Wednesday, April 1, 2009

In Search of the White Tiger (Who's Next?)

Read this post then read this book.

Aravind Adiga’s brilliant, Man Booker Prize winning novel The White Tiger gets its name from a passage early on when a government appointed school inspector comes for an evaluation of the protagonist, Balram Halwai’s primary school. Due to an ineffectual system and a lazy and corrupt teacher, none of the students can read or write save Balram. The inspector sees the child’s intelligence and asks “what animal comes along once in a generation?” The answer is the White Tiger, the rare chosen one with talent and gifts that exceed those of his peers.

As this decade comes to a close a new class of MCs clamor at the gates, waiting for their moment which appears to be little more than a great song, mixtape, guest appearance or album away. But who will strike first, hardest? What figure or figures will ascend to command our attention and make tastes for the decade to come?

Looking back on this current generation the crystal ball was equally murky as they came of age. The smart money probably would’ve been on Mos Def and Talib Kweli, two insanely intelligent, gifted MCs with three classic albums under their belts by 2000. Lil Flip with his deep Screwed up Click, Houston roots seemed the clear victor in his battle with a brash upstart from Atlanta going by Tip. Joe Budden, a ferocious mixtape rapper nipping 50’s heels for underground dominance with a mainstream smash in his pocket seemed a sure bet. Few would’ve guessed that the biggest star on Rocafella over the next ten years would be the jowly asshole from Chicago providing beats for the 9/11 classic The Blueprint as opposed to its author. And as for Lil Wayne, you mean that shrill cookie cutting teenager braying all over Juvenile’s monster singles? The point is forecasting can be tricky business when it comes to success in the Hip Hop game. The best and brightest don’t always come out on top. Sometimes it’s about who you know, sometimes it’s plain dumb luck. While all wildly different, each of the MCs listed below are representative of a next generation of MC and while who will come out on top is highly speculative, taking them as a whole is instructive in considering the brave new worlds this medium will shortly be heading towards. There isn’t a true gangster or backpacker among them, they hail from all over the country and all resist any type of convenient definition. Purists should be concerned, I’m excited. At any rate here it is, a look at what I have determined to be Hip Hop’s top five blue chip prospects, in an attempt to find this generation’s White Tiger.

*Honorable Mentions: Joell Ortiz, Jay Electronica

The Top 5:

Asher Roth

From Where?: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Should be studying: Do you really have to ask?

Resume: Don Cannon & DJ Drama Present: The Greenhouse Effect Volume 1, “I Love College”

Scouting Report: The mass appeal potential is obvious for Bill S. Preston Esquire Asher Roth. He’s a clean cut white kid who has delivered the closest thing to a timeless anthem anyone on this list has produced thus far. He sounds just like one of the most successful artists Hip Hop has ever seen, complete with a comparable mastery of wordplay and flow. However, this kid approaches Sacario/Guerilla Black levels of established artist emulation, and Hip Hop has never been kind to biters of this nature. If we are to compare Mathers and Roth toe to toe what becomes apparent is their glaring difference. Slim Shady brought lower class rage and intense pathos to his Hip Hop. He was a brilliant song writer able to turn his edgy, innovative concepts into popular success. (See: Guilty Conscious, Stan) Roth almost seems to be eagerly mild, willfully milquetoast, neutered and scared of his lack of street cred. The one note party animal punchlines feel like fireworks, a cloak keeping the Suburban middle class upbringing and the person who experienced it in the background. He may go gold off the strength of a Sorority classic alone (based on an Apatow-esque sense of humor, reoccurring breast fetish and general horny, collar popping approach to sexuality the demographic he seems to have his sights set on is the fratty, itunes and solo cup crowd with TRL alt rock and a splash of club friendly Hip Hop inclination), but without developing a distinct personality, will this be enough, or at least a foundation for a career with direction?

