Swag Rap. A new movement in rap?

I’m fascinated with being there as a musical movement emerges.

For me, that’s the period when shows are the rawest and the community around the music is the most intimate. I’ve had a few moments close to that, from driving up to Milton Keanes for early drum and bass raves to seeing Mos Def and Outkast during their most exciting periods. I’m jealous of anyone who was there at Dizzee’s early shows at the Stratford Rex, The Clash at the Roxy or early Fugazi shows in DC.

But my true love in music is rap. And rap has been in a strange place for the past 5 years, and I’ve been frustrated waiting for new voices to emerge.


Since rap music was born in the 70s, there have been phases & scenes that have been incredibly productive, and I think we might be heading into another one. From the first New York block parties, isolating the breaks – Fortress of Solitude shit, to the lyrical surge of Rakim, KRS, on to gangsta rap & the Golden Age with the Native Tongues & later their descendants centred around Rawkus, to the golden age of club rap with Eminem, 50, Neptunes and most recently Southern Rap.


However for the past 5 years it feels like the most exciting releases have been one off records by established acts – Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Weezy’s The Carter III, Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury. They seemed isolated and unconnected. At the same time all the people I knew who loved hip hop the most seemed to be either losing interest and tuning in to other scenes or staying mothballed in rap’s past.


Something shifted in the last year or so. It’s been brewing for a while - some of these acts have been putting stuff out for years - but for a large part they’re new voices loosely coupled by some kind of new rap aesthetic.


The point this crystalised for me was seeing Odd Future at SXSW last year. It was one of those ‘what the fuck is this’ moments – the first time I’d seen anything that really fused a punk aesthetic with hip hop, and for an hour at the Fader Fort I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage. I saw them again a day or two later at Mess with Texas and man what a show. It felt like a new thing.


That motivated me to start diving back into the mess of tumblr mini-sites, Soundcloud profiles and frustrating-as-fuck-to-download mixtape sites.  I’m hungry again, spending hours downloading records on a Sunday night so I can listen to them all week. I feel like I’m playing catch up.


I’ve been trying to figure out what connects it all. It feels more geographically fragmented than ever before – held together by the web. From Danny Brown in Detroit, to Clams Casino in New Jersey, to Odd Future in LA to araabMUZIK in Providence to Die Antwoord in Cape Town. In the past it seemed like rap was more concentrated in NY/LA/Atlanta and this feels part of how unique some of the new voices are. So that someone like Danny Brown stays in Detroit rather than moving to LA and we end up with lyrics like “And where I live, it was house field field, field field house, abandoned house field field.”


There’s also a lot of anger / dislocation in the music. The way that Tyler starts off Goblin by telling 2dopeboyz to fuck themselves feels connected to Guillotine by Deathgrips. It feels like an emotional dislocation from what has come before in hip hop. No Primo style scratch choruses made up from the voices of rap’s past. The opposite of ‘Retromania’.


The online mess surrounding these new acts feels intentional. The aestheic with which these records are being released is more MySpace than Facebook. Temporary structures and sites appear and disappear. It feels deliberate – a statement that you need to put some work in and be here now if you want to be a part - not just hit the ‘like’ button.


Finally, I’m a little uncertain saying this given how few of these acts I’ve seen live, but I think we may be entering a period of rap where live shows are more central. I was pretty stunned at the crazy shit Kanye did during the Watch The Throne tour encoring ‘Paris’ 10+ times – that’s the same song for 40 minutes! It feels like a big deal that Odd Future make most sense live.


The only thing I can see that ties it all together is swag. So in my head I’m calling it Swag Rap.


Some songs to check out as a primer if you haven’t yet. Some are isolated hits, with no broader body of work surrounding them, some just the tip of the iceberg:

- Earl: EARL. Hard to listen to at points, but the most gifted lyricist I’ve come across in a long time. “But gwan suck it up / but hurry I got nuts to bust / and butts to fuck / and ups to chuck / and sluts to fucking uppercut / It’s O.F. buttercup / go ahead, fuck with us / Without a doubt, a sure-fire way to get your mother fucked”. He was 16 when he wrote that. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7uu90rGtAA&feature=related

- Clams Casino. The most exciting producer I’ve found in the scene. Haunting and full of heart. http://soundcloud.com/clammyclams/im-god

- Lil B. The young philosopher king. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YI3RlBkB0rM

- A$AP Rocky. Killer producer selection and next level swag. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EB7bmQg6m3Q

- Schoolboy Q. I love this banger.http://soundcloud.com/mixedbyali/schoolboy-q-there-he-go-prod

- Tyler. Enough written already but what a force of nature. Reminds me of early Eminem

- araabMUZIK. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOi7mzHbjdM

- Kreayshawn. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WJFjXtHcy4

- Azealea Banks. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3Jv9fNPjgk

- Danny Brown: “It’s in my DNA because my pops liked to get fucked up the same way”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJUoj7TIsWs

- Beautiful Lou. Another great producer

- Die Antwoord – I hope we see a lot more of this. Makes me want to go to Capetown like Wu Tang made me want to visit Staten Island. Worldwide Swag (Zef). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbW9JqM7vho


I’m hoping that someone who knows more about the history of music and rap can either explain this properly, or school me on how I’ve got it all wrong. Someone like SFJ, Tom Breihan, or Ian.