January 20, 2011

There’s been a rash of recent articles heralding the rise of “weird rappers.” From my perspective, it’s a bizarre generalization  considering that other than maybe the last half-decade, hip-hop has always been weird.  The only reason why it stopped being strange was that corporate pressure forced rappers to conform to bland thug-trap stereotypes, resulting in cheap caricatures and a million Pac clones. While simultaneously, the underground lapsed into tedious keep it realisms and lyrical tautologies (e.g. the school of “I am the best rapper because my lyrics are spiritual miracles.”) And even then, if you examine break-out stars of the last five years, Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, and Kanye West certainly can’t be described as bland (#Veal).

When I fell in love with rap, its weirdness was one of the things that set it apart from the generic scraggly-haired would-be guitar gods who were the alternative. Being weird wasn’t an option, it was the only way to stand out in a crowded field. How else to explain Busta Rhymes, Slick Rick, Wu-Tang, Digital Underground, Pharcyde, et. al.  Yes, 2Pac, who established a template copied by million clones,was just your average theatrically trained, poetry-writing, back-up dancing, Machievelli-reading dude on the corner. Rappers are artists (or should be). Artists are weird (or should be). Thus, rappers are usually weird, and always have been. This isn’t new.  The everyman persona only gets you so far — just ask Rhymefest, who is now currently running for Chicago City alderman.

I’d hesitate to describe Nocando as weird because it’s a subjective and toothless term (admittedly, I like the word as much as the next weirdo). He’s not tatting ice cream cones on his face or releasing Tony Robbins freestyles, but nor does he fit into stereotypical depictions of whatever the norm is supposed to be. He’s a comic book-devouring, video game-playing, Project Blowed encyclopedia, who can battle as hard as any rapper alive, and rap over beats that are big in Belgium (and Lincoln Heights). Unlike most rappers garnering Internet attention, he’s accrued a legitimate local fan base over years of grinding, which paid off in the last year with press attention (see today’s HipHop DX feature) and national tours with Murs and Blockhead. To complete the Def Jux trifecta, he’s dropping the El-P sanctioned “Time Won’t Tell” remix over a beat from last year’s Megamixx3.

The song isn’t the best thing that Jimmy the Lock or El-Producto have ever been a part of, but it’s an ideal union that plays to both of their strengths. El-P’s beat is a scrap heap in motion, a lurching combination of glass shards and synths like rusting metal shears. Like Murs, his closest Def Jukie analogue, Nocando walks the line between Coldplay and Ice-T, half-emo, half-aggro, questioning God, evolution, and commanding to let there be light-heartedness.  The best part about this new era isn’t necessarily a regained appreciation for idiosyncrasy, but rather the abolition of arbitrary divides between underground and mainstream. Nor an orthodoxy to rhyme over exclusively soul samples and funk breaks, or Casio presets and 808s. You don’t need to press things up on vinyl or cassette or CD. Jake One can land beats on MF Doom and Snoop Dogg albums. El-P can work with Yelawolf, Killer Mike, and Nocando. And no one under 30 thinks that’s weird. If rap feels like its on the precipice of something new, it’s because when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

MP3: Nocando (prod. by El-P) – “Time Won’t Tell (Remix)”

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