I Love College (Remix) ft. Jim Jones

Battle Me

Name: Gucci Mane

From Where?: Atlanta, Georgia

Should be studying: Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne

Resume: Millions of mixtapes but for a definitive account,We Eat So Many Shrimp’s 30 Best Gucci tracks of 2008

Scouting Report: Gucci Mane’s prepubescent, drawl heavy register embodies his style. His biggest boon is his right hand man Zaytoven, arguably the most innovative and interesting producer working at the moment. Zaytoven is able to cram an ice cream truck, a Sega Genesis, a carousel organ and a Muppet Babies Casio into his intricate synths, than match them alluringly with lush, classically honed Steinway Baby Grands and Stravinsky strings. In a way, Zaytoven is the ideal match for Gucci because his bubbly beats are paired perfectly with Gucci’s sophomoric, animated rhymes. At the same time, this serves as his greatest failing and potential Achilles heel. Gucci Mane is an appropriate moniker for this absurdly materialist MC. He practices the form eschewing excitement Jeezy first brought to the table employing fragmented and repetitious bars along with Wayne’s off the wall, free association grounded in intensely random pop reference-based extended metaphors. He combines these approaches and takes them to even greater experimental heights using his drawl to obscure and play with language in new ways. But without the dramatic urgency both Wayne and Jeezy are capable of summoning regularly Gucci’s in danger of slipping into Young Dro and Fabo levels of fun, one dimensional, irreverent, irrelevance. Zaytoven’s potential is unleashed on Gorilla Zoe’s dire “You Know What It Is” far more than we ever see on We Eat Shrimp’s totem. In short, this kid should be looking for a fight if he wants to move past mixtape novelty.

Haunted House


Name: The Knux

From Where?: New Orleans, Louisiana/Los Angeles, California

Should be studying: Outkast, Camp Lo

Remind me in 3 days……………

Scouting Report: The Knux deserve instant recognition as the only act on this list to have released a proper album, and it was a good one. While Outkast have done the most to shape the style and post Aquemini P-Crunk production MCs Krispy Kream and Rah Al Millio practice, they would be wise to study the career arc of Camp Lo carefully. Like the wildly talented Bronx duo The Knux have their own distinctive voice and sound, filled with imperial stomp, electronic wizardry and rockist distortion. The Knux are self produced and avoid a Camp Lo niche/pidgeon hole off the strength of their experimental, unorthodox, (which today=relevant) varied vocabulary of influences, not to mention the skills to tear into said beats with infectious enthusiasm. Camp Lo produced a big song and great album with a realized aesthetic but they couldn’t seem to grow past it, to make music that resonated and evolved from what they established on their promising debut. The Knux, with their great debut and lead single could easily follow suit, falling into the same underground internet forums where Camp Lo reigns supreme, or they could blow the fuck up.

The List

Fire (Put It In The Air)

Name: Kid Cudi

From Where?: Shaker Heights, Ohio

Should be Studying: Kanye West, Devin The Dude

Resume: A Kid Named Cudi, Stoner Charm, “Welcome to Heartbreak”, “Day N Nite (remix) ft. Jim Jones”

Scouting Report: The mixtape A Kid Named Cudi dropped courtesy of New York clothing company 10 Deep in July 2008, soon afterwards he caught the interest of one Kanye West and was brought to the G.O.O.D. music imprint. Kanye recorded his groundbreaking 808s and Heartbreaks in a three week span from September to October 2008. The temptation one is filled with when they hear Cudi's mixtape is to say it’s post 808s but it isn’t, begging a question few have dared to ask: Just how involved was this kid in one of the most forward thinking albums of this era? (Listen to both albums back to back, Cudi’s influence if not his exact harmonies, cadences and spacing are present throughout) Cudi shares Kanye’s passion for graceless punchlines and twee introspection. You want to say having the game’s biggest star in your corner makes Cudi an automatic front runner but try explaining that to Consequence, GLC and Rhymefest. Cudi’s mixtape contains plenty of bombs. But amidst the trash and even on some truly awful songs, a great talent for melody is apparent. He’s an utterly unspectacular MC but someone with a gift for singing raps, and he’d be wise to take a page from Southern MCs who found a voice and style by centering their delivery around cadence, letting country rap tunes take them in whatever direction the beat and their god given musical instincts command (See: Project Pat, Pimp C). Cudi could follows his own emo/indie inclinations to strange new places with exciting results. That being said, the faux hawk and obnoxious, hip for hip's sake references that clutter his mixtapes are infuriating (See: A bad and totally unnecessary Paul Simon jack and N.E.R.D. beats, however there is a positive aspect to his wide scope. The highlight of A Kid Named Cudi covers a fucking Band of Horses song). In New York, it took a great Jim Jones verse to bring the populous to his minimalist stoner classic “Day N Nite”, so his ability to cross over to an urban market certainly could be an issue. However, Cudi might be the most intriguing and possibly game changing artist on this list. Songs like the two posted below gives the listener a sense that this kid has the potential to drop a mold breaking, beautiful mega hit somewhere down the line that could make him a household name. My advice is embrace that which makes you different and do every single thing Kanye tells you to.

