The last decade was the 80s redux, so it’s natural that the next one will be defined by 90s nostalgia. You can see it everywhere. From the 8-bit beats booming out of Bristol (Joker, Guido, Gemmy), the Low End Theory, and Hyperdub’s latest linchpin, Ikonika. Or examine the child-like chillwavers, continually fascinated by cassette tapes, colorful synths, and remembrances ripped out of the Reading Rainbow-era. From the recent Pavement and Hole reunions, to the return of Reebox Pumps and Starters Jackets, to the sheer fact that this exists, the En Vogue epoch is in vogue.
Forever deluded by dim memories of glorious days, hip-hop could never really repudiate itself from the 90s. G-Funk in the West. Dungeon Family and Rap-A-Lot in the South. East Coast Hard Core. Even Cleveland, city of light, city of magic, produced a multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning group like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. But for much of the last decade, traditionalist rappers attempted to recreate the 90’s sound rather than its spirit. I suspect mushrooms, or a lack thereof, may have something to do with this lack of originality. After all, there is no other way to explain Pharcyde, Digital Underground, or early Redman, and something tells me Big Pooh and 9th Wonder don’t know why George Clinton sees the mothership. Then again, I am a drug conspiracy theorist.
Granted, I imagine that if Pill ingested psychedelics, things would quickly devolve into a situation resembling the Battle of Bull Run. But on his “Real Mutherfuckin’ G’s,” an early leak from his forthcoming Gangsta Grillz with DJ Drama, the Atlanta rapper displays the reductiveness of the trap-rap labels he’s been lumped into. So it goes when your breakout video finds you turning the cameras on the intractable poverty and drug abuse of Pink City, and you continually shout out “all the trappers.” But like his frequent collaborator Freddie Gibbs, Pill unmistakably combines his Southern predecessors with the often-overlooked influence of 90s West Coast gangsta’ rap.
Pill: Probably Not on Ambien
“Real Motherfuckin’ G’s” puts those inspirations squarely on the sleeve of Pill’s white tee, with Asylum’s latest signing matching Eazy E’s ferocity, if not sustaining the focus of Eric Wright’s original scorched earth salvo. Eazy’s Dre diss is one of the hardest songs ever recorded, and while Pill doesn’t call his enemies “little fags trying to sag but…flooding at the same time,” he writes a claustrophobic poison-penned polemic against the “fake-ass, move from out of town-ass niggas.” The slang and ad-libs are modern, but the sepulchral seriousness of his “lawless and cold-hearted” tone takes you back to the days when everyone wore Steve Jeltz jheri curls. There’s no poppy goofiness, no inspirational attempts at being the hood Tony Robbins, just no-frills, hard-headed, blood-bath rap for those old enough to own the original on cassette and for kids who think B.G. Knocc Out was Lil Wayne’s partner in Hot Boys.
Meanwhile, Yelawolf’s contribution to Rosenberg’s Cypress Hill Mixtape does the unthinkable, not only reaffirming why the South Gate trio is one of the greatest groups of all-time, but managing to give the song a second life. This isn’t Joell Ortiz doing the Great American Hip-Hop songbook, this is a three minute double-timed jag that leaves the trailer park in disarray, replete with references to “Anchorman,” moonshine, and every weapon imaginable from harpoons to assault rifles. It’s the sort of performance that explains why Jimmy Iovine is now banking on a 30-year old white rapper who’d already been cut from Columbia.
Often compared to Eminem for his reliance on heavy internal rhymes, double-time, and a nasally voice, aping B-Real’s flow is a good fit for the Alabama product, who rhymes without taking the time to breathe, a furious but facile torrent of free association that validates the hype that’s surrounded him over the last six months. By virtue of his skin color, skill and classic rock fixation, Yelawolf is likely to achieve that rare Cypress Hill and Eminem distinction of getting airplay on terrestrial rock radio. It’s only a matter of time before Yela adorns dorm room walls next to Sublime and Bob Marley. Win over the stoners and you’ll do just fine. Just ask Phish — yes, another 90s staple recently reformed.
Of course, you can doubt the 90s revival all you want, just wait until Kanye drops Good Ass Job with production from Q-Tip, Rza, Primo, & Pete Rock. The smart money invests in British Knights stock now.