N.E.R.D. to Kanye to Odd Future: five key moments in 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 in February, the group has been everywhere: SXSW, Coachella, and all over the New York Times' Sunday Arts section.
America's obsession with Odd Future (and the crew's 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.
5. Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams's "Drop It Like It's Hot": Back in the late '90s and early '00s, 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 Dogg's 2004 track "Drop It Like It's Hot" provides a perfect bridge from gangsta to hipsta. You can almost imagine Snoop riding a fixie on his way to get vegan fast food.
4. The Pack's "Vans": In 2006, the Pack was 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 Soulja Boy Tell 'Em, young rap artists such as 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 Philly-based rapper Spank Rock's debut record, YoYoYoYoYo. All over this album, Naeem Juwan demonstrates dynamic flow and clever diction. But the content is almost exclusively about partying, and the production is heavy on the synth-based club sound. (AllMusic describes it 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 Venn diagram where hipster and hip-hop become one. The Pack sang about Vans. But Kanye actually got everyone to wear those stupid glasses. And there's no denying that he 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 aware.
1. Odd Future: From the way Odd Future and Tyler the Creator dress (skater style cleaned up with the fresh-swag eye of hip-hop) to their methods of distribution (a Tumblr blog loaded with animated GIFs and free albums) to their way of smoking weed (gone is the hard, blunted gangsta because OFWGKTA greatly embraces Cheech & Chong stonerisms), this collective is the clear present when it comes to so-called hipster shit in a hip-hop format.
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