Five Key Moments in the Chronology of Hipster Hop
There is no escaping the young-and-vulgar West Coast hip-hop collective Odd Future. There was a brief incubation period on the internet. But ever since performing on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, the group has been everywhere: SXSW, Coachella, and all over the New York Times' Sunday Arts section.
America's obsession with Odd Future (and their intense vulgarity, homophobia, violent misogyny, fresh Neptunes-inspired beats, and relentless, articulate flow) signals the full realization of a brewing microgenre poised to take the mainstream by storm ... Hipster hop.
Before we go any further, it is important to clarify terms. The word "hipster" is bankrupt. It is a historical tag meant to disparagingly describe a specific demographic at a specific time: a neo-yuppie, creative-class hybrid based out of late '90s and early 2000s Brooklyn.
Over time, the label slowly became a way to identify anyone involved with art, music, fashion, or certain brands of cheap beer. At this point, it's not really clear who isn't a hipster. Or, at least, who comes away completely unaffected by hipster significations or influence.
And that's what we looked out for in the list below: signifiers. Skinny jeans, brand allegiance, and certain production styles all communicate a discernable transition in rap music, one that incorporates a fair amount of influence from the broad tent that is "hipster."
5. Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams's "Drop It Like It's Hot"
Toward the end of the '90s and through the beginning of the new millennium, Pharrell Williams was on fire with his Neptunes/N.E.R.D. production unit, pumping out serious hits for Ol' Dirty Bastard, Justin Timberlake, and even Britney Spears. His work on Snoop's 2004 track "Drop It Like It's Hot" provides a perfect bridge from gangsta to hipsta.
Original production (versus sampling) is no new feat. In fact, Snoops, OG partner Dr. Dre was a pioneer of homebrewed beats and eerie synth whines. (Bone Thugs 'N Harmony, Cash Money Records and many more followed suit.) The difference comes completely in vibe: "Gin and Juice" sounds menacing, hard. The smooth centerpiece keyboard melody is the perfect accompaniment to a raw house party or idly riding around the hood on someone else's handlebars. Compare that to "Drop It Like It's Hot," with its deliciously spartan percussion and the video's equally slick dance moves. There's a reason Pharrell is a hit with the Basel crowd.
So while we don't quite have a video featuring Snoop Dogg riding a fixie on his way to get vegan fastfood, we do have a perfect example of the sleek, originally produced Pharrell instrumentals that influenced the hipster hop standard.
4. The Pack's "Vans"
To the underground ... Back in 2006, the Pack were a highly bloggable crew that ended up being the springboard for the absurd, stream-of-consciousness lyrics of Lil B, AKA Based God. Note the beat, which might as well be morse code spelling out "N.E.R.D." Alongside the ringtone-generating Souljah Boy Tell'Em, young rap artists like the Pack (and later Odd Future) began to strongly align themselves with skate culture and branding, and this song firmly endorses Vans, not Nike, as the preferred brand for maximum iciness
3. Spank Rock's "Rick Rubin"
Another key 2006 hipster hop moment was the debut record from Philly-based rapper Spank Rock's debut record YoYoYoYoYoYoYo. It's especially interesting because the project and its aesthetic seem to be wrought entirely from mid-2000s electro and club music. Don't get us wrong: Spank Rock is rap music is hip-hop. All over his debut, Naeem Juwann demonstrates dynamic flow and clever diction. But the content is almost exclusively about partying, and the production is heavy on the synth/laptop-based club sound. (AllMusic describes the record as "party rap" and "neo-electro," and some of the lyrical themes as "party time," "TGIF," and "drinking.") So while Pharrell spearheaded a sonic aesthetic and the Pack brought hip motifs to rap packaging, Spank Rock represents hip-hop generated from hipster chemistry.
2. Kanye West's "Stronger"
Possibly the biggest touchstone on this list, 2007's "Stronger" represents the exact middle of the ven diagram where hipster and hip-hop become one. The Pack sang about Vans. But Kanye actually got everyone to start wearing those stupid glasses. And there's no denying that 'Ye rests pretty hard on Daft Punk's original for this one. In general, Kanye has come to exemplify a new kind of masculinity for hip-hop: sleekly fashionable, high concept, and culturally knowing. This stand's in stark contrast to the venom-spitting gangsterisms of '90s rappers like Biggie and Wu Tang, as well as the deliberately dumb and immaculately produced, bling-obsessed ringtone rap of the Cash Money era.
1. Odd Future Vs. Nardwuar
We've all seen Tyler's video for "Yonkers" and the stage dive at Coachella, like, ten million times. So to represent Odd Future, the clear culmination of hipster hop, we've chosen a recent interview with Nardwuar the Human Serviette.
In this clip, Tyler rocks white-hot skateboard brand Supreme, gets very excited about bacon-scented soap, and engages Nardwuar on both free jazz and Ciara. From the way they dress (skater style cleaned up with the fresh-swag eye of hip-hop) to their methods of distribution (a Tumblr loaded up with animated .gifs and free albums) to even their style of weedsmoking (gone is the hard, blunted gangsta as OFWGKTA greatly embraces Cheech & Chong stonerisms), the Odd Future collective is the clear present when it comes to so-called hipster shit in a hip-hop format.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.