"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hipster Rap: The Savior Of Hip Hop?

"I'm not talking about these guys..."

I live in Bushwick, Brooklyn which is virtually a hop, skip and a jump from the notorious neighborhood of Williamsburg in New York. Notorious, not in the sense that it’s likely to get your ass lit up like Grandma’s glaucoma “medicine”, but in the sense that you come across perhaps the most universally despised people in all of New York city, the hipsters. Now seeing that I’m best friends with many a “hipster” myself (and some would probably argue that my ass is a hipster but I would literally scream and beg to differ to my bloody torture chamber death but I digress), I don’t really personally have anything against them (other than say their choice in ironic haberdashery) but they do seem to spring up in various different neighborhoods in the city like cockroaches; bringing the wonders of gentrification and retro ‘80s t-shirts. Once, they’re there, they’re there to stay. The definition of a hipster is pretty nebulous as what qualifies one as a hipster is broad and sweeping but there is one unifying theme that unites all hipsters: No hipster considers themselves, in fact, a hipster. It’s a dirty word signifying pretension and a tragic taste in culture. Nobody voluntarily wants to be thought of as a hipster. It’s actually a pretty good determiner if you have to defend yourself as not a hipster, your tight jeans wearing ass is probably a hipster. Sorry, to break it you, folks. We all deal.

Bronx rapper, Mickey Factz, recently caught major feelings from Nah Right’s Eskay when he was classified as a hipster rapper. He went to great pains to categorically reject the notion as did the Kidz In The Hall when confronted with that same notion. Lord knows an aspiring rapper wouldn’t want to be associated with white upper middle class douche bags in thick black framed glasses (Full Disclosure: I wear black framed glasses quite regularly, myself) even though they are often fond of those same thick black framed glasses himself. Hipster rap has become short-hand in recent times for a retro aesthetic that leans on a late ‘80s/early ‘90s sound and culture. The Cool Kids, Wale, The Knux, Jay Electronica, Lupe Fiasco, Mickey Factz and the Kidz In The Hall all have an aesthetic and style that leans heavily on what is being dubbed as “hipster rap.” Pretty much all of them hate it. I’m not necessarily sure that’s a good thing. I think they should embrace it.

The notion of hipster rap is actually pretty damn awesome. It uses the old school aesthetic of 80’s rap and culture and updates it for a modern audience. In a sense, as an audience we are getting the best of both worlds. It’s swaggerific enough for fans of shitty LCD rap to be conned into listening to but purposely old school enough to keep geezer’s like myself (all of my 24 years and counting) to get behind. If anything is gonna save hip hop, at least, artistically, this genre could be it.

Chicago’s unfortunately named, the Cool Kids are perhaps the biggest “stars” of the burgeoning sub-genre, perhaps are the most dogged in their adherence to their retro dogma. Their Totally Flossed Out LP is full of Rick Rubin-esque minimal but booming 808 production and Run-DMC tandem rhyming but it updates it with “chopped and screwed” hooks and use of dark, menacing synths. “Black Mags” is a stunning, dystopian ode to the pleasures of BMX-biking and “88” is a banger that sounds as if something that would come out of Oakland circa…well, 1988. The Cool Kids’ craft, a consciously retro look as well, rocking colorful t-shirts, vintage Jordans and enough dookie rope chains to make even Raekwon admit they were only built for the finest of Cuban links.

Another group that is making major noise, The Kidz In The Hall, are prepped to release their sophomore release, The In Crowd, are a group that met in college when emcees Naledge and Double-0 competed against each other at a University of Pennsylvania talent show. The group is heavily informed by the sounds of the Native Tongues and other early 90s artists. The stunning single for their second album, “Driving Down the Block (Low End Theory)”, samples Masta Ace’s classic “Jeep Ass Niguh” for a chopped and screwed hook but sounds like the artistic cousin of the menacing minimalist thump of “Grindin’.” The drums and break beat informs a Too Short-esque production but the plinkin’ synths add a modern edge to the song. The song just plain bangs. The Kidz In The Hall are also able to bridge a social conscious with dark bangers that seem destined for the club if given a chance by the radio to break through the Southern monotony. It’s truly a modern sound.

