The ten most enigmatic figures in hip-hop
Sometimes there are figures in music whose mysterious and inscrutable magnetism transcends the music they make. More than musicians, they become cultural figures whose every move is analyzed every which way in an effort to figure out what's going on in that great gray matter, as Frank Ocean puts it. These unique characters usually end up making the best music, folks like these. Here's a look at the ten most enigmatic figures in hip-hop.
Once good friends with the A$AP crew, SpaceGhostPurrp is frequently credited with engineering the moody, atmospheric aesthetic they've capitalized on. Purrp relishes the darkness, and he manages to tell a lot about himself by revealing very little. His music is deeply introspective and bleakly isolationist, which informs his sinister tone. His aggressive lyrics are, in one respect, played out and worn, but the overall effect is surprisingly sophisticated and fresh. Purrp's debut album Mysterious Phonk: The Chronicles of SpaceGhostPurrp is off the beaten path, but his earlier music sounds, at times, like it was recorded on an airport runway, and he creates effects that don't seem possible.
9. Deltron 3030
Deltron 3030 recently released their first song, "Pay the Price," in thirteen years, from the (hopefully) forthcoming sophomore effort Deltron Event II. The Deltron crew (Del, Dan the Automator and Kid Koala) toured and performed several songs off the new album, and they sounded pretty good, but considering that they began work on the project in 2004, the whole thing has a bit of a Detox stink to it. Still, the longer we wait, the more mythical the fabled Event II becomes. The release is currently slated for Spring this year.
8. Captain Murphy
For a while, there, the internet was abuzz with hypotheses about the identity of rap's newest mystery, Captain Murphy. Theories about who this unnamed MC could be ranged from the guys of Odd Future to 2Pac. A few months ago, when it came time to perform live, Murphy gave us a break, coming on stage without a mask, outing himself as Flying Lotus. Still, there's plenty to be learned and understood about Captain Murphy -- in particular, his use of effects to give his voice an omniscient quality that further shrouds his impenetrable person. Murphy's debut full-length project Duality begins with "Since the death of God, there's been a vacancy open. You could fill that void. Here's how." Seriously, what is that?
At one point, Clarence Reid was one of the most successful and renowned R&B writer/producers around, so what in the hell would make him want to put on a glittery, low-budget, super-villain costume and rap about which girl he performed cunnilingus on the previous night? Not only is Blowfly one of the most shamelessly obscene rappers in history (which is saying a lot), some claim he recorded the very first rap record in 1965 with "Rapp Dirty." Though, to most people, Blowfly is an unknown, he is a hero to many and a role model to some of your favorite rappers, having been played by their fathers countless times in secret. In 2011, the documentary The Weird World of Blowfly was created to shine a little more light on Reid, but the true nature of this strange, earnest and unapologetically nasty rapper remains, in large part, a mystery.
6. Death Grips
Completely inaccessible to most people on their first, second and third listen, the first thing most people say when they hear Death Grips is, "What lunatic conceived this unfortunate mess, and, more importantly, why?" Well, the "who" is Zach Hill (formerly of Hella), MC Ride and Flatlander. The "why" is still up for debate. Death Grips made waves with the release of their latest album No Love Deep Web. Supposedly, Epic, their label, wanted to push back the release to 2013 "sometime" instead of October 23, 2012, their intended release date, so Death Grips leaked their own album a month early with little prior warning, for free and with (presumably) one of their own swollen members on the front. Why? Why not.
5. RiFF RaFF
RiFF RaFF is either an intensely charismatic idiot or some sort of savant genius that won't be fully understood for another few years. Either way, his lyrics make no ostensible sense but still manage to capture you in their dazzling strangeness. RiFF is coated with colorful, pop-culture-refrencing tattoos that you wouldn't think any rational person would be caught dead in. Then again, he isn't necessarily a rational person. RiFF's celebrity began as a contestant on MTV's From G's to Gents, a reality show which aimed to transform raggedy G's to upstanding gentlemen. RiFF was quickly dismissed from the show as beyond repair. (And, yes, RiFF had the MTV tattoo on his neck before ever going on the show.)
4. Jay Electronica
Jay Electronica is probably the most talented rapper to never put out a studio album. Signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation label, Jay Elec has equal chance to be the next Hova or the next Lauryn Hill -- that is, one of the greatest ever or massive underachiever. The poeticism of his lyrics are virtually unmatched and his debut mixtape Act 1: The Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge) was actually one of the best concept "albums" of 2007, but since catching fire in 2009 with "Exhibit C," he has fallen off the map almost completely, at least for music. He's made headlines for his affair with Kate Rothschild, heiress to one of the world's largest fortunes, a strange match for him considering his vagabond-ish spirituality.
3. Kool Keith
If eccentricities were dollars, Kool Keith would be the richest rapper in the world. As it stands, Keith remains on the fringes of the popular hip-hop scene, having merely influenced many of your favorite rappers and nearly half of this list: DOOM, Deltron 3030, Captian Murphy and RiFF RaFF, to name a few. When Dr. Octagonecologyst came out in 1997, it was an instant underground classic, if not for its irreverent humor, then for its absolute originality. Like DOOM, Keith has several distinct characters that exist in the same universe and sometimes interact. But all of Keith's characters share a love for the same surrealism, anti-rhyme and non-sequitor that make him one-of-a-kind and possibly off his rocker.
Most rappers have an alternate persona, but nobody takes the role of their characters as seriously as Daniel Dumile, and though DOOM's true identity has long since been revealed, his lyrics and behavior continue to baffle critics and fans alike. DOOM performs behind a mask, taking the effect of his appearance on his music into his own hands. His explanation from "Beef Rap": "He wears a mask just to cover the raw flesh/A rather ugly brother with flows that's gorgeous." But perhaps most perplexing has been his practice of hiring an impersonator to perform behind the mask at his shows instead of him. His explanation is that he is a performance artist, not simply a rapper, and he's fulfilling his super-villain role, but there's no doubt that he's estranged many a fan with his unconventional (non)performing habits.
1. Lil B
Lil B makes no attempt to disguise any part of himself, nor does he veil his lyrics and intentions in abstractions. Still, the creator of the #BASED movement which nobody seems to be able to define is the most argued about rapper on this list and possibly ever. One moment, he'll be a libido-driven maniac, and the next moment, he'll be an eternal spring of positivity. Some fans claim that he is a troll, a caricature of the modern ultraviolent and sexist rap that almost manages to caricature itself. Others claim he is almost Ghandi-like in his beneficence. Detractors say he plain straight can't rap. All of these assessments are true to some degree; Lil B is a complex human (aren't we all?), exposing his every side in a manner similar to abstract expressionism. Who knew that unadulterated humanity could be so hard to pin down? But regardless of what you believe, every Lil B fan agrees on some things: He's the BasedGod, his inexplicable whooping is infectious, he fucked your bitch and he is the greatest rapper of all time.
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