The Rub have just put the finishing touches on their History of Hip-Hop series on Brooklyn Radio. And with that, we wanted to get their perspective on the last 30 years of the genre.
So, 30 years! After putting all the mixes together, do you guys have a favorite time period?
Eleven: There’s different periods which connect with different times in our lives that mean a lot to each of us, like the year “Illmatic” came out, the years when we were all doing a lot of club gigs in NYC, the year we bought our first records, etc. But, the process of doing this project has reminded me of so many great records that every time I listen to one of the mixes or look at one of the tracklists, I end up with “that’s my SHIT!!!” moments over & over.
What point do you think the genre was at its most creative?
Ayres: I don’t think there was one single point when hip-hop was at its most creative. I think there have been bursts of innovation, followed by lots of copycats, followed by bursts of innovation. If you listen to the difference between 1979, when it was just guys doing their routines over popular disco breaks, and then a few years later when drum machines came into play, and more of a battle style of rapping was introduced, there were huge creative leaps going on there, but lots of dudes still painting by the numbers. A lot of the big jumps came from technology and access, for example when samplers began to have more affordable memory and producers could put a ton of loops on top of each other, or when filtering samples took over in the early 90s. There are still hugely creative musicians working in hip-hop in 2010, but for every innovative producer or rapper there is a ton of embarrassingly derivative music coming out, so if you don’t dig deep for it, you might make the mistake that hip-hop fell off.
This past decade, hip-hop has become even more pop orientated. Can it still be considered as rebellious as newer genres popping up in the electronic realm?
Cosmo: Well today in 2010 hip-hop is the definitive pop music, it’s as simple as that. So in that capacity it makes sense to put things like Flo Rida and shit in the mix because it’s represents of where the music is today. There’s all facets that we’re hitting from, but really if you think about it it’s just a new version of the same old same old. O.P.P. is a “hip hop classic” but it’s also one of the biggest pop records of our generation. And nowadays you got rap dudes fucking with dance and electro the same way rap dudes in 1981 were still fucking with disco. And maybe the edge is gone because you have a generation of people who grew up listening to rap music like it’s the norm, not some new far out alien shit from space. It’s safe.
Has rapping about drug deals and absurd amounts of money seem to be ridiculous during one of the worst global recessions since the 1930s? Why can’t rappers find commercial success without spitting a laundrey list of luxury products mixed with tales of drug dealing and ego pimping?
Eleven: I think you can find a ton of examples which run counter to that broad over generalization: Lupe Fiasco, Drake, and Kanye in his most introspective moments, to name just a couple. Bragging has always been at the core of hip hop in one form or another. At their laziest, some rappers brag about how cheap they got a brick for, what car they drive, what hood hero dealers they know, etc. Best case, dudes brag about more interesting & creative shit. But, there’ll always be bragging.
This past decade saw the rise of Eminem. Do you think his music is lasting? Will kids be listening to Eminem records 20 years from now, the same way they still blast Nirvana?
Ayres: God I hope not. I really liked his first album and a lot of the stuff with independent rappers like Royce the 5’9, Outsidaz, Shabaam Sahdeeq and so forth. I saw him on tour with PaceWon and the Beatnuts in like 98 and it was a really fun show. Then he just went to shit so fast. It’s amazing that anyone takes him seriously.
I think that hip-hop has this canon of “old-school” jams that get played at parties and make it onto “greatest of all time” lists, but over time the canon shrinks, and you’re left with a bunch of songs that represent current tastes rather than what was good at the time. As a DJ this can be frustrating, because we don’t want to be limited to Biggie, Tupac, Tribe, etc. We love those artists and but also feel there are lots of other great forgotten artists who were maybe less influential but still have records that will rock at a party. So I hope the series can do something to push back against that narrow-mindedness, or forgetfulness, or whatever you want to call it, that shrinking awareness that happens over time. It would be a shame if in 20 years the Throwback at Noon show was comprised of only Eminem, Drake and Lil Wayne, and not also Rodney O and Joe Cooley, D.I.T.C., Steady B, Treacherous 3, and so on.
If we can take it back to the ’90s, many people have called it the genre’s Golden Age. Why do you think that is? Was this past decade lacking in last decade’s creativity?
Cosmo: Well to me the real golden age was 1987 to 1989, maybe leaving the “Golden Age” era by 1992, but I don’t really think it was lacking from creativity cause there was a lot of cool shit. But maybe it was lacking the fire. You know it takes someone with nothing to really create something, the whole theory about how Ronald Reagan and the crack epidemic did as much for furthering rap music than a lot of the musicians did. See now, rap got bloated this past decade so the sense of urgency just wasn’t there. Rap’s in it’s Arena Rock phase right now. Not that it’s a bad thing… it’s just a thing.
Has the ability to download everything and anything, coupled with leaks, made the genre more disposable?