Perhaps, the group that I’m most excited about are New Orleans' own, The Knux. The Knux are in the tradition of 3 Feet High and Rising De La Soul and the mighty Outkast. The duo compromised of brothers, Krispy Kream and Rah Al Millio, sound as if they were cloned from Big Boi’s lyrical DNA and transported back to the time of high-top fades and gazelle shades. “Cappuccino”, the brilliant funky new single off their upcoming album, Remind In 3 Days, is THE best song released all year. The song is funky, fresh and sounds like it’s channeling M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” by way of the Pharcyde It’s an ode to sexual frustration and the pleasures of being fresh. The group displays humor about their own vulnerabilities that is almost completely absent in modern hip hop. It’s a triumph of the genre and if this does not get major airplay on both pop and hip hop radio than the notion of a benevolent deity goes completely out the window. It’s too good to be languishing in backpack rap circle purgatory.

The aspect that I like the most about the burgeoning genre of hipster rap is that it’s not informed of the sermonizing of pandering socially conscious rap of modern backpack rap. It’s not trapped in antiquated notions of what real hip hop should be about. It’s simply just damn fun to listen to. It’s become the most rank of clichés to hail alternative hip hop groups as a “breath of fresh air” against the sordid ignorance of modern mainstream hip hop. Hipster rap isn’t a “breath of fresh air” but rather the vengeful but fun-loving wrath of yesteryear manifesting itself against the forces of cliché in modern hip hop. You can’t help but nod your head, smile or scowl when posed in your b-boy stance when listening to this shit. The hipsters may have completely ruined indie rock, haircuits, and fashion with their dreaded irony but they might as well save hip hop. Who the fuck knew?

Download: Mickey Factz - "Rest Of Em"

Download: The Kidz In The Hall - "Driving Down The Block (Low End Theory)"

Download: The Knux - "Cappuccino (Remix)"

Video: The Knux - Cappuccino


Anonymous said...

Nebulous is right. Don't even know where to begin. I really look forward to what Wale, Jay Electronica and to a lesser extent, The Cool Kids have to offer as albums. I dunno , i use 'hipster' as a derogatory term too - but i've never actually associated it with a retro aesthetic specifically(aside from garish retro streetwear thats a ironic indie/ hipster staple). i just always got the impression that hipsters flocked towards buzzed-abt 'hipster rap' merely as a means to stay 'in' as opposed to a genuine love for hip hop. aside from tht, i have absolutely no problems with wht kind of circles or platforms provide exposure to talented hip-hop artists. Blogs/ the internets = the real saviour of hip hop - jay kay

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

jay electronica is like 32, can he even be considered a hipster when compared to all these other acts?

i feel like the term 'hipster rap' has more to do with what media outlets a group is associated with. for example, if the cool kids/the knux are only touted on pitchfork, status ain't hood and the fader, that seems different in to me than exposure from ohword/noz and co. it seems less like the artisic intent and more on the general taste of their supporters. we all know breihan can have shitty, shitty taste, but when he, noz, you and brandon soderberg agree on an artist, then maybe he's onto something. to me it's about who controls the flow of info.

i don't buy that a general retro aesthetic is what makes them hipsters, b/c then little brother would be leading this new wave, and that's not the case. it's about who looks more out of place, and the music is secondary just to fit in w/ the general image. it's like the coke rapper debate, just with more ridiculous outfits.

i have more to say, but since they're such a poorly defined group, i'll hold off.

DocZeus said...

Jay Kay -

Actually, I feel that if you talk to hipsters who do listen to hip hop, you'll find they legitimately enjoy the stuff they do listen to. Irony free. You gotta remember our generation grew up in a period when rap was in the mainstream and a significant part of the youth culture so it would make sense they would enjoy some hip hop. They just happen to like material that is closer to their own sensibilities. I've always found that particular criticism of hipster culture to ring untrue because of their general devotion to irony. But if you threw a Snoop Dogg record from their childhood on at a party, people would go ape-shit. That's universal.


I'm only using hipster rap as short hand for a burgeoning subgenre that is growing. I use hipster rap because Eskay has been using it a lot lately and that seems to be the buzzword for groups like The Knux and Cool Kids. I think it's more than just a general retro aesthetic but a throwback to a particular form. The Knux, Cool Kids, Kidz In The Hall all seem to be informed by Rick Rubin, Too Short, Paid In Full-era Marley Marl than say Pete Rock. It's more minimalist.

Acts like Little Brother don't really have the other signifyers that the rest of the acts have (i.e. they don't dress like Big Daddy Kane) so I didn't include them although they do have a retro aesthetic as well. But it's more informed by Tribe/De La/Pete Rock/Primo than say Too Short.

Lupe, Wale (and even Kanye) all seem to be the middle ground. They have the cultural signifyers but don't particular play to the same aesthetic as Cool Kids.

