The past year saw two hip-hop artists dominate the media, Iggy Azalea and Nicki Minaj. They both released albums this year, both of which were commercial successes, but did that success come at a price?
While Nicki Minaj’s “The Pinkprint” is a good album that I will never buy, it is a major release and that is significant. It’s “major” in the sense that it has the feel of a U2 record: big sound, clean production. There is an intricacy in the sound that only comes from access to major label resources. Fucking violins. Vocally, Nicki expands her game. If “Starships” was her first attempt at singing, she is really on that shit now. Salute.
Now let’s be real. This ain’t a hip-hop record. No hip-hop record has ever sounded like this. Listen to YG’s album—“The Pinkprint” makes “My Krazy Life” sound like is was recorded on a phone. This is the sound that Timbaland and Dre and countless other producers are always searching for: Using hip-hop as a color and not a canvas. It is an experience.
If Nicki made her own lane in rap music, Iggy Azalea was the first vehicle to use it. “The New Classic” is irony on wax. There is little that is “real” about Iggy. She doesn’t rap in her own voice; she doesn’t write what she raps. Yet she is the number one selling rap artist this year—by a landslide. And she just arrived on the scene, like someone created a Kreayshawn-Gwen Stefani hybrid in a lab and gave her a publicist. Listening to her album is like painting by numbers: You recognize exactly what you’re looking at, you just have to decide whether or not you want take the time to actually do it. If you’ve listened to at least 50 hip-hop albums, then you have heard every song on “The New Classic.” The irony.
Comparing the two artists is fashionable, dragging out the old standards: the racial component, the whore/feminist/artist triangle. Yet no one is talking about how both of these records are pop. Or that rap is pop. So pop. I think that Nicki’s album will have more staying power than Iggy’s because it is a better album, from production to lyrics—but nevertheless it is a pop album. More Madonna than Lauryn Hill and calling “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” a hip-hop record is still debatable.
Rap has turned the corner. It is a recognized market, a short hand that instantly conjures up ideas of youth and frivolity. It is a spending demographic. What I consider hip-hop is no longer the status quo. I can’t really show up at a random “hip-hop night” anymore because anything passes for hip-hop. I don’t know if that makes me an elitist or a traditionalist—or that the music has passed me by. Something has switched.
I think of how I used to buy Eminem albums. I don’t anymore. It is hard to articulate, but I lost my connection to his music. The songs were no longer mine. They were written for people who can’t name three De La Soul albums. The history I embrace is not important to people who bought “The New Classic” or can’t name the sample from “Anaconda.”
It’s weird. I almost love the Nicki record. I think it is great. But it’s simply not for me. It wasn’t written for a man in his 30s who idolizes Prince Paul. People like me don’t matter in hip-hop anymore. Yet I still service the culture. I’m still invigorated by rhymes, kicks, graf, dancing, beats, beats and more beats. So it is hard to figure out where it fit?