These days it seems that hip hop with a jazz and soul influence is headed into a new realm of hyper-chilled, mind-bending samples and off kilter knocking drums that bends the very notion of head nodding. Not only does this pay homage to earlier acts, but it is also taking music into exciting new directions.
When I was, ahem, younger, there were many predicting the death of underground hip hop and trading in baggy pants for neck beards. While the modern age has been quick to hail Dilla as the forebear of this new age, there were actually many characters who slowly paved the way and prevented the impending commercial implosion of hip hop that so many assumed was imminent.
Let’s take a look at some hip hop innovators, who were criminally slept on in the past, and who are not remembered as the forebearers of the sounds currently dominating today. In no particular order, and needless to say there are many-many more groups out there. Who should’ve been mentioned? Leave a comment below, or let us know on Twitter or Facebook.
Weird beat tapes? Check! Strange mysterious characters? Check! Weirdo label and collective that focused on creation? Check! Before every producer was joining a collective, a small group of emcees and beatmakers were forming a loose collective of space beats and uber-introverted rhymes and chants. Several former members such as Slug, Sage Francis and Josh Martinez of course went on to bigger successes, but Anticon recordings are still a gem for any head.
4) Company Flow
I suppose you could say that with El-P’s continued success and relevance, that this group created in many ways one of the landmark hip hop albums of all time. El-P’s production work on projects like Run The Jewels is clearly a progression of the sound that started with this group. There are still some 90s cats making music; not many of them still have their 90s sound nor does it still sound lightyears ahead. In terms of innovation that clearly is still making waves musically today, this group cannot be avoided.
The unification of 3 Melancholy Gypsies and The Mystic Journeymen into Living Legends is not only a primer for modern hip hop, but also on how the business operates. The early discography is a medley of EPs, collaborations and groups that would eventually serve as the blueprint for modern music collectives and internet associations.
Considering here are L.A. rappers who are balancing heavy drums and thick samples over often reflective and rapid-fire complex rhymes, it isn’t hard to connect the dots to contemporary Ab-Soul and Kendrick Lamar albums. This formula now seems the norm, yet in the beginning, these cats were genuinely considered on their own tip.
2) Mr. Lif
Granted, Mr. Lif isn’t a group, but we just have to add him to this list: he nailed new age spiritualism and politically minded hip hop for the new era. Rapping with a clear old school flow over progressive Def Jux provided beats, he paved a way for hardcore rap with a message. With the almost daily reports of police violence captured by cell phones in this day and age, I know that any rhyme by Mr. Lif would take us to the place where our minds need to be.
When I think back to albums that changed the soundscape of hip hop, few albums come even close to the later works of Panacea, such as The Scenic Route and A Mind on A Ship Through Time. From the flowing cinematic style of the albums, the off kilter synths and the aged jazz samples, these albums sound like Brainfeeder meets L’Orange. Considering how revolutionary this sound was when it came out compared to anything else in the mainstream or the underground at that time, it’s surprising to me that its not mentioned as a source of inspiration more often today.