Ultimately, I think we are at just the birth of a particular movement so it's hard to truly define what is and what isn't hipster rap. I just wanted to comment on some acts that have some similarities to each other.

Anonymous said...

point taken doc ..but like you mentioned 'hipster' is a nebulous term and we all have our very own definitions. i couldnt possibly label anyone who sicnerely loves music as a hipster. i use it as a derogatory term for indie-rock related kids just browsing through the hip hop landscape and getting amped only when a certain hipster-approved publication starts fawning over a rap artist. which dont get me wrong, is not tht bad -several so-called hipster blogs played a role in strengthening the resurgence of artists like ghostface and clipse. like jesus just mentioned, i cant really see a sound per se tht we can pinpoint as 'hipster.' aside from the focus on fashion, the only other common thread i can see is the more party and fun-oriented vibe -which seems like a backlash from heavy handed back pack movement - jay kay...and oh yeah huge co-sign on parties still going ape shit over any single off of doggystyle

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

doc- i totally agree with you on the knux and the cool kids, and i think if you watch their videos compared to press photos of other guys i feel like my point about it being more than music (no dipset) may stand.those two acts thrive off a sound and image that harkens back to the mid-80's, but i feel as though the other guys use the mindset of "just go in and make hot shit" that was key back then.

it doesn't seem very "hipster" to me that kidz in the hall would remind people of "Jeep Ass Niguh." hipsters don't know or care about anything but the present, in my mind. there's no sense of appreciation for the entire culture

rm said...

Can I claim at least partial inspiration for this post given the comment a few days ago? Seriously though, I've been listening to that Cappucino (remix) way too much recently, and I got a question: Do you know anything else by them? They have a one-song myspace and I couldn't find anything else out there.

padraig said...

yeah, "hipster", like "underground" or "selling out", is a term has been so mis/overused that it no longer has any meaning, especially since most of the time the people using it as a pejorative towards each other are all closer than not to some mythical hipster ideal. anyone checking hip hop blogs on the regular would do well not to throw stones, you know? I agree with mr. shuttlesworth that it's really about media coverage - and of course pitchfork and fader are the easiest of targets, though people tend to forget that most of the people writing reviews for them are probably working freelance. it's not like pitchfork has some hipster cabal sitting around determining what sub-genre to invent and popularise next (that'd be vice).

and, no offense, but I think you (and anyone else who does the same) are doing all these dudes a disservice by lumping them in together, especially jay electronica and wale. I'm sure your intentions are nothing but good but it's the same thing journalists always do; "neo-soul", "shoegaze", "trip hop" etc.- and nothing good ever comes of it.

I thing about which I do agree with you is that white people who aren't really into hip hop are definitely inclined to like throwbacks to pre-gangsta/afrocentric times. the cool kids/kidz in the hall evoke an era when rap wasn't nearly as frightening to people who didn't understand it. it's not surprising that electro, the safest, least "black" form had a big revival via the electroclash fad.

DocZeus said...


I think "Driving Down The Block" has other qualities other than a Masta Ace sample that makes it have an old school aesthetic. It's the 808 bass samples and snares that really sell it for me. Plus, I'm not the first one to qualify Kidz in the Hall as hipster rappers, either. Although, some of their music sounds like your standard boom bap heavy underground shit as well. I would've felt weird leaving them out, though.


In terms of Wale, Electronica, and Lupe, I'm not sure if they really qualify either which is why I didn't touch into them. Just some of their stuff leans back to an older period which is why I mentioned them.

Once again, all I'm really saying though about hipster rap (or maybe just 80s throwback rap) is that it's movement that is building right now in the underground. I haven't a clue about the parameters yet. I'm just discussing what others have suggested. As I said, I don't think it's neccessarily a bad thing to codify the genre, though. You're right about that one should be careful about what you lump in. I should probably re-considered Wale, et al from being inserted into the group.

I do like what Eskay said about the movement. "I don't know about what is or isn't a hipster but I know it when I see it."

DocZeus said...


You MIGHT have been the inspiration. I'm not saying one way or the other.

padraig said...

