The critical blogosphere loves diversity, doesn’t it? Actually, back up two paces.
The critical blogosphere loves talking about diversity, doesn’t it? And the only thing it loves more than that is talking about a lack of diversity. It loves all the hang-wringing associated with applying every last conceivable critical analysis to its pop culture artifacts until there is no single party left offended at the end of the exercise. The so-called “cultured” internet loves scrubbing down television, film and music until all of the prejudices and pre-conceived notions are polished to glisten at every discriminating angle the light touches. Visit any of the most popular news and culture sites for proof. The internet loves telling itself what is wrong with… Well, itself.
I do it all the time. 206UP’s most highly-trafficked post of the year was this piece on Macklemore I wrote during one particularly grumpy day in March. Culture critics are not impervious to falling through the looking glass even when the subject of debate is a hometown hero. Ken Griffey, Jr. used to strikeout on 3-2 counts with the bases loaded from time to time, and we cursed him (albeit secretly) under our breath for doing so.
All this to say, when your critical perspective is driven by the desire to see actual meaningful progress within music (to say nothing of major societal issues — racism, sexism, classicism, etc.) picking out all that is wrong from what might be an overarching right, can begin to feel like diminishing returns during those warm and fuzzy, honest moments. That’s how I feel sometimes about Macklemore’s music, and it’s especially how I feel about hip hop music in Seattle at the end of 2013.
Diversity was the name of the game during this city’s last annual cycle. Elements of hip hop were touched by more outside genre influences than ever before. That sounds like an obvious statement considering how music in general functions these days, but this is a Seattle blog and this is our own special microcosm. To wit:
- Two thousand and thirteen saw one of the Town’s most lyrical MCs release two vastly different albums: one full of hard-knock, battle-worn boom-bap, and one of left-field ambient experimentalism.
- Our city’s hardest rapper (okay, debatable) teamed up with one of its most party-oriented on tour and, some time in the process, created a visceral, emotionally devastating scythe of an EP.
- Three prominent members of the Seattle hip hop community joined forces like a disco ball-headed Voltron to create the most fun, escapist dance music the Town has heard this century.
- And of course you don’t have to listen far in the Six for hip hop’s most ubiquitous sounds: the concussive bass and rapid-fire, high-hat percussion of trap; and the hazy, double cup intonations of what we like to call “cloud rap”.
Of course there are many more examples of Seattle’s rangy hip hop production escapades to note and maybe I’ll get to some of those in 206UP’s Best-of 2013 list which begins today. And of course the biggest music story of the year concerns an artist whose material you won’t find in any of the links above, which was an intentional omission. 206UP is — as the body of this text suggests — celebrating Seattle’s diversity in sound, and the rise of Macklemore above the humble din of Town rap’s other goings-on isn’t of primary concern here. He and Ryan are making us proud, sure, but that pang of dissatisfaction you might be feeling is a symptom of the secret you and other devoted heads of the SEA are harboring: The one that says Seattle hip hop has much more to offer than just a trending topic of the moment. More, in fact, than maybe any other region in the country.
After the jump begins 206UP’s look at the Best Seattle Hip Hop Albums of 2013: Three honorable mentions today followed by the Top 10 tomorrow. Make sure to listen to all of them, as each is worthy of your attention. Most importantly, try listening with an open mind. The lesson, as always, is that the passing of another 365 days brings each of us closer to curmudgeonly critical behavior. Thank God, then, there is hip hop to keep us young.
Peace and prosper in the New Year,