by Ron Worthy
Over the past few months (honestly, it may be years), many Generation X hip-hop purists have been really up in arms about the emergence and growth of so-called “mumble rap” that has been very pervasive lately. From smash hits like “Panda” by “mumble” stalwart, Desiigner, to hood hits like “Ran Up a Check” by the Kodak Black, this sub-genre of hip-hop is not being well received by fans of the Golden Era. In fact, over the past week, there has been a back and forth beef brewing between legendary producer Pete Rock and mumble newbies Young Dolph and Lil Yachty. On one side (Rock), you have an arguably legitimate concern for the preservation of the legacy of the art form of hip-hop and on the other side you have “artists” that are seemingly ignorant and unimpressed by the considerable accolades and history that paved the way for their existence. While I am not waking up with thoughts of peeping the new Lil Uzi Vert or the aforementioned Yachty (???) or Dolph, this is not the first time when rap has been at a crossroads in terms of style and content.
Rewind to the late 80s on through to the early 90s (Golden Era) and there were a lot of folks who HATED the explicit lyrics coming from the West Coast. Groups and artists like Ice-T, Ice Cube and N.W.A., Too $hort and later DJ Quik, AMG and Snoop Dogg spit lyrics that many, like the PMRC, thought were incendiary and downright filthy. Songs titles and content were certainly an issue but then, like now, there were lyricists like KRS-One, Rakim and many others that maintained their “real rap” stance and, although many still listened to their music, a lot of folks were won over by the new grooves and sounds from the Left Coast. I think one of the main differences now is really in the percieved lack of lyricism that still existed to an extent on both coasts back in the day. West Coast cats could actually flow and rap and the beats were dope, although different from more traditional hop hop that had been popular prior to the emergence of Gangsta Rap.
What we have now is a changing of the proverbial guard. As Golden Era producers and rappers evolve into new ventures (read: Ice-T, Ice Cube), there are some that have remained true to the music game (Rock) and feel rightfully put off by the attitudes and lyrical skill (and even beats) of new artists. While the Snoops and Cubes of the World are now revered as entrepreneurial OGs who are consulted on social issues like police brutality, some of the originators feel a bit ignored at times. The new school doesn’t seem to have the reverence for what came before them and although there are the occasional (and sometimes odd) collaborations like Macklemore’s “Downtown” with legendary rappers Kool Moe Dee, Melle Mel, and Grandmaster Caz, many new artists simply do not reach back to work with older, more established artists. Despite this, some artists like Snoop Dogg have continued to remain relevant by working with and mentoring artists like Wiz Khalifa. Perhaps more of this should be happening for the good of the artists and the art form.
With this as the context, I am overjoyed by an artist from Boston, Michael Christmas. Since coming across his 2015 album What a Weird Day, I simply cannot get enough. Like his critically acclaimed peer, A.F.R.O., this brother combines witty wordplay with storytelling in a way that makes those yearning for the Golden Era feel whole. His flow is on point and you can actually understand (and feel) what the heck he is saying. Whereas many fans of “mumble rap” emphasize the feeling behind the “lyrics,” fans of MC feel the actual lyrics and the way they combine with the impressive beats that serve as the soundscape.
Like many, I learned of his newest project, Lady Parts (on Lex Records), a collaboration with Prefuse73 they have called Fudge over the past few months. Similar to his previous projects lyrically, this joint keeps your head bobbing and heart warming while peeping the quirky tales from this talented emcee. Producer Prefuse73 offers a new sonic approach that really compliments the flow and content. I was drawn in by the stories and grooves but stayed there comfortably by the interplay of both. This album sounds like the future with a humble nod the past. Honestly, this is really what critics of “mumble rap” have been looking for and, quite frankly, needing. Although a bit awkward and experimental at points (e.g. Crash, Japanese Mall), this project delivers from the beginning to the end and offers a cohesive listening session that will last long past the proverbial 4:20. I look forward to bumping standout cuts like “In My Shoes,” “Popstar Shit” and “No Vibes” for years to come and know they will be blowing up the stage on their upcoming 12 city tour.
Favorite Tracks: In My Shoes, Circuit Breaker, These Saturdays, Popstar Shit, I Think Imma, Nothing Good, No Vibes
Peep this joint for yourself.