"I know it when I see it"

doc zeus -

Yeah, I know what he means, I just don't agree, though it doesn't really matter - journalists/bloggers exist in order to write about music so they're always going to seek to categorize it so they can write about it. i do the same thing. i just wanted to point that nothing good ever comes of codifying something into its' own sub-sub-genre b/c then its' sound/aesthetic stagnates and imitators show up to ape the motions without grasping the substance. as most people probably, i find the periods before things are defined when everything is in a state of flux to be most interesting - the last time i was excited about the something in that way was 2003 or so when grime was still evolving at a rapid pace. i don't feel as strongly about hip hip right now but there are definitely interesting currents, at least moreso than in the least few years.

i haven't been too into anything i've heard by Kidz in the Hall (though i do like the song you posted) and the Cool Kids are on some meta-ish to the point where I can't really stand them. i'd call them both "revivalist" but that's just another buzzword. i can't stand lupe and i'm whatever on little brother (i find them to be competent but boring), both of whom I'd just term derivative. i guess what sets jay electronica and to a lesser extent wale apart for me is that while they're both obviously scholars of hip hop (especially jay with his ridiculously elastic yet robotic flow) they're combining a ton of different strands - go-go, bounce, dilla, grime, golden age ny, etc. - to create something totally new. but I definitely understand the strong, intoxicating nostalgia appeal of rick rubin minimalism - I grew up in punk rock and that entire culture is based around nothing but nostalgia.

anyways, keep up the good work. cheers.

Jonathan said...

Nice post. I usually disagree with pretty much everything I ever see you write - mostly comments at Status Ain't Hood ;) - but we can agree on this. It's pretty exciting music made by a group of rappers disparate enough that they're not all making the same thing, but with enough in common to make it seem a genuine reservoir of new talent.

It seems to fill a gap that's been steadily growing in hip hop over the past half decade. There's always been plenty of good music around - the LCD rappers and the coke rappers taking care of the singles and mixtapes, while regional scenes and the underground have been coming up with good albums, but this shit looks like it can cover the middle ground between those two styles that's been kind of shaky of late. Its appeal is more universal than say, a Trae or a Turf Talk, and it's more about creating a distinct body of work rather than a string of high-profile songs, as the ringtone rappers etc do.

tray said...

"It’s not trapped in antiquated notions of what real hip hop should be about."

But maybe it is trapped in antiquated notions of what real hip hop should sound like. And for that matter, isn't rapping about coffee (as a metaphor for girls) or your bike more antiquated than rapping about whatever Talib Kweli raps about? If you go back to the 80s, early 90s, people used to rap about whatever - picking boogers, leaving your wallet someplace... roller skating. Then at some point gangsta rap took over, and then conscious rap arose as an antidote to gangsta/bling rap. Now, you had Public Enemy and KRS and X-Clan and so on in the late 80s too, so that complicates the narrative I'm trying to present, but I think you'd be hard-pressed to show that today's conscious rappers are descendants of Public Enemy (with the exception of Dead Prez). Whereas these hipster rappers owe a huge debt to the Native Tongues, Biz Markies, Kool Keiths, and all sorts of other oldschool guys. So while I enjoy some of it, to me it's just another road backwards, though definitely a better one than the latest DJ Premier imitation.

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

"Then at some point gangsta rap took over, and then conscious rap arose as an antidote to gangsta/bling rap. Now, you had Public Enemy and KRS and X-Clan and so on in the late 80s too, so that complicates the narrative I'm trying to present"

what about the development of Soundscan leading to the demise of other types of rap? starting in '91, record labels had stats about how much rap was selling, and with "the chronic" and arrested development's first album coming out about a year after the system was in place being huge albums, companies got a sense of what projects they could market. of course, dre owned that year and the next couple, so companies may have started to lean towards the gangsta image. just a huge, huge guess.

i think now with the internet, people have a lot different ways to reach people, so they can use any image they want. maybe that's where "hipster's" fit in?

Zilla Rocca said...

We just performed with The Knux and they are really the only hipster rap dudes I can stomach fully. They're songs are tighter than their jeans!

I have to give props to Dizzee Rascal cause he was the first MC I saw rocking tight ass jeans back in summer '03 when "Boy in Da Corner" dropped and he toured the states.

Ben Westhoff said...

Great post. I will put you on my bloglines.

tray said...

Yeah, maybe the labels started pushing more gangsta stuff, but I think it's also the case that the appetite for rap about everyday law-abiding life diminished. Take me for instance. I guess I'm a sort of typical rap listener in that I'm white (we're told that we buy the majority of rap records), fortunate, from the suburbs, etc. I'm not particularly attracted to crack rap per se, but I do listen to rap instead of whatever sort of music white people make these days because that stuff tends to be so, well, soft and emotional, and as a straight guy who, though not incredibly masculine, doesn't experience these feelings of alienation and overwhelming depression and anger at girls who dump you that alt-rock tends to chronicle, I can't relate to it, so I look for something harder, something that I can relate to and in some very broad ways aspire to be. And I suspect a lot of young black male listeners are attracted to rap for similar reasons. Now, the Native Tongues stuff kind of lacks that edge. I appreciate it as a fan of good rap, but I listen to De La Soul Is Dead or Midnight Marauders and these guys come off as sort of nerdy, dorky. Posdenous isn't someone whom I'd want to hang out with. I tend to doubt he's someone who many girls would like. So maybe what happened was that people just weren't that attracted to this dorky sort of chronicling of daily life and relationships and they looked for something more dramatic.