Eleven: I don’t think it’s specifically made hip hop more disposable. It’s hurt all music, especially pop music, which I think a lot of hip hop is these days. Because of the speed that music can be created, disseminated, digested, and moved on from, everyone is trying to one up each other. That’s caused some great music that’d never have made it past the old gatekeepers (label A&Rs, radio, video, magazines) to reach the world & flourish. But, it’s also allowed a lot more biting-ass-copycats to put out shitty music. Now more than ever, it requires a lot of time & energy to sift out the good music from the bullshit.
It seems like, production-wise, producers can pump out a lot more material than ever before. But it’s also becoming more confusing to stay up on everything. How do you guys go digging in the digital crates of the internet?
Ayres: I still make myself listen to the radio, just to hear what the DJs are playing. There are guys like Enuff, Camillo and Cipha Sounds who still play some different shit along with the playlist stuff. I am a member of a digital record pool and I find stuff on there, and I listen to all the big albums when they come out. This summer there is a lot of good stuff out from people like Rick Ross, The Roots, Big KRIT, Young Jeezy, Vado, Drake, Kanye, J Cole and so forth. I still need to listen to the Fat Joe album and the Little Brother album. There are tons of great mixtapes, and the artists are usually free to be more creative (and profane) with that format. I pay very little attention to the blogs, unless it is for smart criticism (Cocaine Blunts) or weird finds (I Wish You Would). Nick Catchdubs puts me up on stuff. But yeah I’m always looking for new shit to listen to in the car and on the train. Good hip-hop records for the club have become fewer and further between, so in some cases unless it is a record I really believe in, I kind of wait until a record has some momentum (i.e. people know it) before I play it in a big room like at The Rub.
I was wondering who you guys are feeling lately in terms of hip-hop? Do you see any superstars on the horizon besides, say, Drake?
Eleven: I love the Big Boi record. To me, it’s the first hip hop record in a long time to really up the ante. It’s not rehashing the conventions of hip hop from the South & it’s not trying to be a throwback to the “good ole days” of 90’s rap. It’s Big Boi doing Big Boi! But, quite obviously, he’s not a new-comer. I think J Cole is going to be a big star. I like some of Theopholis London’s mixtapes a lot. And, unless someone completely drops the ball, Yelawolf is going to be huge.
Speaking of the old guard, a bunch of the originators from The Bronx have been asking to be paid for their influence on the current crop of rappers. Do you feel they should be compensated?
Cosmo: I can’t call it, man. Sure, why not. I would love to see all those originators get their due. Will that happen, financially? Never. I mean what do they expect, a tariff from artists like “if you want to rap in 2010 a percentage must be paid to the Cold Crush Fund” or something like that? Not like rappers are making that much money these days anyway. And not like any of those original dudes paid money to Melvin Bliss for using Substitution.
A lot of people want to know how you guys put all these mixes together. Besides your own record collections and knowledge, did you use any resources to make sure everything was accurate?
Ayres: The Ego Trip Book of Rap Lists goes up until 1998, and that was useful. The Cornerstone mixtapes were helpful from 2000 on; obviously since those are put together by a marketing company, there are big holes that have to be filled in, but as a supplement to our collections, they were helpful in reminding us of forgotten songs. Old mixtapes; I went back and looked at tracklists on cassettes I bought (or made) in the 90s. I have charts on my website going back to 2002, and all The Rub live mixes, and CDs we made like Houston for Dummies and Best of the Bay. But yeah the biggest source was definitely our records and CDs. I put everything into a spreadsheet, tagged the years and double checked on Discogs.com to make sure I have everything in the right year. I sent that to Eleven and Cosmo but I don’t know how much they used it, haha.
Digging in the early part of the ’80s must have been a challenge, no? With all the indie labels and rare records from the genre’s earliest years. Hip-Hop really didn’t hit the mainstream and get pushed by the major labels until the mid-80s. Before that, it was mostly run DIY. How did you guys hunt some of the more obscure stuff down?
Cosmo: Because we’re good at what we do and for the most part we know the records anyway. The three of us dudes are students of history when it comes to this music shit, which is why we’re the DJs we are, and felt we could pull this off. But other than raiding our own collections and using recall to think of what would work, obviously the internet is crucial, some of the lists that people have done in the past like the Freddie Fresh shit and the Ego Trip stuff… All that info is out there. You just have to know how to collect it, and how to process it.
What are some future plans? Are you guys going to do a party to celebrate the series’ completion?
Ayres: We have a party every month at Southpaw! We haven’t been planning on doing anything extra. We’ve got a two week tour coming up with The Rub and Smalltown DJs doing like 10 cities in Canada in August, so that’s been our main focus in terms of extra dates this summer. Our last date on that tour will be the Pool Party at the Williamsburg Waterfront on August 29th.