The best rap shows in Denver in November
Deltron 3030 isn't so much a group or an album as it is a mode of thought, and there are few hip-hop albums (or albums of any genre, for that matter) with the cinematic quality of this group's self-titled debut. Dan the Automator created deeply textured and darkly evocative soundscapes, aided by Kid Koala's turntablism, as a backdrop for Teren Delvon Jones (aka Del tha Funkee Homosapien, aka Deltron Zero) to tell the tale of how he becomes Galactic Rhyme Federation Champion. Similar to Dan the Automator's earlier work with Kool Keith, Dr. Octagonecologyst, but more coherent and accessible, this album proved that hip-hop could successfully travel to where only geeks had gone before -- silly non sequiturs, outer space fantasy and ridiculous characters all became fair game, and so did the out-crowd that relished them.
Both of the artists featured on this bill share the admirable quality of being unafraid to say anything. Through his "Ill Mind of Hopsin" series, Hopsin has been unafraid to touch on a wide range of subjects from industry fakers, to played-out, real-life archetypes and drug addiction. When Hopsin stays away from corny wordplay and triteness, he has demonstrated a firece independence backed up by a solid flow. Yelawolf's career -- since blowing up with Trunk Muzik, an outstandingly good mixtape, and signing to the illustrious Shady Records -- has unexpectedly slowed. However, the mixtape Trunk Muzik Returns shows that Yelawolf still has the capacity to make good music, and the short film "Growin' Up in the Gutter" (which is disturbingly graphic) shows that he still has plenty of artistic ammunition.
Lupe Fiasco's career has had some ups and downs, or, more specifically, a lot of ups and then a lot of downs, but at any and every moment, he is a dynamic ball of talent; he put together arguably the greatest, most epic story hip-hop has ever told across at least two albums, the tale of Michael Young History. Recently, Lupe Fiasco hasn't been able to catch a break; he was too mainstream with Lasers, and too preachy with Food and Liquor II. But you have to admire the heart, and when he finds a compelling delivery device -- like MYH or skate culture like he has before -- he's on top of his game.
Coming from the same A$AP mob as fellow Harlemite Rocky, Ferg is the next member to emerge from the group as a potential solo star with his debut album, Trap Lord. While Rocky and Ferg certainly deserve credit for their individual success, it has become clear that the group's executive producer, A&R and mastermind A$AP Yams has been pulling just the right strings from behind the scenes for some time. But even apart from the clout that the A$AP mob has built, Trap Lord stands out as a highly-stylized work that is both relevant and adventurous in trap's musical resurgence.
Chance the Rapper is one of the hottest up-and-coming rappers out right now, and he has yet to release an official album. As such, he's emblematic of the new model for gaining popularity through mixtapes. Last year's 10 Day put him on the radar of hip-hop heads across the country, but he's absolutely blown up after this year's Acid Rap. Chance's mixtape game is so strong, a bootlegged version of it landed at 63 on Billboard's Hip-hop/R&B chart after selling 1,000 copies on iTunes and Amazon in a week.
2 Chainz is a big personality, and he doesn't try to complicate that with complex rhyme schemes, detailed lyrics or sophisticated tropes that are going to distract you from the simple but consuming image that he wants to present foremost. The prevailing thought behind minimalism is that nothing else should be able to be removed from the work to improve it, and that certainly can be said for 2 Chainz with lines like "She got a big booty, so I call her big booty," which is almost too simple for words but deceptively brilliant in its synechdoche and staying power.
Waka Flocka Flame is one of the musicians most responsible for bringing trap back to the forefront of rap with his consistently powerful studio debut, Flockaveli. Flocka is a figurehead for modern mainstream rap's departure from carefully crafted lyricism in favor of style and production, which is not necessarily an indictment, given Flockaveli's penchant for truly exhilarating singles. Since 2010, though, Flocka has not been able to recapture the electricity of his debut, or when he has, he hasn't been able to harness it for much consistency.
Of the short-lived but wildly popular crunk movement that captured rap in the early- to mid-aughts, probably no group better captured it's rude, raucous sexuality than the Ying Yang Twins. The Twins first caught on thanks to Lil Jon's monumental single "Get Low." After that, the act released the logical followup in "Salt Shaker" and the extremely popular U.S.A. (United States of Atlanta), which featured the hit singles "Wait (The Whisper Song)," "Badd" and the requisite "Shake."
The artist to whom Rittz most frequently draws comparison is Yelawolf, more for their shared fast cadence and southern twang than anything else, but also for their endearing underdog mentality and refusal to sacrifice their individuality for greater mainstream success. It is probably not coincidental, then, that the moment it became clear that Rittz was a force that could no longer be ignored was his flawless guest verse on "Box Chevy pt. 3" on Yelawolf's breakout mixtape, Trunk Muzik. Since then, Rittz has released his own studio debut, The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant, to both critical and commercial success.
To even think of labeling Naughty By Nature "pop" seems almost profane, but this New Jersey group found mainstream success rarely seen by a hardcore act. No matter who you are, you've heard at least one of their songs ("O.P.P."). Plus, the guys won the first Grammy for best rap album in 1996 for Poverty's Paradise, beating out Bone Thugs, ODB, Skee-Lo and 2Pac. Perhaps no song is more emblematic of NBN's absolute appeal than "Feel Me Flow," which is one of the illest, chillest songs you'll ever hear. If ever you wanted to ease a skeptical friend into the world of gangsta rap, you couldn't go wrong with Naughty By Nature.
Mos Def is a great name in so many ways: It is an exclamation of affirmation, most definitely, a claim to dopeness, the most definitive, the most deft, and an expression of rebellion, the most defiant. However sharp Mos's name was, he was equally cutting as an MC, laying down one of the best albums of each of the past two decades. So when Mos Def decided to change his name to Yasiin Bey beginning in 2012, seemingly out of nowhere, it had people stumped. We know Mos Def. We love Mos Def. From Yasiin Bey, who has yet to release a major project, we're still not sure what to expect.
Though R.A. the Rugged Man has been in the rap game for roughly a decade, his recently released Legends Never Die is only his second official release. He is perhaps best known for one incredible verse -- one of the best you'll ever hear -- on the Jedi Mind Tricks track "Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story." That's not a bad thing to be known for, but it is also perhaps a little unfair, because the Rugged Man has much more personality than is revealed in that one song; it's a shocking, unapologetic one that is not afraid to throw the kitchen sink at an industry that has, in some ways, rejected him. Live, the Rugged Man should be nothing short of a spectacle.
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