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...


as a black guy from what i assume is a similar situation as yourself, i don't really buy that argument. i agree that i don't fit in w/ all the alt-rock stuff, but i can only take so much "thuggish, ruggish stuff."

tray said...

Not even thuggish and ruggish, just not wimpy. For instance, Jay, Wu-Tang - they're not thuggish but they're not making goofy songs about oodles of o's and running around in flower costumes either. Like this Cappucino shit. It's a bougie takeoff on Ice Cream off Cuban Linx. There's something too polite about it.

DocZeus said...

"Like this Cappucino shit. It's a bougie takeoff on Ice Cream off Cuban Linx. There's something too polite about it."

Eh, I don't know about it being too polite. If you listen to the song, Krispy ditches the girl who is refusing to fuck him to go screw around with some looser women. I mean there is a difference between polite and being subtle. If anything it's an update of "Passin' Me By", one of the five best songs of the entire genre.

As for your assertion that the Native Tongues wouldn't fun to hang out with... Those guys were higher than a motherfucker in the early 90s. You don't write a song like "Oodles Of O's" without being blunted on a lot of stuff. And you gotta remember as well, that De La Soul rejected the whole flower child/hippie shit pretty outright back then.

I think you're inflicting the modern view of conscious rappers with the past. Conscious rappers today have been somewhat stereotyped by their supposed piety and righteousness but people forget that the De La Soul wasn't "conscious" hip hop back in the day. They were just hip hop. And damn fun to boot.

Remember motherfucking Will Smith toured with Public Enemy, Rakim and Run-DMC back in the day.

And Wu-Tang was as thuggish as they come. Masta Killa bitch slapped a journalist over some drawings. Even Tony Yayo has too take pause.

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Ralf said...

very very good!

Anonymous said...

I don't know where the term "hipster" came from,but to me it insinuates that what these new cats like Lupe,Wale,and even Mickey Factz are doing is way cooler or way better than what's been presented as far as rap or Hip Hop goes!Wale and Lupe are really Jay-Z spin-offs,as so is Lil Wayne,T.I.,and even Young Jeezy!So what makes someone who embodies the soul and lyrical gift of rappers from the 80's and 90's so hip?I think that when you put those type of titles on to good lyricists that it takes away from their music a little!People not familar with the history of Hip Hop start looking at this particular movement as just a fad and Hip Hop coming full circle within itself when artists actually cared about the music and the culture that created it!I can name so many artists that fall into this so-called "hipster" catergory from way back that it's ridiculous!Remember The Goodie Mob?OutKast?The Dungeon Family?Common?Slum Village,Tribe,even The Roots?These artist were and are still doing what these newer artists are starting to gravitate to and express in thier music now!I love it tho!Peace!-Will

Whutsgood.com said...


shady80baby said...

To me a hipster is moreorless a way of moving and a fashion rebel.Example if you wear a tight dark shirt with a hue of purple and other colors that make it look kind of tie-dyish and slim jeans with chuck taylors with nerdy glasses reflecting a modern,early 90ish,cool kid/geek look than to me you're a hipster.

shady80baby said...

if you want to go for that look than do you http://shady80baby-hollister.blogspot.com

shady80baby said...

yea Qtip definitely has that hip look I previously commented about

GOonSQuAD said...

odd future wolf gang kill them all. nuff said

Anonymous said...

Just because hipster white kids who grew up in the suburbs listen to it doesn't make it hipster. Yeah sure it's retro and it's different from current mainstream rap; but just because something is deviating from the norm doesn't make it hipster. It's kind of funny to when these really lily white kids into an era of rap that was very afrocentric which gave them nothing to really relate to. Rap music was something innovative born out of poverty. Yes I know today rappers talk about their ice and their whips but a lot of these rappers came from poverty and hardships that a lot of their listeners (i.e privileged suburban kids) could never imagine experiencing. I didn't mention just specifically white kids in the last part because suburban kids come in all colors and so do impoverished people in this country. That whole De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest era was very afro-centric though. I guessing they just listen to it because it's actually good music but there is nothing whatsoever for them to relate to in it.