When the term “real hip-hop” is used, it’s often associated with east coast hip-hop elitists who have disdain for any form of rap created outside of New York City.
They wear Tims (Timberland boots); start most sentences with the word “son”; and they are obsessed with the golden era (1980s -mid 1990s) of New York rap. While hip-hop as a classified genre approaches 40 soon, it has become obvious that rap and hip-hop will never fully belong to one city, group or country.
But the principles hip-hop was founded upon shouldn’t be ignored either. And this is where the east coast hip-hop elitist can make his/her case.
There was a time when only wordsmiths and true poets were allowed to touch a microphone and have the guts to take on the position of being a rapper. A great beat and an R&B hook would never have saved a flawed rapper in the genre’s beginning years. You had to be able to formulate compelling sentences in order for the crowd to accept your ambitions to be an emcee.
It goes without saying that it doesn’t take as much these days to reach for a career in rap. But that doesn’t mean hip-hop is dead and “real hip-hop” no longer exists.
Enter Nas and Kendrick Lamar. The two rappers were the headlining acts for the 5th annual One Music Fest at Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood in Atlanta, Georgia. A festival founded by Atlanta promoter J. Carter that continues to grow each year.
Kendrick Lamar hit the stage first and opened with the aspirational “Money Trees,” a song that finds an inner-city kid hoping to find a way to build substantial income which may lead to his happiness. He followed with the “Art of Peer Pressure” in which he describes how desperate aspirations for money can lead to criminal activity.
“M.A.A.D. City” is the sound of inner-city chaos interpreted by Kendrick Lamar. The crowd at One Music Fest used the moment to jump, bounce and scream as they connected with the song’s intensity.
Kendrick Lamar performed his entire debut, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. The concept album perfectly described the trials, joys and dreams of young blacks in the same manner as Nas’ 1994 debut Illmatic.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Illmatic, Nas took the stage after Kendrick Lamar and also performed the album in its entirety.
Nas opened his set with “New York State of Mind,” a song that, like “M.A.A.D City,” gives a bleak view of a young urban kid who is transformed by his environment. After Nas performed Illmatic, he ran through a slew of hits which included “If I Ruled the World,” “Hate Me Now,” and “Nas is Like.”
But he saved his most personal moments for the end. As Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” played, fans at One Music Fest instinctively put their lighters and cell phones in the air. Nas then performed the soul-searching “One Mic,” a song in which he forces himself to think about past mistakes and the best ways to move forward.
Nas and Kendrick Lamar proved that rap can still have elements of engaging storytelling, misplaced desires, self-criticism, and excitement without compromise.
Story and image: A.R. Shaw