The Prayer

Man On The Moon

Name: Wale

From Where?: Washington D.C.

Should be studying: Lupe Fiasco, Lil Wayne

Resume: 100 Miles and Running, The Mixtape about Nothing, “Nike Boots”, “Rising Up”

Scouting Report: Living just below the Mason Dixon line that once separated North from South, no MC on this list, or in the game for that matter sounds like an MC in year 2009 as much as second generation Nigerian Olubowale Victor Akintimehin. That is, an embodiment of all that’s come before him with his own original, modern (or post modern) twist. With Hip Hop spreading like a plague there are few areas left unheard from on a national stage, but the District of Columbia is one of them, and who better to blaze a trail off the Atlantic coast than this native son of the nation’s capital? Perhaps I’m showing my idealism in a vote of confidence for the young man, after all he is the smartest, most accomplished and most able MC working outside the bubble, but this is as close to a five tool artist as I’ve seen in a long time. His product offers Jose Andres flourish and the sustenance of a chili bowl from Ben’s. He features the intricate, hypnotic wordplay of an MF Doom that demands multiple listens, only crammed with focused, formed, cohesive thoughts in every bar. Despite this his rhymes are no chore to pick through, he raps with a consummate stylist’s random references and laugh out loud punchlines in an adaptable, palatable, sing song delivery. The two honorable mentions on this list suffer from a restrictive clinging to the past and an overly resistant lack of structure and form which can be just as alienating. Wale is the juncture where these conflicting styles meet. While clearly classically schooled, he’s insistently progressive and his introductory campaign has been the most effective and well run I’ve seen in the brief and illustrious history of blog rap. Wale offers something for everyone. He’s an artist with two fingers firmly on the mainstream pulse (See: “Nike Boots”, his hipster darling “W.A.L.E. D.A.N.C.E.”), able to appeal to intellectuals with the endless bag of concepts he brings to the table and executes every time that never feels forced, desperate or gimmicky (See: his brilliant mixtape conceived around a cerebral comedian’s decade old sitcom which deserves all the hyperbole its received thus far and will probably live long enough to collect much more), and the true school chops and defiant swagger to avoid falling into that reviled, narrow, trendy, abrasive Hipster Rap category (See: “Rising Up”). He often moves between weighty sentiment and good fun, hurt and apathy, genuine and ironic in the course of a couplet. The only thing that could prevent this prophecy from fulfillment is Wale’s intelligence, is he too smart to succeed on a grand stage, unable to write the hook that will make him a superstar? Time will tell, but as far as this blog is concerned Wale is the future, the real deal. Hip Hop’s next Great White Tiger.

The Manipulation

The Crazy

The Perfect Plan


noz said...

"The Knux deserve instant recognition as the only act on this list to have released a proper album,"

False. Gucci has released at least three proper albums in the past five years.

"and it was a good one."

Again, false.

Abe Beame said...

You're right about Gucci's albums, I stand corrected.

Perhaps you'd care to qualify your feelings regarding Remind me in 3 Days? I wouldn't say great but at the very least I felt it was a promising debut.