Yes, Grant set the booth on fire when he rapped in front of Sway with what would become the infamous “Black Sinatra” verses. Yes, he turned that fire into an inferno appearing on Hot 97 and then back on Sway in the morning. Grant has the goods. But having an operator like Geter behind you gets you in those doors.
But the reason that Grant could even get to Geter is because, like I said, Nick Grant has the goods.
Starting ’88 with Andre 3000’s “The South got somethin’ to say…” acceptance speech (the new Southern Battle Cry) was an apt opening. Most people are blown away the first time they hear Nick Grant. Of all three Rappers, Grant best fits into what people think of a Rappers Rapper and ’88 is 13 songs and 53 minutes of real, raw rap…and he’s from Walterboro, South Carolina.
I can admit, when I first heard it back in 16, as impressed as I was, my life was more in need of Kamasi Washington’s The Epic and Anderson .Paak’s Malibu. The radio show was on hiatus and Rap ain’t get much play in the latter half of the winter of 2015–16.
But by the time Return of the Cool came out, Fun Da Mentals was back up and running, the website for the show was popping, and we were back in the search for music. Four months into our return, Nick Grant’s album dropped and inspired us to do Episode 063, an episode geared to Rappers from the South.
From the opening bars of “Sometimes,” I knew I was listening to a classic. “Strong arming the game, Angela Bassett…even if this life wasn’t sweet, never desert me….this is a Weekend at Bernie’s, these niggas is dancing with death.” If the Source were still the Bible of Rap, then Nick Grant would be bestowed with a years worth of Hip-Hop Quotables.
One song in and I was hitting every music lover up that I know, “you have to listen to this dude, Nick Grant.”
Nick Grant has been rhyming for 12 years — and it sounds like it. You have to really LISTEN to his music because even in a song where Grant is telling a story, the wordplay is phenomenal. “Bout my money, this is worst than Sallie Mae extortion…a Nation in debt, still we begging for change…” I could do this all day.
And Grant seems so assured. Watching him perform on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Grant’s show didn’t come across as his first time on national television. Not many people would debut a song in that situation. But Nick Grant did.
You just have to listen to Nick Grant…that’s all I have to say. Like Rapsody (who I will def write about once her Roc Nation debut drops), Grant takes up the mantle that Little Brother once had of “bringing back Real Rap.” He has a desire to be great, says it in every interview, and if Grant keeps developing the way that he is that will be inevitable.
I’ve probably mentioned Porter Ray’s name more times and in more articles than any other artists that I’ve written about.
Remember when I said the modern artists drops several projects in a year and I used the number six? I think Porter Ray is at that number. I heard Fundamentals first, went back and copped Blk Gld, Wht Gld, & RS Gld. Then you have Nightfall, I wrote about Electric Rain here, and now we have Ray’s Sub Pop debut Watercolor. It hasn’t been all in one year, but the only person that I can think of that’s close to his level of productivity is Michael Christmas.
The first thing that caught my attention about Ray is his beat selection is impeccable. Song after song knocks, or it’s smooth, or it’s cool, but they are always good. Ray doesn’t rap over nothing wack.
The second thing that stood out was Ray’s voice. Look, I’m forty plus, I grew up in the days of bass-filled Rappers’ voices. Sure, there were exceptions — Easy E, The Beasties, Cypress Hill, but outside of them, if you weren’t a child, you came to the mic with bass. Had my brother Alaor Khadir not broke down the barrier as he sold me on K Dot (before he became Kendrick), there’s no way I would have been able to listen to Porter Ray. And what a lost that would have been.
In a recent interview, Ray talked about becoming comfortable with his voice, a challenge most humans have to face — which is made that much tougher when you’re a Rapper. But if you got lyrics like Ray, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Which was the third thing I noticed — this dude RAPS. It’s not so much punchlines, similes and metaphors type rap but more so well put together, careful alliteration, image-filled rap. The picture painted in “Ruthie Dean” is what made me an instant fan:
My Grandmother watching “Gunsmoke,” just a young nigga broke trying to swallow blunt smoke — now she in the kitchen cooking up some soul food, my uncle smoke rubes fuckin’ up my whole mood — my auntie’s talkin shit back and forth while we eat, my cousin’s back porch freestyling to the beat.
Yo, a bullet turned my brother to a picture on the wall, so I crumble up the chronic, split the Swisher let it fall — hit the weed twice, breath life, shoot sevens get my cheese right, I squeeze dice in the circle under street lights…
It’s no wonder that comparisons are made with him and Nas. That style of rhyming has all but been abandoned in the melody chasing, hook-filled modern Rap landscape. This type of rap requires you to LISTEN.
That, coupled with the fact that we actually get to HEAR that a Rapper is affected by the lost of a loved one beyond pouring out liquor in their name. The death of Porter Ray’s younger brother, Aaron is not just the reason why he raps but the event is the through line in many of his songs.
Watercolor is expected on 10 March which I preordered it the second I read the announcement. I’ve been seeing a lot more press builidng behind Porter Ray, I’m sure thanks to the hard work of people like Sub Pop publicist Bekah Zietz, and I expect even more once the music makes its way to the Rap audience.
To have so much material, it’s quite evident that Ray has an extensive vocabulary which is why it comes as no surprise that he’s an avid reader — the tell-tale sign that he, like Grant and Sessions has a desire to be great.
Of course, I could have written about any number of artists…(I’m going to be writing about Oddisee in T-minus……) but it was these three that really stood out to me. Partially for how different they all are, also because of where they are from, but mostly because Bobby Sessions, Nick Grant, & Porter Ray make music that make me have to LISTEN and more importantly, their music makes me THINK.
I’m down with music that’s moving. I have no problem with Trap or whatever their calling the music in Oakland now. I dig Sad Robot Music, but what I used to enjoy in Rap was putting on some music that I wasn’t tuning out to, but instead focusing in on. These three make that kind of music, and if I’m not mistaken, they are all under 30. So there’s hope for Rap.